Friday, June 29, 2007

Exiting the Institute

I'll never forget a brief conversation I had with a couple of members of my parish when we were in the midst of planning a Celebration of New Ministry (or Institution, as some call it). They were talking about the fact that they were looking forward to my being institutionalized! While parish ministry can sometimes seem a little insane, I doubt I was that far gone then, nor now for that matter.

All of this is a long and sort of quirky way of saying that my first two weeks of the Church Development Institute in Seattle (CDI-Seattle) are completed. Now begins a year of study and work around church development, including readings and two church development projects. This year is essentially a time in which CDI-Seattle class members are committed deepening our learning as well as beginning to apply what we have learned in a parish context. My first project will likely be centered around Benedictine Spirituality and its three-fold disciplines of stability, obedience, and conversion of life. This is also the part of the Rule for the Order of the Ascension, a group affiliated with CDI and committed to church development. Most of us will return to Seattle at this time next year to complete our four-week course of study.

It has been a long, at times frustrating, but very worthwhile experience for me to be here. While I miss my family, I have gained many skills and much knowledge that will hopefully help me be a better parish priest. I anticipate that the learning will continue.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Culture and Congregations

I've spent the last week navigating my way through the first week of a four week program (two weeks per year for two years) of the Church Development Institute (CDI). After some time in which we were invited and encouraged to notice and analyze our interactions in a small group context, the latter part of the week has been taken up with visiting three different parishes: St. Mark's Cathedral, Trinity, and St. Paul's, our host parish. My own group was assigned to return to St. Paul's this morning to experience the worship and the other Sunday morning activities. Tomorrow, we will meet in teams to further discuss and analyze our experiences. The point of all this was to take note of the culture of each parish: the ways they work, the named things that are important in their life together, and underlying assumptions. All this, presumably, is in preparation for doing this work in our own parishes and/or in those with whom we consult.

I think my biggest learning from this week is summarized in the words of The Rev. Melissa Skelton, Rector of St. Paul's. When referring to several items in the parish's worship space, she talked about "loving it, and wanting more." As we talked in CDI about the fact that it is nearly impossible to change the culture of a parish, it became quite clear to me that whatever my Congregational Development Project is for St. Alban's, it will need to first involve loving what already is good about the parish, and only then wanting more. My enthusiasm often makes me want to push for immediate solutions or changes. I am learning that such solutions or changes, even if needed, take years rather than months.

A bonus to this weekend was that I was able to visit Church of the Apostles (COTA), an emergent church in Seattle led by Pastor Karen Ward, who I met many years ago. I attended the service with both some folks from my CDI program and some old and new friends in town for a college chaplains conference. Turns out it was one of COTA's "alt" services, an alternative service format that in this case focused around the theme of process or journey being more important than product or destination. The elements of the of the service were prayer, Eucharist, "open space" (where we were invited to visit several stations for prayer, walking the labyrinth taped on the floor or other creative efforts), songs, and stories. They were done in a completely random order which illustrated the process theme. I loved the songs, and enjoyed the experience, though it is not overall something that would regularly feed me spiritually.

Now, onto another week. We'll continue to debrief our parish visits analyze the cultures of the various parishes we visited, then go on to lay the groundwork for an eventual Congregational Development Project. It will be interesting to see how that dovetails with the Mission Plan that has already been put in place and is in the process of being implemented at St. Alban's.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Thomas Has Left The Building

Well, I'm officially on my sabbatical. It isn't quite as wild or far-ranging as my friend Malcolm Young's sabbatical--he went to Africa. I'm confining my travels to Seattle, Washington (at the Church Development Institute and visiting Church of the Apostles), Honolulu, Hawaii (at St. George's Episcopal Church), California with family, and Southern California (at the PERCEPT Group and visiting Saddleback Church). A little learning, a lot of relaxing, and hopefully a lot of recharging after more than eleven years of ordained ministry. This is my first sabbatical and, frankly, I'm not really sure what to expect. I spent Friday rushing around and, at 9 p.m., had my office relatively clean, my desk cleared, and walked out of the church building, not to return for three months. A very strange feeling indeed.

So, it is now Sunday morning, the service at the church I pastor has likely just ended, and folks are probably wandering around the social hall wondering how Fr. Tom is doing and what exactly I'm doing this morning. Well, oddly enough, I've been watching some of Fr. Matthew's YouTube creations, perhaps a 21st century twist on television evangelists! The place I'm staying has wireless Internet access, so I'm rejoicing in being set free from my normal dial-up existence. For today, I have some reading to do, a little exploring, and getting ready for my first real foray into the study of congregational development tomorrow.

While I won't promise daily blogs, I hope to post periodic reflections on my learnings during my sabbatical, if for no other reason than to remind myself what I actually learned when I'm back to the daily challenges of church life. Until the next entry, then...