Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What do you think about St. Paul's? We asked, here is what you said

You may recall that last Fall we hosted a series of "cottage meetings" that were small group gatherings in homes and an opportunity to talk about St. Paul's.

Many of you participated, and we asked that the leaders at each meeting record what was said and report it to our Stewardship Ministry Team.

Not long ago, Dudley Rochester compiled and synthesized those reports into a very readable and fascinating portrait of St. Paul's and where we stand at the moment in the life of our parish. Dudley presented this report to the Vestry, and I am reprinting it below in full. Please read, and please do come to our annual meeting this Sunday Feb. 14 after the 10 am service.

Here's the report:
SPMC Cottage Meetings 2009: Analysis of Ideas & Suggestions
Collated and Edited by Dudley Rochester, Chair, Stewardship 2009 Team
January 16, 2010

Executive Summary
As part of the Stewardship 2009 campaign, approximately 200 parishioners at St. Paul’s Memorial church attended 21 cottage meetings. For each meeting there was a recorder, and the proceedings below reflect the principal comments and suggestions that were made. Many areas were commented upon multiple times. The edited comments capture the key points, but eliminate most of the redundancy.
The report is divided into sections on Worship/Liturgy/Music, People & Diversity, Youth & Youth Program, Outreach, Ministry to the University of Virginia, Building & Environment, Finances, and Outside St. Paul’s. The first two categories occupy more than 40% of the report. Overall, the comments were very positive, and the suggestions were extremely thoughtful.
Your editor perceives several major themes. The worship, liturgy and music are highly valued. Most parishioners also speak positively about the increasing diversity along age, socio-economic and other lines. Most parishioners also support our inreach and outreach programs to those in need, whether the need is emotional, spiritual, or economic.
Three primary areas of concern are 1) to ensure that St. Paul’s will always have a place for people who simply want to come for worship and prayer. 2) Are we doing enough to meet needs within the congregation as well as in the outlying community? 3) Dealing with the tension between inreach and outreach, and managing outreach so that it does not become unmanageable.

Appreciating & Enjoying What We Have
The multiple and various blessings of worship services at St. Paul’s are what most parishioners like best about our church. Blessed times include during the Liturgy when we all recite the same prayers, creeds, and liturgy; serving the Eucharist and seeing people around the Holy Table; being quiet and listening to words said for centuries. Several mentioned chanting the liturgy, one likes the 8 AM service, and another singled out Rite 1. Visual impressions were also powerful, for example, seeing acolytes and interns standing at the Holy Table during The Great Thanksgiving with its wonderful symbolism and inclusiveness. Several comments referred positively to the presence of the children and the procession of the children, the articulate and happy young people.
Parishioners want to become more focused and more spiritually grounded. They value times when one may be quiet and still, for example, just before the service begins, at the opening of the service, i.e. the introit and call to silence and worship, hearing scripture being read, during prayers, during prayers for peace, or during prayers for the people, reading of names of those killed in combat, and well as remembrance of the unnamed citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan; at the Peace, in the quiet time after communion. One parishioner commented on the serendipity, not knowing how the service will affect her/him; another likes having the diverse clergy, with different styles and personalities, a third likes the feeling of being in communion with a deceased son.
The spiritual space St. Paul’s provides is very important, along with knowing it is there to be called on. Parishioners appreciate opportunities for learning about and practicing prayer and spirituality. They like to feel useful, and the feeling of belonging during the service and music. Knowing the people who are there and who are reaching out, and when they are serving others. Knowing that we are all on different points of spiritual journeys.
Many expressed appreciation for the high quality of preaching by all our clergy. They like the sermons, the teaching of the clergy (through sermons and other means). Several parishioners said that they also like Jim Richardson’s blog, keeping up to date with the parish, diocese, and church. Parishioners who are hard of hearing are grateful to have the service program.
Music was often cited as a major asset. One parishioner feels blessed by music, especially when her/his daughter is singing.
Suggestions for Improvements
Parishioners asked insightful questions about what the focus of St. Paul’s efforts should be. For example, is the primary function of the church comfort or challenge (pastoral or prophetic)? We need to balance the two. Some would like more challenge, some more comfort.
SPMC must make sure that there is a place for people who simply wanted to come to Sunday service for prayer and meditation - and nothing else. We must make sure that we are all being nurtured and getting a spiritual lift.
We need greater ministry among ourselves, to provide emotional encouragement and support. Implement Stephen Ministry and expand pastoral care. Continue small group sessions, small “interest” groups, whether for contemplation or action. Resume pilgrimages.
A few parishioners want the church to be dignified and to use the High Altar more frequently. Several want to resume Taize chants. One group suggested that we have a music festival with area church choirs coming together to sing, not compete.

People & Diversity
What We Are Doing Now
One parishioner (or group of parishioners) appreciates our church for being bountiful, exhausting, welcoming, joyful, rich in many ways, including the people and the traditions, a multi-faceted talented and generous community; for being glorious, pliable, politically, economically, and socially diverse; for the non-judgmental nature of the congregation, and for welcoming a diversity of people with different income levels.
All are welcome and accepted! We must ensure that everyone has a way to actively participate in discussion/ has a voice. We must know and be sensitive to the needs of others. We need to know more about individuals to make the community stronger. Help groups of people to meet one another. Note: some parishioners voiced their unease with the street people who are occasionally around.
Many express gratitude for St. Paul’s sense of community combined with a welcoming, inclusive spirit. Newcomers' Luncheons and other deliberate efforts to integrate newcomers into the congregation are much appreciated.
What More Could Be Done?
Are we doing enough to reach needs within the congregation, as well as outside the congregation? This includes not only physical needs but also emotional needs, and pastoral care concerns. Can support for our own parishioners be strengthened, even when a parishioner doesn't ask for help or make his/her crisis known? Provide compassionate pastoral care during difficult times.
Offer childcare during Adult Education. Offer skill-building classes such as working with computers, creating a resume, etc. at Community Night. Provide transportation for senior citizens to help them attend Community Night. Have mentors for newcomers, someone who is astute in recognizing spiritual gifts.
Increase our diversity; be the place that brings people together even as our society may cause people to feel separated; provide a home, a family; help people to feel needed, recognize that everyone has something to give; recognize that some people come to St. Paul’s for renewal and sustenance in order to go out into the world to do their work. Continue to be inclusive and welcoming. Create more opportunities for involvement; engage the diverse group of people in taking leadership roles in the church.
Can we be more open to the African American community? Can we be more open to the Hispanic community? We should fund a part-time position and hire a person that is equipped to minister to the Hispanic community, perhaps even have a Hispanic service.

Youth & Youth Program
As noted in the first section, parishioners like witnessing our children running around, feeling so comfortable at church, and forming their own friendships.
Forming intergenerational connections is also seen as very positive. There is concern for the intergenerational aspects of the parish, for giving a larger role to the younger communicants, yet still including the older ones; for building bridges across the generations while focusing on the young.
One group asked if there is there a good program for the 6th-8th grade group, or are they falling in between. Do the middle school and high school groups participate fully enough in the congregational life and in the Sunday services? Should all children be in Sunday services more than they are?
Quoting verbatim: “Kudos for Janet Legro and her merry band of volunteers.” Parishioners want to support the Youth Group and its mission to Native Americans. Perhaps the youth program should work with area Episcopal churches, and help youth groups get together for Foxfield events, fairs, etc.

Use this centennial time as a rallying point, to look inward as well as outward. St. Paul’s should consider its community in 3 ways: within the individual, within the church and beyond the church. There is a tension between inreach and outreach, and we must balance our inward and outward journeys. Should our time and resources be devoted to enhancing our worship or helping others? St. Paul’s is already moving toward more opportunities to develop our spiritual side, including the EFM programs and other opportunities for spiritual growth. This leads into our outward ministries. Balancing St. Paul’s needs with those of the larger world is always a challenge.
Manage the outreach programs so that they don’t grow too fast and become unmanageable. Reorganize, streamline and get younger. We must respond well to need for more outreach. Continue ministries such as Salvation Army, AIM, community garden, prayer shawl; Friends in Deed, Community Night, clothing drive. Create a food pantry. Pursue practical projects such as the community garden.
Provide service to the greater community, to anyone, in any condition, who comes through the doors. Have more face-to-face contact with people in need. We should address the poorest in our community, the people who are hurting for the basics of food and shelter. Should we address these issues directly (purchase a house for homeless women), or work through other agencies?
Help others, both locally and in other states/countries. Keep up the amount of money and service given to the community at large. Develop a Volunteerism Program as done in Federal Executive Trust. We'd like to have more interaction with the Black Churches as we did in the past. Increase interaction with other faiths.

Ministry to University of Virginia
Renew and bolster the original mission of St. Paul’s, to support the University. This has strong support. The University ministry should be directed toward all components of the University community, students, staff and faculty. The ministry to the University might need a dedicated, endowed position.
Specific comments include: St. Paul’s should involve University students more, and consider University student involvement with the Youth Group. A positive first step is that UVA students are more visible in the services. The community garden is a great way to get to know students better. Recruit and involve student volunteers. Seek to involve more students in our church. How can we be more involved with the students? How can we help with the Sunday night dinners?
Recruit volunteers from UVA faculty and staff, as well as students. Develop a closer relationship with the university, including the hospital. Consider mounting efforts specific to particular segments of the University, to include graduate a well as undergraduate components. Do our professors realize that their teaching in many cases is a ministry, just as many of us have ministries in the world. Recruit a more diverse group from UVA, maybe using the International House.

Building & Environment
The church building is a basis of support for what lies ahead. Take care of the building and grounds; find space for all the needs including more/better gathering space, parking, and an educational wing; make the education wing handicapped accessible.
We need a greener church, including car-pooling. Join community, Region XV and Diocesan efforts at conserving water and energy.

Focus on building the financial strength of the parish: Increase the number and amounts of pledges, and state the specific pledge need in the Newsletter. Vestry should ask parishioners to consider raising their pledge a certain amount or certain percentage. Aim for 100% support from pledging units.
Make the budget more alive and visible; minutes and budget should be on-line. Make the grants committee work.
Remember St. Paul’s in your will; make giving easy to do; educate parish community about planned giving.
Create a more substantial endowment. St. Paul’s must develop corporate support for its mission and outreach.

Outside SPMC
Rise to the challenges of the day ahead of others. Have St. Paul's step up as a voice in the in the Diocese. We should become a leader in community, in Diocese of Virginia and in US Episcopal Church.
St. Paul's should become more active socially and politically. Interweave St. Paul’s goals with things already going on in the community – like the City’s Dialogue on Race. St. Paul’s may want to link up with the Episcopal Public Policy network.
Support community programs that work (e.g. Drug Court). Participate in key state issues, for example, reform of Virginia’s prison system. Parishioners present at this meeting want St. Paul’s to be even better in community and Diocesan venues in the future. Serious concerns were expressed about the level of financing of St. Paul’s mission, and with regard to supporting key sociological issues in Virginia.
Photo of St. Paul's bell tower by Bonny Bronson.

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