In this second blog on St. Mark’s Erie, I want to focus on what the staff brought to this revitalization because, without a doubt, they have been a major dynamic in the renewal of this congregation.
After Bishop Rowe had chosen St. Mark’s for revitalization, he came up with a different paradigm for leadership. Instead of the typical practice of choosing a new Rector and charging that person with the work, the Bishop choose a team. The problem with the ordained leader model is that it is totally dependent on that person to overcome the predictable resistance. In addition, with around 40 in attendance, it sets the strategy of growing the congregation back into a pastoral sized congregation. So even when this works, it largely limits the grow to the 150 number which is the upper size of the Pastoral Church.
When I worked for the Diocese of Texas in the 90s, we realized that if we wanted to plant a program sized church in an urban area then we needed to start with a team. This was first the planting pastor who would then hire a critical number of staff. This usually involved a music minister, a Christian Education person, and one other key staff. This last person depended on the core values that the new plant had chosen. For example, if it was based on small groups than they needed a coordinator for this. We also encouraged the recruiting of an unpaid administrative person. The plan was simple and direct; staff the new plant with the staff you would have in a Program Sized church. But we quickly learned that not just any staff people would do. They had to be selected on their ability to build their area of ministry. There are plenty of staff people in the church who can run and maintain a present existing ministry, but a new plant demanded developmental people. They are hard to find.
This is exactly what I found in Erie. The three key staff include Craig Dressler, Associate for Parish Life. Then there is Carly Rowe, Associate for Program and Development. Third is the Rev. Don Baxter, Vicar. Each of these staff brought different and complimentary skills to their work. For example, Don is a bi-vocational Priest who owns his own medical practice and who provides the sacramental and liturgical needs. The staff today also includes a Deacon and a staff member for children’s education and youth. The staff has grown as the parish has grown.
Craig is a talented musician and administrator who brings a variety of gifts to the parish. Carly provides great program support, knowledge of new member ministry, and general congregational development skills. Fr. Don is a good pastor and preaches well. The key staff rotate preaching. It was a joy to watch them work together. But I especially want you to notice their job titles which describe their area of ministry and responsibility. This clarity is essential for the team to work well together.
I was impressed with all they have accomplished in a relatively few years. I was more impressed when I asked them about future development. They were clearly leading the congregation with a constant eye toward the next steps.
What does this staffing represent? Simple, build it and they will come. The Bishop provided a creative core team of a growing Program Sized Church and they built it.
In my next blog, I want to conclude this series on what the lay leadership and members have done to carry out this revitalization, but let me conclude this blog with a critical moment is my visit with the staff.
I asked them “what would you do differently if you had it all to do over again?” After some thought they pointed out that they had started with the remaining 30 to 40 people from the old St. Mark’s. They wondered if that was a good idea. As one said it, I wonder if we could have made faster headway if we had started without these folks. They explained that the strongest resistance toward change had consistently come from folks in this original group. Let me underscore this hard truth about congregational revitalization. Even when the membership has lived through considerable decline and know they desperately need new members and to change what they have been doing, they still form a group of people who resist creative change. This can range from “will the emerging church be one we can live with” to the ever present “we never did it that way back in the golden years.” I often say that a new vision has difficulty competing with a nostalgic past!”
St. Mark’s chose to keep these folks, and many have caught the new vision, but not all. The staff wonder “what if” and I can’t but wonder the same as someone who has worked with lots of congregations intending revitalization.
I do know this. It is easier to plant a new parish from scratch than to revitalize a present declining one. St. Marks still shows that such work is worth it.