Father Jake Stops the World

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Father Jake Stops the World

I've lost track over the years of the citation, but there was a book published in the last generation that reviewed growing congregations across denominational lines (including Episcopal churches). That study found five factors as important:

1) good preaching;
2) good music;
3) good adult Christian education;
4) opportunities for hands-on service ministries; and
5) small group interactions.

(Interesting, considering the attention it has always gotten, that Christian education of children wasn't afactor.) As a frequent supply priest over the years, I've been really surprised and saddened at the congregations that had no adult Christian education, nothing so much as a regular book study group. On the other hand, I've found where the effort was made folks were enthusiastic.

These are exactly the things that we are going to try to continue or start at Holy Moly after we merge with St Nicholas and becoe one. Our most recent decline in attendance was over the summer, a traditionally slow season due to the conflicts with youth sports. Yes, people left because they were tired of the gay clergy issue always being in the background, whether they agreed with inclusivity or not. But they also left because we could no longer afford to pay an organist, so we went "on hiatus" as far as having a "supply" (substitute) organist over the summer.  

Good preaching? We've got it, we think, in Father Steve. We even had it for "Women in Ministry Month" this November, when several lay women from either church preached.

Good music? Steve has sworn that the lack of an organ at St Nicholas will be overcome quickly, by hook or by crook (or by Bishop's crozier, more likely).

Good Adult Ed? We had a program for the first time under Ted's tenure, and we actually picked up a couple of new people who came for the discussions. But around the time of General Convention, we were studying the Windsor Report and the various responses, and frankly, it was too much for some and not enough for others.  When Ted suspended Adult Forum later in the summer, it was because of things like excessive heat in our un-airconditioned building, but also because the topic had run its course. And then he was gone. I'd like a good discussion forum, and Steve has committed to having one along with Sunday School once we're in one building. I'm looking forward to that.

Opportunities for hands-on ministries? Our Supplemental Food Pantry helped us more than anything – those of us who are left are energized by helping others. And it's already takent root at St Nicholas, where people are even more excited and enthusiastic.

Small group interactions? This we've never done. We're in the town practically as Willow Creek, and I think that all of us are kind of shunning the whole "we have to be like Willow Creek if we want to attract new people" thing, perhaps out of a feeling of defensiveness. Bu something like a small group has coalesced around the Bishop's Committee, and the same people are the ones running the food pantry. Steve said something about how there are no committees at St Nick's, just teams. Well, there again we'll see.

I'm hoping for a midweek get-together once things settle down – a quiet Compline, some Taize' perhaps, and out the door.  Several of the others went to a "centering prayer" workshop at Diocesan Convention a week or so ago, and they're interested in finding out more about this. 

I think in order to grow we need to do things that set us apart from other denominations very well, and very consistently, and very intentionally. These five precepts are helpful, and I'll be passing them along for discussion.  

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