Saturday, December 11, 2021

Caste Away the Works of Darkness

In 1985, the Bishop of Olympia, Robert Cochran, appointed me the official exorcists of the Diocese. He told me that traditionally the bishop was the exorcist of the Diocese but that he delegated this to clergy who he trusted. He told me that his concern was that the priest who did this could discern the difference between psychological issues and demonic affliction. He also shared with me that this work had increased when he moved to the Pacific Northwest because of the number of cults located there. Finally, he shared that when clergy in the Diocese had a concern, he would refer them to me.

What did I learn in doing this ministry? First, I learned that there was a greater need for both the discernment and the ministry.  Second, I learned most clergy who experienced an evil manifestation were overwhelmed when forced to deal with this. Third, I learned that most clergy had been either poorly trained or not trained at all to do this work. Interestingly, I did little of this work directly because I would coach my fellow clergy in both discernment and what to do when they discovered the present of evil.

Readers will note that I titled this blog with a phrase from the collect for the First Sunday of Advent. I did this because the phrase “cast away” captured my most common experience in this area. This work demanded an energetic, powerful, and positive response to the phenomenon of evil. I think the phrase is better than the term exorcism with its loaded imagery compounded by books and movies of the past 30 years.

Let me give an example of this kind of work. A priest called me because parishioners had complained to him that they kept experiencing strange events in their new home. It seems at moments pieces of furniture and other objects would just move. So, I asked the priest, “Do you believe them?” “No, I didn’t” he responded, “till I went to visit them.” He explained that while he was sitting in their living room trying to reason with them about why such things don’t really happen, a side table lamp suddenly flew across the room and smashed against the wall.

He went on to tell of other similar experiences when visiting with them. The family would always react to such unusual things with “See, we told you! What causes this?” So, he asked me, “Do you have any idea what is going on?” I responded, “sure.” At that point, he became very excited and said, “I can’t believe that I am asking this, but is this possibly something evil?” “Of course," I responded.” Then he said, “How do you know?” and repeated “How do you know it is evil?” My simple response was, “I can hear it in your voice. You're afraid.” “I am” he said, “I’ve never experienced anything like this before and I don’t know what to do.” I directed him in what to do. A week later, he called me and said, “It’s gone.”

Let me pause because this series is about evangelism and its relationship to our understanding of the Atonement.  What did I know that my friend did not? And how was I able to respond to his situation calmly and without fear?

What I knew were two things that came from my past experiences and my belief in the Atonement which is center on what Gustaf Aulen taught in his classic work “Christus Victor.” In a time when most fellow reformed and evangelical clergy believed almost entirely in the substitutionary doctrine of the Atonement, Aulen carefully documented from scripture what he termed “the Classical Doctrine of the Atonement.” This teaching of Christ the Victor straightforwardly says, “the reason the son of God came into the world was to defeat the power of evil.”  Verse by verse, Aulen reminded his fellow protestants that as Paul said, “On the cross Jesus defeated the principalities and powers of this world.” So, the Christ proclaims at the end of his crucifixion, “It is finished” which in the Greek means “the battle won.” 

Of course, this was not original to Aulen. It is throughout the teachings and preaching in the New Testament and was the dominate doctrine held by the early church and the Church Fathers. It is why the Apostles including Paul continued Jesus’ work of casting out demons and liberating new believers from the power of evil. It is why Christianity made such headway in a superstitious culture that constantly sought relief from the power of darkness. This doctrine of the Atonement is about power, liberation, and freedom from the power of sin, evil, and death. And as I had learned, it is the dominate doctrine of the Atonement held by most Asian and African Anglicans!

So, I shared with my priest friend what I had learned from them. As one Ugandan Evangelist said to me as he “caste out an evil presence” in a person. “No fear Fr. Kevin, No fear!” Later he debriefed the experience with me by saying, “You are a priest, a baptized Christian, no matter how they manifest or how they resist, in the name of Jesus and the power of his Spirit, they MUST leave!”

Many people who believe in this doctrine also believe in the Apostolic practice of healing. “If there is any among you sick, let them call upon the elders of the Church who will lay hands upon them and the prayer of faith will heal them.” I am an advocate of the Church’s healing ministry and have practiced this for almost 35 years. Again, this is the power of the Spirit to heal.

For me as an Episcopalian/Anglican, I appreciate all the theories of the Atonement and recognize that each has a truth. All should be taught, and the ignoring of any diminishes what Christ accomplished in his ministry and work on the Cross. I do believe for the Church to be fully Apostolic; the foundation of our work must be Christus Victor.  This is the power and light of God to work in the brokenness and darkness of our world. Let me add these two observations.

First, demonic possession as in the man “Legend” living among the tombs is a very rare situation. However, demonic affliction, demonized is the meaning of the Greek word, is more common than we Westerners want to admit. We need more priests to be sensitive to this issue.

Second is that the secularization of our society is not necessarily the triumph of reason. It is also the opening of our society to a re-paganization often passing as religious experimentation. Not all of it is good and therefore the reality of Christus Victor will be of growing concern for the Church in the days ahead. Just check out the growing number of cable television programs dealing with the paranormal and the growing audience of younger generations attracted to these.

Let me close by reminding you that if you or your church is going to do evangelism, you had better sort out what you believe about the Atonement and find ways to present this to an increasingly non-Christian society. And if you have never read Aulen’s book, it is a very helpful tool.



Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Progressive Theology and Evangelism


“In the name of our Loving, Liberating, and Life-giving God,” these are the words Bishop Curry normally uses in beginning a sermon. I suspect most Episcopal clergy hear this as a Black Preacher’s use of alliteration, one of their amazing skills in preaching. I also hear few other clergy ever use this. I like it, but for a specifically theological reason which I will come to later.

We Episcopalians understand rightly that Bishop Curry stands within the Progressive Theological community. What most white clergy do not understand is how he is distinctive from the general school of Progressivism taught in our seminaries. Our Bishop stands in the Black Progressive tradition. The one that Gardner Taylor preached. Taylor is in my opinion one of the best preachers of the last century and I would strongly recommend that all our clergy read some of his sermons. They are short, sharp, and clear articulation of scripture seen through the eyes of the Black experience in American.

Most of our Progressives stand within the emerging tradition that now dominates life and preaching in Episcopal Churches. I want to make clear that I identify with many of the issues that Episcopal Progressives have championed, and I respect their passion and commitment to justice and equality. I will be saying some critical things about their theological viewpoint in this blog, but I count many as friends and as brothers and sisters in Christ. My primary issue with Progressives is their departure from the classical Anglican position that the Church should hold together various theological viewpoints. To paraphrase Rowan Williams, “Anglicanism may be the only consensual alternative to Roman’s arbitrary unity.” Anglicanism is not a place on a map of Christianity, it is the whole map; an attempt to be the whole Church. Progresses in TEC have long abandoned toleration of other Anglicans in the U.S. who have as much claim to Anglican roots if not more so than Progressives.

What is wrong with TEC’s current version of Progressive theology? This view is often expressed with punchline phrases like “Love Wins!” or “Why can’t we just learn to love one another?” The strongly espoused values of this school are the need for the Christian community and especially TEC to become a fully diverse and inclusive Church, “a beloved community.” One would wish they could at least make this “a community of the beloved” which would open a greater possibility for evangelism, but I doubt they would understand the distinction.

I will pass over briefly the painful truth that the longer this view has dominated TEC the less diverse we have become except for gender diversity. Bishop Curry and other Black Episcopal clergy are a small remnant of a once larger and vibrant number of Black Episcopalians. Black clergy have told me on many occasions that young black leaders do not find the Episcopal Church attractive today. There are, thank God, several exceptions to this assessment, but in numbers this is certainly true.

When it comes to our Progressives and the Atonement, they stand in the “Moral Example” school. This contends that Jesus is the incarnation or example of God’s love, and we are to follow his example. This is often articulated around the theme of the Kingdom of God, or as Progressives prefer, “God’s reign.” Another expression Progressives like is that “The Church preaches Jesus, but Jesus himself preached about God’s Kingdom (reign). What is wrong with this? It certainly sounds nice and has a thread of truth in it.

What is wrong in this is primarily threefold. First, it is a serious reimaging, to use a favorite Progressive term, of the Jesus of Scripture and the Church. It simply ignores the many Christological passages of the New Testament.  It also ignores that books of the New Testament, especially Acts and Paul’s letters do not proclaim what Progressives assume is so obvious. Paul’s mission to the Gentiles most certainly does not follow the moral theory and none of the Gospels end with the statement that Jesus was the model of God’s love, and we are to follow that model. They end with the proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection as the son of God and savior of the world. Progressives have a reductionist view of Jesus not consistent with the Apostolic tradition.

Second, it ignores the obvious answer to their plaintiff “why can’t we just learn to love one another?” If humans could figure this out on our own, we would not need a savior. The answer why from the classical Christian view is that humans are sinful, self-centered, and subject to temptation and even evil. As one famous theologian has said, “The Doctrine of Original Sin is the only provable Doctrine of the Church.” I call this kind of progressive theology the Rodney King school because its proposition is as naïve as a black man beaten senseless by angry police officers who made such a statement in the face of such systemic evil. Progressives are naïve about the human condition which afflicts them as well as everyone else.

Third, the moral example theory without the other complimentary theories of the Atonement becomes merely moralism. Inclusiveness and diversity have become recruiting tools for TEC to attract “people like us” who value inclusiveness and diversity. It is in the end a worldview of college educated, middle class, and dominantly while people. Progressives do not want evangelism; they want TEC to recruit people “like us.”

What Progressivism needs is what Bishop Curry offers to it and to all of us. Remember the “liberating” part of his invocation? Bishop Curry stands in the Black Progressive school which is at its heart Liberation Theology. Why is it not obvious to most Progressives that the human heart to love needs liberation? Or that racism, classism, and all isms are extensions of human fallenness? That is what Christ offers! Remember that Christianity spread most quickly in the Roman world where 80% of the population were slaves, and where Roman women and non-Romans were treated as second class humans.

As a student of Liberation Theology in my younger days, I find much of Progressivism as preached today without power to change people. This realization came to me when an Episcopal Bishop argued on late night TV that “exodus makes no sense because in my theology (sic) God loves the Egyptians as much as God loves the Jews.” The testimony of the Bible is that God loves and acts on behalf of the oppressed. Or as Garner Taylor once expressed this while speaking at Yale, “The Bible teaches that God is out to win back what belongs to God! The oppressed, afflicted, broken, and discarded of this world are God’s.” Most Episcopalians should probably tremble at that biblical truth.

So, the Episcopal Church is declining not just because of changing demographics, but because most of our proclamation lacks the transformative and conversionary power of the Cross! What is preached in many Episcopal Churches today is a combination of therapy and progressive politics. It is not the loving, liberating, and life-giving Gospel.

This brings me back to what I believe about the Atonement. It is the power of the Cross to defeat the powers of sin and evil and to liberate us to lead a new life through the power of the Holy Spirit. More of this in my next blog.


Tuesday, November 9, 2021

The Theology of Evangelism


Because I believe in Evangelism, over the years, I have asked clergy and especially new seminary graduates this question. “I am sure you studied the various theories of the Atonement, which one makes the most sense to you?” I usually receive two answers.

The first and most common is an articulation that Jesus’ death on the cross brought the forgiveness of our sins and reconciled us to God. The second which I began hearing in the nineties and has grown in belief is not an answer to my question, but really a rebuttal. It is that the cleric or student learned that the Church has put too much emphasis on the cross and salvation and not enough on the Incarnation.

The first is, of course, based on some version of the substitutionary theory of the Atonement. Simply said it is that Jesus died for me and in my place, and I have received forgiveness of my sins. The second is, in case you have not guessed, code language that “I am a Progressive.”  I am going to deal extensively with the issues generated by Progressive theology and evangelism in my third post. In this blog I want to share why I ask this question.

My experience in doing evangelism is that we apply the doctrine of the Atonement. So, for most American Evangelicals, the application becomes “We are all sinners facing God’s judgement and hell. If we repent of our sins and accept Jesus’ death on the cross as payment for our sins, we will be forgiven and given the assurance of eternal life.”  My Baptist grandmother’s favorite hymn expresses this, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine, oh what a foretaste of glory divine.”

Classic Evangelical Churches such as First Baptist in Dallas present this message every Sunday and offer “an altar call, or invitation” to come forward to repent and receive Jesus. Some more contemporary Evangelical churches present this message along with modern music, drama, and a charismatic preacher in a softer and gentler tone. Some of these are the largest Churches in America. There the theological underpinning is the same. One important exception to this is found in Pentecostal Churches. Unfortunately, mainline clergy wrongly group these together with classical Evangelicals, but more on this in a later blog.

How do most Episcopal Clergy evangelize who articulate this theological position? Few do evangelism the way Evangelicals do because after all “we are not that kind of Church,” and we offer the rich worship, liturgy, and lectionary of historic Anglicanism. I believe that such clergy think that people who attend our churches, get baptized or were baptized as infants, and receive the Eucharist will get the message eventually. Some try one of the methods of evangelism that Episcopalians have found effective such as Alpha. These programs usually come pre-packaged and are effective evangelistic tools if the local church has enough energy and conviction to put them on. Evidently, few do. We should note that this focus largely ignores non-Christians and focuses on church members.

I have heard from many long-time Episcopalians that they are thankful that our Church does not have altar calls. When I hear this, I just quote the words of Cranmer, “Ye who do earnestly repent of your sins, are in love and charity with you neighbors, and intend to lead a new life following the commandments of God…” Then I point out that for Episcopalians, every communion service has an altar call. Putting this into practice, this is the way I invited people to communion at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas. At the offertory, I would say.

“Our service now continues with the Eucharist or Holy Communion. We invite to our altar rail to receive this bread and wine all those who wish a greater knowledge of God and a deeper relationship to Jesus Christ.”

Notice that I omitted reference to “other denominations” or even baptism because these only confuse non-Episcopalians and non-Christians. Following the example of Cranmer, I wanted the invitation to apply to visitor and member alike. I see receiving Communion as one of our most important evangelistic opportunities.

For me, there are also two definite moments when in the context of liturgy an invitation to accept Jesus as savior follows naturally. The first is Palm/Passion Sunday. The second is Good Friday. In the Churches that I served as Rector or Dean; we offered the three-hour watch at the cross on Good Friday containing the seven words attributed to Jesus during his crucifixion. I almost always had those who would respond to hearing these events of the passion presented response to an invitation to accept Jesus as savior. Who would not!

The word that I am driving at here is, of course, intentional. I learned that evangelism is the intentional effort to present Jesus as Savior and Lord in ways that people could accept him and follow within the fellowship of his Church to paraphrase TEC’s official definition of evangelism. Yes, we do have one.

It might surprise my readers to discover that while I appreciate what the substitutionary understanding of the Atonement is and what it especially does for souls troubled or burdened by their sins, this is not my primary understanding of the Atonement and why I did those services in Seattle.

But before we turn there, we need to return to the dominant theological position in TEC today, that of the “moral example.”  I will begin this in my next blog, by quoting my favorite Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry.





Tuesday, November 2, 2021

I Believe in Evangelism

This is the first of a series of blogs about Evangelism. Many in the Church use this term, but my experience is that few Episcopal leaders have ever done evangelism beyond sharing the faith one on one on a few occasions.  In the first blog, I am going to discuss why I believe in Evangelism and what I learned about doing evangelism.

In 1984, I became the Rector of St. Luke’s Church in Seattle. Then it was considered the “light house” church of charismatic renewal on the west coast. The previous Rector was the Rev. Dennis Bennett author of “9 O’clock in the Morning” and one of the most influential authors and teachers of the 20th Century. I say this with no hesitation because I learned how extensively his work touched thousands of Christians worldwide.  Sad to say, today younger Episcopal clergy do not even know who he was. As his successor, I learned to love him, and he was of tremendous help to me as I attempted to follow in his very large footprints.

As to his influence, once while I was teaching at the College of Preachers, I sat across from the then Presiding Bishop. When he learned that I was Rector of St. Luke’s, he said, “That little congregation has had more effect in the Episcopal Church than and other congregation I’ve known.”  To this he smiled and added, “And I am not sure I am really happy about that!” That was offset by an African Archbishop who told me that Dennis’ book was the single cause of a large evangelistic movement in his Church that had brought thousands to Christ.

I was astonished to be called to St. Luke’s. I was 38 years old. I had no national reputation, but it remains for me one of the greatest experiences of my nearly 50 years of ordained ministry.  What I did not know when I accepted the call was that St. Luke’s had a weekly Wednesday night “Evangelistic Service” and I would spend the next six years of my life leading it!

I had never done such a service before, but the staff were quick to bring me on board with it.  I should make it clear especially to Episcopal clergy that this was not a Eucharistic service, nor was it taken from the Prayer Book.  It was simple in form which I will describe in a moment. It was advertised on a local Christian radio station as a time when Christians could bring non-Christians and seekers to hear a clear presentation of the Christian life and receive prayer. In the six years, we never had less than 5 people accept the invitation to accept Christ at the end of the service and often we would have over 20.

Here is what we would do: 

First, we began with a welcome and a music group would lead the congregation in some simple Christian choruses.

Second, we would read a passage of scripture.

Third, I or one of our other clergy would give a 20-minute teaching on the scripture and on what it means to receive Christ and be empowered by the Holy Spirit. (We avoided church jargon and complex theology these are not helpful to non-Christians.)

Fourth, a lay member of the congregation would give a 10 minute “testimony” of how they had come to Christ. We were adamant about the 10 minutes and instructed our folks to present three things.

1st. What my life was like before I encounter Christ. 2nd. What happened when I encountered him. 3rd. How my life has changed since receiving him.

Finally, I would extend an invitation to those who would like to receive Christ and experience the Holy Spirit’s presence to come forward to our altar rail where team of lay leaders would pray from them. They were also invited to come forward for healing prayers if they needed them. 

I would say that through this experience and being invited to speak in other churches, that I have led more people to a commitment to Christ than almost any other living Episcopal priest. I do know a small group who have done more, and I am delighted to have ministered with Carrie Headington, the Evangelism Officer of the Diocese of Dallas who continues this work.

Compare this with the typical “attempt” of evangelism in TEC. This is believing that if people attend our services, they will eventually figure this out. Or some places make some attempt to present this in baptismal or confirmation instruction although quite frankly most of the time we are explaining to people why they should be Episcopalians – the emphasis being on church membership. 

One thing we learned when I led church planting in the Diocese of Texas was that when a new plant started with public services about half the congregation would be new to the church. Consequently, the clergy needed to start off by preaching a series on the basics of the Christian life and bypass the Lectionary.  The truth is that the Lectionary jumps around too much to give a comprehensive view of this to new people.  It worked in helping the Diocese become the fastest growing Diocese in the Episcopal Church for 7 years in BOTH percentages and actual numbers.  I have heard many clergy say that TEC just doesn’t do evangelism. I try to share with them that the Anglican Communion does, and we did! In a future blog, I will discuss why I think we are so bad at the task of evangelism.  In this one, I want people to know that we have done it.  And I learned to do it. Furthermore, evangelistic teaching and preaching is like any other skill.  It can be learned if there is a motivation to do so.  I was motivated by my own Christ encounter, and I found mentors and teachers who helped me along the way.

During my time at St. Luke’s, the congregation became the largest it had ever been. This was because of two things. First, we learned that an increasing number of people coming to us had no church experience or community, so we learned we had to not only proclaim Christ but also form them in Christ. Second, we had a strong lay led small group ministry that was part of this formation.  New Christians need follow up, formation, and often pastoral care. Small groups are a tremendous resource for this.

I cannot tell you the absolute joy that comes from leading people to Christ. New Christians are excited by their newfound life in Christ. They are not jaded about how church should be done. They are eager to learn. Most significantly, their friends are often not Christians either and they are excited about sharing their new faith with them.

Why don’t more Episcopal Churches do evangelistic ministry? I will explore this in future blogs, but I can start with this simple and painful truth; our seminaries do not value evangelism and do not teach students the foundations of evangelism and the practical things that work. As one of our former Deans remarked, “It’s hard to graft an evangelistic vine on a universalist tree!”

Lastly, we had a tremendous advantage in doing evangelism in the 80s at St. Luke’s. Seattle was the least Christian and churched city in America. Of course, today most of our society has moved toward secularism with Christian churches declining. Hence, most American cities today are more like Seattle in those days. Strangely, the larger the number of non-Christians, the poorer TEC’s ability to reach them.

Episcopal leaders today talk much about diversity and inclusion. Bishop Payne often observed that evangelism was the most inclusive and diverse ministry of the Church.  He got that idea from the pages of the New Testament. The story is still there to read!

In my next blog, I will share what I believe is lacking in the Church’s ability to do the work of evangelism.



Monday, October 18, 2021

As We Come Out of Covid 19, Remember these Two Dynamic


I continue to be amazed at the terrific work that parish clergy have done during the Covid pandemic especially in finding ways to offer worship and other services via live streaming. I would estimate that only a handful of churches offered services on-line before Covid and now easily a majority of churches offer this. At the heart, clergy are in the people/relationship calling and not the technology or media presentation building, but they have learned. This learning continues. For example, my home congregation, Grace in Georgetown, Texas has daily services and Sundays live streaming. This is great, but now that we are gradually coming out of the pandemic, you will want to pay attention to two important dynamics.

First, there is a dramatic upturn toward the need for human touch. Early in the development of computers and on-line services psychologists coined an important concept. “High Tech leads to High Touch.” What they noted is that the more people interfaced with computers and other technology, the stronger their desire for human touch.

This came back to me in a conversation with a colleague. She noted that despite the continuing demand for masks and distancing in the wave of delta, people were coming to in person events and staying longer. She noted this in Sunday services and in funerals she had performed. I had noticed this too in returning to church, but I had not fully realized what I was seeing and experiencing. Our people were longing, not just for in person worship, but for connectedness. My suspicion is that we clergy are so focused on Sunday as a worship event and anxious to get back to “normal” meaning what we know that we may not be responding to this deeper need.

Simply said, we have often confused community and fellowship with the coffee hour. I often remind folks what I learned from one of my professors 50 years ago. He pointed out that the New Testament Greek word translated fellowship has become a weak word for Christians today. The better word, he suggested, is solidarity. “When one suffers, we all suffer, and when one rejoices, we all rejoice,” as St. Paul stated. Whatever this means, it does not mean superficial greetings.

My point is this, attend to ways to make the need for high touch realized among our people. Yes, of course, continue to provide alternatives to live events, there are folks who will need this. More importantly, we have learned to connect to a wider community via media to people who may never intend to attend a Sunday service. The church got a crash course in catching up with the 21st century and especially millennials and younger generation folks, however, remember that high tech leads to the need for high touch. And this is true for clergy as well as our laity.

Second, there is a distinct difference in seeing people on Zoom, sending them emails and filming You-tube, Instagram messages, and in being physically present with people.  This distinction has profound implications for the church as well as for our culture. 

I learned this from the young tech professional who, in a workshop, commented about Facebook. He made this observation. “Sometimes Facebook confuses us because we think being connected is the same as being in relationship!” He went on later to say that sending “an email to someone may connect us, but it doesn’t bring us into relationship!”

For example, because of my writing, teaching, and speaking at conferences, I have over 850 “friends” on Facebook. Truth is that I have about 20 real friends on FB with most everyone else an acquaintance. Having 850 people that I connect with on Facebook often confuses me about my need for real friendship which almost always involves real contact.

As we move to a post-pandemic world, let’s remember these truths. We need to create opportunities for our people to relate in meaningful ways and to create more and deeper relationships. Of course, worship especially the Eucharist is important, but passing the peace and going to coffee hour is hardly solidarity with our fellow members of the body of Christ.

Monday, June 7, 2021

The Audit, the Report, and Our Future


This is fourth in my series of blogs in response to the audit done in TEC on racism. In this one, I want to start with some observations following on the audit. Then I will turn to what I will called TEC’s missed opportunities. I will conclude by summarizing what the future holds for us if current trends continue. 

I was finally able to get a copy of the full report on the audit and their recommendations. I want to go on record that I think all our leaders and should read this revealing and helpful report. I recommend at least reading the executive summary.  I have a copy if you have trouble finding it. Of course, given our history and the fact that we remain a denomination predominately “white” by 90%, we have a great deal of introspection and work to do if we are to become more of the Church Jesus created and his mission compels us to be.

The recommendations based on the data found in the report best comes down to “continue to do the initiative we have begun toward becoming “the beloved community” and working on racial reconciliation.  It is with these conclusions that I have some reservations or at least counter thoughts.

When national leaders responded to the initial report, the consensus seemed to be expressed by our Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies. This was that the report was disappointing and revealed that we still have much work to do.  Fair enough, but if one digs further into the actual data, there is a stunning fact. Although 90% of TEC is white, 23% of our leadership is made up of “people of color.” Nothing is made of the simple fact that people of color are represented in leadership by twice the percentage of their membership.  This should have been explored more fully. Instead, we are told how much more work is needs to be done in this area, and sadly it is implied that people of color are often placed or elected in leaders for token purposes. 

I agree that people of color feel at times because of their lack of numbers to be placed in leadership as token representatives, but the report seems to me to point us toward a different conclusion. First, it is difficult for me to believe that our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, is a token leader. I have known him for many years and always as a leader. I saw him as the best person with the right gifts to be in this office at this time.

Second, if we add to the percentage of people of color, people who identify as LGBTQ, and, as I pointed out in my first blog, the significant movement of women into leadership since the 1970s, a much different picture emerges. Granted that these often intersect in one person as with the newly elected Bishop of Michigan, but the numbers reveal that TEC may already be the most inclusive and diverse Church in North America especially when it comes to leadership.  This is something to be celebrated by the Church and especially the Progressive leadership who have champion these issues.

It also reveals why so much of our conversation sounds like, as one astute commentator has suggested, the faculty lounge chat. This means language and words used, not in the mainstream of public life, but in the circle of college educated people.  Sad to say, TEC continues to be largely a community of elite people no matter what we think of our diversity or how hard we work toward inclusion.

This leads me to state a painfully obvious fact. The leaders of TEC today have been more evangelized and converted by secular culture than we have been able to evangelize and convert people from this culture.  We seem better at spreading doubt about faith and belief than we do about affirming its value to our society. Put another way, TEC is best educated to reach the least churched segment of our population, and yet we have failed badly in our efforts at apologetics for the place of religion, faith, and even Jesus to this group.

The outstanding counter example of this is the Presiding Bishop who gives such a compelling message of reconciliation, forgiveness and love, the values of the Jesus Movement, every opportunity he gets. My question is simple this. Why do so many leaders in our community who admire him, fail to do a better job at following his example?

When I studied evangelism many years ago, I learned that it is easier for people to evangelize those who are more like them. Teachers called this “picking the low hanging fruit first.” Has not TEC done exactly this related to leadership? We have done our best work of including in our leadership women and gay/lesbian people because they were already in our membership.

I have already pointed out that one kind of low hanging fruit for TEC is Hispanic ministry, but even though they are close at hand, we have stumbled in the vast opportunity before us. Dare I ask if the issue here is not that they speak Spanish, but that many of them are not college educated? Think further, if we continue to require leaders in the Hispanic community to earn a college degree before entering the ordination process, is our elitism showing?  Every time I have asked this question among other Episcopalians, someone always says, “We can’t create a second-class order of priest. They will never be accepted among the other clergy.” If you cannot see the elitism in this statement, you are blind to our fundamental prejudice in TEC.  The real issue is not whether Hispanic clergy need to be accepted by the rest of our clergy. The issue is whether they can do ministry and be accepted by Hispanic people.

Where will the future find us? You will not find the answer in the Report or its recommendations. You will find it painfully written in our current trends.

If things continue as they have for the past two decades and as they are now, where will TEC be in the next two decades? The first answer is painfully GONE! Contrary to much of the Anglican Communion, we will be in a quickening cycle of decline with churches closings until the only thing left is General Convention managing the decreasing resources of a dying progressive denomination. 

The future for the Episcopal Church lies not in a inward preoccupation with our racial makeup but in having a compelling message of Jesus Christ and his movement.






Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Winning and Losing

In my first two blogs, I have been exploring the nature of TEC as it relates to the values of inclusiveness and diversity considering the recent study on the racial makeup of Episcopal leaders.  My second blog explored the tremendous change in our community of the role of women in leadership.  In this blog, I will be exploring how diverse we were before decisions around gender and after. This is an extremely sensitive issue in our Church, so allow me to say that I am not going to attempt to revisit these decisions but rather how these affected the character and make up of TEC.”

Please let me begin by clarifying my position related to gender issues. we have after all moved in an extraordinary way toward inclusion in issues related to gender identity. I was late to understand the cause of marriage equality, but I have always been on the side of the full acceptance in the Church of all people. In the mid-90s, I was a Clerical Deputy of the Diocese of Texas. There was a resolution before General Convention that the Episcopal Church formally apologize to our Gay and Lesbian members for the way the Church and Church members had treated them.  There was hot debate. At the end, each order filled out the paper ballot on our vote.  All our lay deputies and 3 of our 4 clergy ones voted no. I voted yes. Since I was considered theologically conservative, a term I never apply to myself, my fellow Deputies seemed confused by my vote.  Then the self-identified “most liberal clergy Deputy,” who voted no, asked aloud, “Kevin, did you not understand the resolution? You voted yes!” As the rest of the deputation listened, this is what I said. “I voted yes because I served as the Rector to a large parish in Seattle. About 35% of my members were single, and many were gay or lesbian, and I learned firsthand how badly they were treated by their families, friends, and churches. How can we not apologize for such behavior and such lack of Christian compassion especially for our own children?”

Since then we have grown in diversity and in inclusiveness! Unfortunately, we often did this at the expense of other Episcopalians especially those whose theological viewpoint was different from the Progressive one. Fast forward to the vote on the consent to the election of Gene Robinson as Bishop. The vote on consent passed by a large margin in the House of Bishops. In the House of Deputies, the vote passed but the margin was just over the 50% necessary to approve to consent.

The day after the vote, I was observing the House of Bishops and happened to be sitting behind one of the leaders of Integrity who I had known and liked for many years. A group of Integrity members came in and sat by him to complain that a resolution that they had supported had failed to pass one of General Convention’s many committees. My friend looked at them with astonishment and said, “Don’t you understand? With the consent for Gene Robinson, we won everything!”

Confirmation of that came at the next General Convention, the last one where I served as a Deputy.  When the first resolution that was supported by Progressives came to the floor. The deputies voted almost 80% in favor. There was a low murmur when the vote was announced because many of us realized what this meant.  Sure enough, every resolution put forward by Progressives that reached the floor passed. But even more telling, the fact that several conservative Dioceses had withdrawn from the Church or refused to attend gave the majority of Progressive Deputies more than enough votes to cut off debate on any issue. And they did. A resolution would be presented. Pro speakers would move to one microphone and con speakers would move to another. The first pro speaker would “move the question.” A motion to move the question which ends debate takes precedent and debate ended.  I want to repeat this, so you are clear. Every resolution supported by Progressives after this passed with no debate because Progressives had more than enough votes to meet the 2/3rds necessary to close debate.

Near the end of the Convention, a long-time Progressive Deputy asked for a point of personal privilege and was recognized. He painfully pointed out the behavior of his fellow Deputies and decried the complete shutdown of any dissent whatsoever. Despite his long service, he was booed loudly and walked away.

I return to the statement “We won everything…”

Around 1990, Forward Movement published a brochure about the constituency of the Episcopal Church. The insightful and knowledgeable writer pointed out the TEC was made up of several different theological viewpoints that represented both the history of and movements within Anglicanism.  The writer identified 6 groups.  Progressives were one and so were Anglo-Catholics. Identified were also Renewal/charismatic members and Evangelicals who leaned toward the Calvinistic side of historic Anglicanism.  Another strong group were historic Anglophiles who loved the high English culture represented by the Prayer Book and our DNA of high culture regarding music and the arts. Like the English Church, TEC had existed by accommodating these diverse theological and cultural viewpoints under what many called “the Large Tent.” Many of us Episcopalians identified with more than one point of view because we had been touched positively by more than just one viewpoint. I personally have been affected by the Oxford Movement, the liberal/Progressive Movement, and the Renewal Movement. I loved the fact that TEC like Anglicanism itself had learned the wisdom of holding these together using the same Prayer Book. Anglicanism in most of the world is a force for ecumenical affirmation and Christian unity.  In such a body, what did it mean to win?

It did not mean that the Church divided as some contend. It meant that Progressives now dominated and could force their viewpoints through the decision-making body of the Church. The result was that the Church fractured into its separate parts.  What did unite some of these, the ACNA for example, was their mutual anger held by these now disenfranchised members of the old coalition. And while this is hard for many Progressives to understand, many of our disenfranchised brothers and sisters had genuine theological objections. Objections that were once dominant in the Anglican Church and that in many Communion Provinces still are. This win made compliance with it a matter of conscience for those of other theological views.

The result has left TEC, unlike the most of Anglicanism, identified with one theological viewpoint.  The failure of Progressives to find a way of compromise and allow these other points of view to remain under this tent marks a turning point for the Episcopal Church. Let me be clear. I am not defending the behavior of some of those who left self-righteously condemning TEC. There is plenty of blame to spread around.

Why should Progressives have found another way forward?  First, they threatened to divide the Anglican Church which ironically is much more racially diverse than TEC. This has led to posturing around the Communion for the past 15 years that still reflects the potential for further fracturing. More importantly for TEC as it continues is something that few think about. Our leaders after the Robinson consent and the win, should have remembered the substantial research done by places like the Alban Institute on church conflicts. Thanks to Speed Leas and others (I was one), consultants were able to point out the effects upon a church or denomination that came to the 4th step of conflict – fight or flight – and resolved it by one group winning.

The literature was and is extensive. The result is that all parties involved lose energy and momentum and decline afterwards.  Progressives believed that the full inclusion of all people meaning gender diversity would open the doors of the Episcopal Church to hundreds of thousands of new people as one Bishop boldly declared. It never did.  Holding a position on social issues is not evangelism. It does not call people to follow Jesus as one of his disciples. It is, in fact, exclusive not inclusive resulting in a less than diverse community when it comes to Christian theology and unity. Further holding this position does not in and of itself attract secular people and it does not recruit them to TEC.

The present decline of the church combined with the loss of so many GI generation loyal Episcopalians leaves us where we are today. Where is that? We are a declining mainline denomination with remnants of Anglican culture and a singular theological viewpoint unable to attract new members in any significant numbers and yet our leaders believe repeating their intentions to be inclusive and diverse will make us so. Many Progressive leaders of the Church deal with all issues by repeating their intentions and failing to see the consequences of their behavior.

Today, our church is less ecumenical, less Anglican, and less diverse. In my next blog, I will suggest what alternatives lie before us.  It is clear, however, that expanding our community with a larger number of racially diverse people has proven beyond our reach. The report on racism in our denomination only confirms this. Remember, insanity can best be described as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  




Thursday, May 13, 2021

The Inclusive/Diversity Paradox

In my first blog in response to the release of the report on racial diversity, or lack of it, in the Episcopal Church, I explored the missed opportunity for greater inclusiveness and diversity among Hispanics.  In this blog, I want to focus on what I call the Inclusive/Diversity Paradox.  What do I mean by this?

For the past three decades, no one can doubt that the strongest theological worldview in TEC is Progressive.  For the last two decades, theological progressives have held almost every office of leadership on the national and diocesan level.  Almost all the Bishops elected during this time hold this perspective. The two words most associated with this view are “inclusiveness and diversity.”  It was out of a concern for diversity that the Church ordered an independent audit of the racial makeup of our leadership.

While the report is both useful and insightful, it also raised a serious question about what the progressive leaders of our Church have really accomplished despite three decades of emphasis on these two goals.  On the surface it seems that the more these two values have been consistently put before the Church, the less inclusive and diverse we have become.  I have heard a number of conservatives say this.

We have had several of initiatives aimed at addressing diversity and racial reconciliation taking place. These often fall under the discussion of becoming more the “beloved community,” a phrase often used by progressive leaders to describe what the Church is called to be.  No one can ignore that we have made racism, racial reconciliation, and social justice a high priority in recent years especially considering the Black Lives Matter movement.  Yet ironically the Episcopal clergy who have joined marches in support of these causes represent a Church that the audit shows being 90% white and has many examples systemic racism.

Sadly, these 30 years of progressive leadership has been marked by a decline in our racial diversity.  I have been an Episcopal Priest for almost 50 years, and I remember when we had strong African American congregations like the Cathedrals in Newark and Detroit. These were led by outstanding black clergy.  Many of our black clergy and lay leaders were active leaders in the civil rights movement during the 60s and 70s.  Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, is a next generation example of this leadership.  Where are those churches now? Well, the more we focused on diversity, the whiter we became. The paradox is this. The more our Black leadership should have been affirmed and advanced, the more our leaders of the past 30 years failed to build on what we once had. 

Again, since diversity and inclusion have been the constant stated intentions, what kind of contradiction does our current situation hold up.  Some would say that on a fundamental level, our Progressive leaders have failed. I would not.

Where has the Church shown a fundamental shift related to inclusiveness. There are two areas that clearly stand out. I want to focus in this blog on the greatest area of change within TEC during the last 30 years. This is the incredible advances in women’s leadership. Since the official ordination of women in 1979, we have moved in a steady direction of full inclusion of women on all levels of the Church. Some may say that it has not been fast enough, but it has been extraordinary and a great blessing to us. Remember that before 1970, girls were not allowed to be acolytes and women could not serve on Vestries in most of our churches. Women were not allowed to be on Standing Committees or General Convention Deputies. From 1970 to 1980, TEC experienced massive change in the role of leadership for women.

There was considerable resistance to these changes, but this was proven to be a vocal minority. When in 1979 women’s ordination was passed by both Houses of General Convention, the place, and gifts of women in the Church exploded. In recent years, the number of women elected bishops has grown steadily.  This includes women of color.

As someone who has supported women’s ordination since seminary, I have seen this greater diversity among our clergy and lay leadership unfold.  Progressives have often pointed out that women’s ordination was an extension of the civil rights movement. I think this is true, but Episcopalians may want to question whether our gains in this area deflected our focus on the place of our black members. This could account for part of the diversity paradox.

When the ordination of women was affirmed in 1979, outspoken opponents to this claimed that we would see a major division and exodus from the Church. There was some, but it was small.  Initially some diocese accepted a “conscience clause” and did not ordain women, but their number diminished quickly.  While many of the supporters of women’s ordination were, like me, folks who do not call ourselves progressives, Progressives played a major role in changing the leadership makeup of the Church. Historically, this may be their greatest accomplishment in both word and deed.

One place that never accepted women’s ordination was the Diocese of Fort Worth and their Bishop Jack Iker. That diocese continued to hold their position long after most of the Church had fully accepted it. The House of Bishops failed to take any action against either the Bishop or the Diocese. The Diocese of Fort Worth eventually voted to leave TEC. This happened amid the controversy related to the acceptance of gay and lesbian clergy and marriage equality.  For those of us who knew Bishop Iker and the clergy of that Diocese, we know that women’s ordination was always the issue that led to their defection from TEC. I mention this because it is worth noting how dysfunctional that Diocese was and probably still is. Ironically, several ACNA dioceses allow the ordination of women. 

As Anglicans, we try to avoid the idea of winners and losers in our community of faith, but from a historical perspective, there have been no greater winners in the past 30 years than women of leadership in our community.

In my next blog, I will explore how gender issues have contributed to the ongoing Inclusive/Diversity Paradox. I content that this paradox is real despite some accomplishments and that a deeper exploration of it involves a better understanding of who we really are as a community and what our way forward might become.  I do know this, racial makeup is not the most significant dynamic of our Church. And, by the way, Episcopalians need to remember that African Anglicans are the largest racial community in the Anglican Communion.  Episcopalians today make up less than 1% of our wider community.   






Thursday, May 6, 2021

Episcopalians, How Racist are We?

Recently, the Episcopal News Service released a story on racial diversity in our Church.  It was based on an independent study and report done for the Episcopal Church. The major lead was that we remain a Church that is 90% white and that the report confirms that we have implicit and explicit systemic racism. There were no details given and unlike their typical articles, it has not been repeated on the regular news releases.

They did quote a few of our leaders including our Presiding Bishop who said the results were disappointing and showed that we still have a long way to go in our efforts at diversity and inclusion. I would like to read the whole report, but I have yet to find it. 

A particularly insightful observation by some of our black leaders helps us understand what it is like to be a minority in our community. Often, they feel their presence is “simple ignored.” On the other hand, they are at times left to feel as though their presence becomes merely a token of diversity.  Both situations seem to me something that the rest of us should hear and take very seriously. 

The article did not give many details of the report, but perhaps its release will be more helpful when it is fully available. My initial reaction was “so a denomination that remains 90% white has racism issues? Thanks Captain obvious!” We are also older than the population and the average age of ordination continues to climb even with several intentional actions by some of our Bishops to recruit younger leadership. These too are issues badly needing to be understood.

My most direct encounter with racism in our church and its systemic nature came in my work with Hispanic members first in the Diocese of Texas working with Bishop Leo Alard, and more directly when I became Dean of the Cathedral in Dallas where 60% of our worshipping community attended our Spanish language service. My dear friend and colleague, Fr. Tony Munoz, Canon Pastor of the Cathedral for Hispanic work, helped me understand many of the issues our Hispanic members faced both in the Church and in the wider community.

Around 2000, when we were still having conversations about doubling our size by 2020, I wrote an article based on my experience with Hispanic ministry in Texas. I contended that the best way for us to accomplish this goal would be to focus strongly on reaching new Hispanic members.  I pointed out five proven missionary and evangelistic strategies that other denominations had used and how we could adapt them. I also pointed out how this would enrich our common life and put the Episcopal Church on the front line of racial reconciliation with the ever-growing Hispanic portion of our population.  I was not prepared for the reaction.

I got support from many Hispanic leaders, but almost none from others. The response that shocked me the most was when one national leader wrote me to object to my suggestions. In his letter, he said this, “Yes Kevin, we could do what you wrote about but if we succeeded, we would no longer by a diverse Church. We would have too many Hispanics to have true diversity.” I have kept the letter to remind me of another of our failed opportunities to live out both the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.

In this first blog on the issues raised by this article, I want to make two observations:

My first observation is this: We are not 90% white. We have a richer diversity than this found in our Hispanic membership and among some of our outstanding Asian and native American members. I know firsthand that many of our Hispanic people are simply not counted and I suspect this is true of other ethnic groups. For Hispanics attending our Church, there are some external and legal reasons for this, but mostly they are not seen and certainly not taken seriously enough.

My second observation and one I will explore more fully in further blogs is this: even if the 90% label is right, this is one of the least helpful things to know about the Episcopal Church today.

I will end with this further observation. Hispanic ministry remains one of the Episcopal Church’s greatest potential mission fields and one of the most fruitful ways we could extend our inclusiveness and diversity.  Sadly, it remains clear that racial inclusiveness and diversity remain values that many of our leaders hold dearly but have little idea how to obtain it even when even, as with Hispanic ministry, it continues to stare us in the face every day!

If we had taken the initiates that I outlined or the actions recommended by the Evangelism Commission of General Convention in 2003, we may not have doubled the size of the Church from where it was in 2000, but we would be double the size we are now! 



Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Parish Leadership 4: Tips for Organizing Around Goals and Work

To accomplish your work, this blog will be a series of bullet points with suggestions and ideas to help you in your work and calling to serve Christ’s Church as a leader.

1.     When I visit a Vestry Meeting, I like to see that each member has a Vestry Notebook. Page one is a statement of the parish’s vision or mission.

2.     Page two contains the current 1 to 3 years goals as set by the vestry leadership at a workday or retreat.

3.     Next to each goal is the name of the Vestry Member of Clergy who is assigned the role of shepherd of the Goal.  This person reports at each vestry meeting on the progress and status of this goal.

4.     I like to see the meeting start with a sharing of prayer concerns followed by a time of prayer.

5.     I want the business to begin with a report from the Rector, the Senior Warden, the Junior Warden, the Administrator or Treasurer.

6.     Next should follow a report from any Vestry Committees. A typical list might include:  Administration, Buildings and Grounds, Staff and Program. I would hope there would be a report from an on-going stewardship committee.  (Note these committees are organized around the vestry’s work)

7.     I would like to see an update from each of the shepherds of the current goals at each meeting.

8.     Each motion or resolutions from each committee or individual should be in writing which would include the alternatives considered the recommended.

9.     If the parish is larger, I would hope staff members and leaders of ministries would be invited to update the Vestry on their work on a regular basis.

10.   I would hope that there would be a year-round Stewardship Committee who would be charged with addressing the traditional stewardship of Time, Talents, and Treasure. The Episcopal Network for Stewardship (TENS) has excellent resources for communicating and teaching on Stewardship.

11. I would hope that the Stewardship Committee would focus on each of these at different times of the year. For example, Rally Day would be a great time to have a Ministry Fair with tables representing all Parish organizations and ministries to focus on the Stewardship of Time where members are encouraged to sign up or join.

12.  I would like to see the leadership consider a Stewardship Campaign for financial support in January before the Annual Meeting. Each Sunday, I would hope that there would be a brief witness on stewardship by diverse members of the congregation i.e., married, single, young, more mature, who state why they give to God’s work and support their parish.

13. There should be written requirements for Vestry Members that includes that they “recognize that the Tithe is the minimal standard of giving in the Episcopal Church and that they are committed to tithing or working toward the Tithe during their tenure on the Vestry.

14.  I would like to see that Vestry requirements include a pledge to pray regularly for the parish and for those with special needs.

15.  Leaders should make the Annual Meeting a festive occasion when the life of the parish is celebrated.

16.  The financial report should not be a detailed explanation of the budget, but a narrative description of the parish’s life and work. (a pie chart is often a helpful tool for such a presentation.)

17.  I would hope that at the Annual Meeting there would be special recognition of the longest tenured members of the Parish and welcoming of the newest members.

18.  I believe that each leader should see a part of their work as helping create an emotionally positive experience during the Sunday fellowship. (Sunday is not a day for complaining!)

19.  Churches should have both ushers and greeters (which includes families with children) and a designated Vestry Member of the Day who wears a ribbon that says, “Vestry Member: Ask Me!” (Visit the “Invite, Welcome, Connect” website for excellent recommendations on connecting to visitors and newcomers.)

20.  I would like to see the “coffee hour” replaced with a reception for visitors and new members and that each leader sees this time as an opportunity to meet and greet everyone in the room.

21.  I would encourage all leaders to remember that modeling is not a way we lead, but the only way we lead.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Parish Leadership 3: Structure for the Future Not the Past

Building on my first two blogs on Discernment and Community, I now want to ask a question about Vestry Structure, namely, how then should we organize to accomplish our work?

We need to start with the current realities. If a church hired and organizational consultant who knows nothing about the church and its purposes, the leadership would learn an interesting fact about a church works.  (I am speaking about the the typical congregation with a full-time ordained clergy person and attendance between 80 and 150.)

The consultant would point out that the church seemed to be organized to do two things.  First, most of the energy of the congregation functions to provide a Sunday morning services.  That is because the consultant would have seen the altar guild, the servers, the acolytes, the ushers, the clergy, and the parish secretary working at this task. 

Then consultant would also add that observing the full-time ordained leader pointed to a second purpose. Despite the old joke that clergy only work on Sundays, the clergy person is involved in a multitude of activities related to their office.  The consultant also notes that between 40 to 50% of the church’s budget is used to support the rector.  The consultant would note that besides Sunday morning, the parish seems organized to support the work of the Rector. 

Of course, the consultant would also note that organizations like the church school, and the men’s group, and the Wednesday bible study for a smaller number of folks also happened.  Many congregations would also have some sort of organization to provide for outreach. but these other organizations and ministries would just seem haphazard.

All of this becomes even more interesting when we compare this typical parish organization to the stated mission of both the wider Church and a local congregation.  We would see the lack of congruency between the organization’s stated mission and its actual operations.  I have worked with congregations and Vestries that have complex organizational makeup but who have never stopped to ask the question “How would we best organize and structure our parish to accomplish the mission we believe god has given us?

The sad truth is that 80 to 90% of Episcopal congregations are organized based on how we have always done things.  And Vestry is made up of a committee 9 to 12 people who spend most of their time reviewing the budget and the operations of the congregation. In other words, maintaining what we have known and expect to know into the future.  This would be fine if our churches operated in the 19th century in a dominantly Christian culture but now our churches are in the 21st century among predominantly non-churched people.

How then should the vestry organize?

I said in the last blog how important it is for the Vestry to build community life and model to the rest of the parish this intrinsic value to accomplish the Church’s bigger mission.  What we need today is to stop what we are doing by precedent and take a more radical step.  This step is by necessity what new planted churches and communities naturally do to get started.  They are forced by low budget, no building, not enough volunteers, and an immediate agenda to organize directly around a mission and 3 to 5 core values. 

That is what we do in revitalization of congregations.  We start with the mission and because it has a history, we allow 5 to 7 core values instead of just 3!

Let me pause and say what this does not produce. It does not produce a Vestry made up of 7 to 10 committees or even a Vestry where all elected members act as liaisons to parish organizations.  These two forms are all over the Church and are largely, in my experience, a waste of time and energy.  The only organization of the Vestry itself that I have found effective is when the sub-committees are organized around the Vestry’s work. You will hear more about this in my next blog on practical matters.

So, I want to see that every vestry member has a notebook. On page one is the mission of the parish and its core values, and on page two are the current one to three year goals.  When I see this, I find a Vestry that is either doing its mission directly or are preparing to do so.

The Vestry’s primary work now becomes oversight of its mission and the work around those core values.  Organize around this principle and you will have what organizational consultants call Organizational Congruency!

In my next blog, I will discuss what this might look like, and in my last blog on leadership, I will discuss stewardship and the budget seen from the point of view of the mission and core values. 

Questions so far?  Do not forget you can email me at


Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Parish Leadership 2: Building Community


In this second blog on parish leadership, I want to talk about building the community. The community of the leadership and of the congregational community.  Remember that one of the two core values of the Jesus movement is the Great Commandment to love one another.  These are meaningful words and almost all Christians would affirm them, but realistically, how do we build community?

Some years ago, I wrote a book, 5 Keys for Church Leaders. It is available from Church Publishing at Amazon and is also in a Kindle edition.  In it I talked about how important it is for church leaders to “Build the Team.”  What I pointed out is that to effectively carry out the mission that you have discerned, then the leadership need to work like a team. The team image is powerful because no team just shows up to play. They spend time together. They practice and they learn how to work cooperatively and not competitively.

Rather than give a series of bullet points on how to do this, I want to share with you the most significant experience that I have had in my years of ministry with a Vestry that did this intentionally. It was the Vestry of St. Luke’s in Seattle when I was the Rector. Here is what we developed.

First, we would meet twice a month.  The first meeting was about the mission and the strategy and ministries to carry out the mission. (More of this latter in my next blog.)  The second meeting was the business one where we reviewed the budget and the oversight of buildings, staff, and operations.  This was second because the first of the month made it hard for the treasurer and the administrator to put together the month information.

We would begin both meetings at 6pm with dinner.  Often members came in late because of their business hours, their commutes, or family obligations.  At 7pm we would move to our meeting room and I would begin the meeting with an opening prayer.  Then we would go around the room and check for any prayer concerns or needs.  Our deacon would keep notes of the concerns and then at the end, the deacon (and others as they felt led) would hold up the concerns in prayer.  Often members of the vestry would move to lay hands on those with needs for healing or strength. 

At the first meeting of the month, we would open the scriptures and I or one of our members would lead a study.  This was not just a bible study.  This was a bible study centered on the issues of leadership.  That was after all why we were there. It is amazing how many passages throughout the Scriptures deal with this topic. (There is an NIV Leadership edition of the Bible organized just on this theme.) We would discuss these passages and explore the applications to our community.  The second hour of the meeting, we would turn to the main thing, our mission.  Twice a year, we would review our goals and set new ones. Often at this meeting, we would bring the leaders of ministries or staff members into the meeting to discuss their work and seeking ways that we could support their areas. 

The second meeting of the month also started with a meal, gathering and prayers. We did not do a Scripture study, but now had a report from the Rector, the Wardens, our Administrator, and the more typical reports you would expect.  The meeting portion was limited to two hours.  At the end of both meetings there was informal time over coffee and dessert. Over the years, and after holding and visiting hundreds of Vestry meetings, I am convinced that everything that happens after two hours is either redundant or ineffective.  Vestry members are, after all, volunteers.

In addition to these regular events, we held a day long retreat in February to welcome new vestry members and bring them up to speed and then to say goodbye and thank you to the off-going members.  Then in June we held a longer retreat to review and focus on our mission and strategies. 

Hard work? Yes!  Worth it? Without question.  People often said that the time on our Vestry was the most meaningful experience of Christian community they had ever had. A common feedback was that the Vestry had become a second family.

Now, I am not saying that you should operate this way, but I am suggesting that you structure your life together to allow time and use strategies that will allow the Vestry to become a community. 

Lastly, let me make this observation. While every parish has some dear saintly person whose spirituality and Christian witness is exemplary, and often some small group ministry that has rich fellowship and support, the corporate spiritual life of the congregation will not be greater than the spiritual life and witness of the leadership.   As Philip Turner said recently to a group of clergy, we must become the incarnation of the community that we are called to be. Modeling this is not a way to make this happen, it is the only way to enable it to happen. 

If you want more practical steps and ideas to move toward such a community, I have some in my 5 Keys book, or your Diocesan Office and Bishop should be able to help you.

In my next blog, I will discuss strategy and structure or how to organize to accomplish the mission.  Remember, a mission without a strategy is, after all, only a dream.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Parish Leadership: Discernment


This is the first of a series of Blogs about Parish Leadership. While it is intended for new Vestry Members, feel free to share this with leaders of your congregations. 

In these blogs, I will not be writing about the canonical responsibilities but will leave this up to parish clergy to communicate.  I will be writing about the issue of leadership as we enter the post-COVID period and the role of lay leaders working in partnership with their clergy to develop healthy, vibrant, and growing congregations. I will be covering the big picture issues and the practical steps needed to lead in today’s world.

Many Episcopalians think that the role of the Vestry is to manage the business affairs of the parish.  More specifically, they believe that while the clergy manage the spiritual affairs, the lay leaders manage the budget.  In other words, the role of the Vestry is to maintain the congregation, balance the budget and see to it that the grass gets mown.  Perhaps back before the last 40 years that was central to their role, but no longer.  In today’s world, we need congregational leadership to lead the local parish into the future.

The Current Realities

The demands of leadership are greater today than ever as the number of church members in our country drops from its historic post World War Two number of 40% to today’s number of 20%.  For the Episcopal Church, the last 20 years have seen significant loss of membership and decline in attendance.  To try to maintain our churches and continue business as usual is no longer possible. We need our current leadership to move to the future in creative and innovative ways. In short, we need our leaders to lead.

Let us start with the primary question, “What is the role or purpose of a Vestry?” What is their first task?  As I said above that, while they are responsible for the operations of the local Church, this is not their primary role as leaders.

Put in Biblical Terms and in the language of the early church, the purpose of our elected and appointed leaders is “discernment.”  They are to discern the will of God for the local church.  One way to start this process is to ask what is the mission of this local body that we are called to by God and which the Holy Spirit is directing our mission.

Not Just a Mission Statement

I am not saying that our churches need to write another “mission statement!”  I often say to vestries that if writing a mission statement helps you to discover your mission, then write it. Sadly, many congregations have a mission statement, often written in calligraphy and posted on a parish hall wall, but have no clear sense of mission, our “must do” as a local outpost of the Jesus Movement.

Nether am I saying that every congregation needs to start this process from scratch. We do not need to put up newsprint or come up with some ideas about what we might be doing.  As an historic and creedal community, we have much direction put before us. 

The Mission not a Mission

What is the mission of the Church the Prayer Book Catechism asks?  The answer is “to reconcile all people to God and one another through Christ.” And we have two core values that direct this ministry of reconciliation.

          The Great Commission to make disciples and,

          The Great Commandment to love one another.

With this mission and these core values to guide us, the question every Vestry should be asking is this:  How is God’s calling this congregation to live out this mission and these core values in our local, diocesan, and world communities? 

Each congregation has a unique community of people, a unique setting, and a unique opportunity to live out this mission.  As disciples of Jesus, we do not think that we are gathered in our local setting by accident.  We are sent by our Lord to be witnesses to Jesus and live out God’s Kingdom, God’s reign on earth as in heaven. And we have been promised that we will be guided by God’s Spirit and given all the gifts we will need to accomplish this work.

The first thing, the main thing, is discernment. What is our Church’s unique calling at this moment and how do the needs of the community around us point to that calling?

Where should the lay and clergy leadership start?  We start with the right questions. How are we currently carrying out God’s mission and what more are we called to do at this moment given to us by God’s grace? 

Of course, we can only discern such an important set of questions by beginning in prayer. Then with the scriptures and our worship to guide us, we move forward in discernment trusting that as Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China, once said, “God’s mission shall never lack for God’s provision.”

As we grow in this discernment should we write down our mission?  Yes, we should! We should write it on all everything; our buildings, our bulletins, our website and our hearts.  And something else. The most vibrant congregations are constantly inviting and looking for others who will join us in the singular most important work of our life together.

Remember the first work of leadership is discernment and learn to “Make the main thing, the main thing!” 

In my next blog, I will explore how we build our leadership team and how we become the community the great commandment calls us to be.  

(you may contact me at with questions or comments on these blogs.)






Sunday, January 17, 2021

Crisis, Challenge, and Hope for the Episcopal Church: Learning from the Best

I waited for the New Year before posting this third in my series on hope for the future of TEC. In this blog, I want to point to the hope that lies within our Church and that could be a tremendous resource if we choose to use it.


In the mid-1990s, the Diocese of Texas started holding annual gatherings of church leaders based on size.  As a large Diocese, by dividing our churches into Family, Pastoral, Transitional, Program, and Resource size, we were able to adapt material on congregational development in the most relevant ways to our leaders. Early on, we discovered an immensely powerful tool that enabled most of our congregations to grow substantially in membership, attendance, and stewardship. 

Each year as we gathered each size, we selected one or two congregations with a best and proven area of ministry.  For examples, one year we focused on stewardship. One congregation in each size shared how they had the best stewardship of that size congregation in the Diocese.  Another year we focused on outreach. One year we focused on newcomer ministry and welcoming.  We did this for seven years. It was one of our primary strategies that helped us become the fastest growing Diocese in the Church.

The congregation in our program size that presented the first year had Mary Parmer, their newcomer coordinator, present.  Later she developed the “Invite Welcome Connect” ministry that has benefitted congregations all over TEC and beyond. This process is called “Benchmarking” and is now a common practice in many organizations and businesses. Its tremendous advantage is having the best present and teach the rest of the organization.

Growing Churches Reaching Newer and Younger People

In 2019, the year before COVID changed everything, TEC was still in steady decline.  Statistically, we had 60% of our congregations in decline, some in very steep decline. However, another 20% were managing to stay stable. Amazingly, 20% were growing and many growing steadily.  For me, these are the churches that should be teaching us how to meet the challenge of this decline and to reach the growing number of unchurched in our society. 

It is important to pause for a moment and realize that these 20% are now outliers in TEC.  They are operating in many ways counter cultural to what our community and its leaders are accepting as normal.  Normal for us is aging and declining churches with denominational leaders who move from one crisis after another caused by this decline and who spend their time problem solving each situation. Remember, “if you always do what you have always done, you always get what you have always gotten.”  This describes much of our current culture.

Who Are These Leader Congregations and What Can we Learn from Them?

To bring this more fully to our attention as we move forward in this new year, I set out to find some of them and turned to social media to help me.  My goal is to find 100 congregations that meet the following criteria. My hope is that others will study them and share what they know that our declining culture does not know. What criteria did I use?

First, for at least 3 years prior to 2020, these churches showed growth in membership and attendance above 5%

Second, their growth came from people new to TEC and many younger than 40 years of age. BTW, if you are concerned about our diversity, the best strategy is to reach Millennials and younger generations because they bring diversity as a part of their identity.

I did not list growing congregations like mine in Georgetown Texas that have had great growth but because of our county’s demographics, most of the growth comes from transfer Episcopalians and retiring Boomers.

I also did not include new plants or missional communities because, great as these are, they are not doing the work of congregational transformation. They are an important part of our future, but not the subject of this blog. Obviously, they are doing the work of evangelism.  But we will save these for another list. 

Here is my list and I want you to nominate other congregations that meet the above criteria. I know several of these Churches firsthand and the others by reputation. The list is in alphabetical order by church name.

Christ the King, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Church of the Epiphany, Richardson, Texas

Church of the Epiphany, Seattle, Washington

Grace Church, Yukon, Oklahoma

Good Samaritan, Brownsburg, Indiana

Good Samaritan, Paoli, Pennsylvania

San Matteo, Houston, Texas

St. Dunstan’s, Madison, Wisconsin

St. James, Austin, Texas

St. John’s, Memphis, Tennessee

St. Peter’s, Del Mar, California

Zion Church, Oconomowoc, Wisconsin

This is the beginning of what I hope will be a longer list of leading welcoming congregations.  If you know of any that meet the above criteria, email me at and I will add them.

Join me in creating hope for our future by finding these congregations and by holding them up to our leadership as congregations that can show us how to build the future Church.

Remember, even a declining denomination has growing churches. Let us learn from them and focus on our strengths and not or weakness, on our future and not our past.