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.

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