About 2½ years ago I stood right here and preached on All Saints Sunday—about all of the saints here at St. Benedict’s over the years, and I also spoke to support your annual pledge drive.
I talked about how these two items are inter-related: “How can you respond tangibly to these wonderful saints who built up and represented the body of Christ everywhere, and especially in your church here, those that you remember today? One way is to think about your church, its community of saints, and the work for Christ that it does during the year, and make a commitment for its future work. We all live together in our Christian communities (we are not isolated believers!)—and through worship, prayer, study, and the support of other saints--we can witness and administer to those who need our message of hope and love.”
And, I asked all of you to consider this: “You stand on big shoulders here in this place and time. So many have poured their time, talent and treasure into this community. Without them this church and community of believers would not be here. You are blessed over and over by these great souls who passed this way before you. As you give of what you have received let’s remember these saints of God.”
So, what does that have at all to do with our readings from today? Maybe not much, except that it serves as a base to add one more item to consider as you worship, pray, study, and support each other going forward. That is the Shepherd of us all, the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The recognized theme for today’s readings is the Good Shepherd. The Collect, Psalm 23 (The Lord is my Shepherd), and the Gospel from John all discuss the Lord as our shepherd and how great a shepherd God is. That is really important to remember as you all look at your future as a church community here, and in your community of Lacey—there is this great shepherd watching over you and helping you to figure out what is to come next.
I actually saw one more item or theme from the reading in Acts today—the Holy Spirit! The Spirit came upon those disciples, especially Peter, and gave them the courage to stand up and boldly proclaim that “their healing powers had come in the name of Jesus Christ” and they were not going to stop preaching and healing in His name.” THIS is what is truly meant by following in the steps of Jesus’ ministry and His resurrection with the power of the Holy Spirit, and being a true community of Christian believers!
We have a lot of S-words as themes for today to consider—Saints, Stewardship, Shepherd, and the Holy Spirit. I hope you will consider these S-themes in any discussions you have in looking at how you will be the church in the future. I read on your church website in the latest BC meeting summary that, “In looking at your church’s future, the driver is not just a church’s finances, though that is a factor, but also how do we meet the needs of our church community’s Spiritual life and Mission.”
You may remember a couple of weeks ago, the first reading from Acts talked about the first Christian community, a really dedicated one. From Acts 4:32-35, it read: “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” There is also another important related piece of scripture, in 1st Corinthians 12:4-7, primary when looking at any church community: "There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord...to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good."
For most of you who have grown up in any type of Episcopal or any other denominational church (or even just a congregational church), there has pretty much been one model of operation for the church community—that of a lead minister (in our Episcopal church we call them rector or vicar, or even priest in charge), and we have certain real expectations of them (in exchange for a salary and benefits package). Also, there might be one or a few staff—an administrator, a Christian Education leader, a leader of music, etc.--likely all paid part time. In any case, with the expenses for these folks and the ongoing expenses for operating the facility and the church programs, and of course the Diocesan assessment, it is easy to run into a budget easily exceeding $200k, without ever getting to do some really exciting outreach or evangelism type opportunities that could bring new people to the church as well as reach out to those in need.
I’m going to describe to you a different model for operating a church, and not because you should take it directly and apply it here for your future. I’m offering this as perhaps some guiding principles for how your future church could be organized, to give you a fresh perspective in how to look at church community and how it works.
At my very small church of St. Mark’s, in Montesano (a community of about 3500 people in Grays Harbor county), we have been operating for the past 20+ years with first something called a local priest model, then evolving into a different one called Total Common Ministry (or TCM, as some may have heard it called). Our church has never been anything other than a family church in size and mindset, a place where we all know each other and many have been members for a long time. For most of our existence, we have been a small mission church that has needed financial help from the Diocese to get by year to year. We paid into supporting a part time priest or had supply clergy—until 1993!
In the late 1980s, in the four local communities of Elma, South Bend, Westport, and Montesano, a new operating model was started. The local priest model focused on discerning and raising up local people in those congregations who would study and pray together for 3 years until they were considered ready to lead their congregations, especially to cover the clergy role of the Sacraments and pastoral care. It was hoped that others in the churches would take on the other roles that a paid clergy person would normally lead—administration, stewardship, future planning, etc. Note, I mentioned the help from others because—the local priest was not to be paid. They also were not expected to work full time, or even ½ time in this role. These local priests were ordained in 1993 and off they went to lead their churches.
Each of these churches, and also one in Cathlamet, took to this new model. Why—because they wanted to become healthy financially, and paying either a part time priest or regular supply clergy took up a lot of their budget. What did actually happen—each one of these churches became healthy financially—albeit somewhat on the backs of these local priests.
It did become clear quickly that there needed to be some better organized support for these local priests within their churches. So, in 1996 at St. Hugh’s, Allyn, a somewhat larger version of these churches, they started with the model of Total Common Ministry (or Total Ministry, or Mutual Ministry or Circle Ministry—all names used for this over the years). In this model, local to-be-ordained clergy are trained side by side with other leaders called by the congregation to serve in specific lay roles—all unpaid. Total Common Ministry “unpacks the one man band,” the hierarchical model of ministry with one paid priest in charge. TCM communities are gathered to be a ministering community, rather than a community gathered around a minister. This model, rooted in the Baptismal Covenant, stresses that every member of the church has been given gifts, and has been called to serve God and community in a particular way. (Every person is a minister!)
In my church of St. Mark’s, we have two ordained priests, a deacon, and two lay licensed preachers. (Note: for a while, we also have Sarah on our serving and preaching rota, so we can continue to support her with supply clergy pay while her own local Chaplains on the Harbor ministry takes shape in our Grays Harbor area.) Having several preachers gives us a rich variety of voices, experiences, and perspectives in the pulpit. We also have a licensed catechist, a recognized talented Christian Ed teacher. These folks, and a few others who do our music and the altar guild, make up our ministry circle (known as our worship team). We do still have the canonical requirement to have a Bishop’s Committee to lead the church in its administrative role—so that is in place too. As small as we are, you can figure out that some people might overlap in these roles.
The key for this model in general terms, is the idea of a church community being the “ministry of the baptized”. We easily think of it like that early church I talked about earlier. Not just a priest leader, or a small group of leaders who “handle” everything, but a community where all gifts are sought out and encouraged to come forward to enhance the ministry of all. This may not seem so very radical, but I have seen way too often too many expectations placed on the priest in charge, and the whole church community tends to unintentionally suppress their own gifts and ministry for the priest to do it all.
What does this model mean for us at St. Mark’s? It means that we focus on great and varied worship experiences--we fully participate in worship in the shared readings, and many parts of the service are said together. In our music, we have no choir, we ARE the choir, and we make a loud and joyful noise. We are all here to worship God—and we all participate! We have a great Bible study on Wednesday mornings led by no one person—we all help and try to discern what our upcoming lectionary readings mean to us (this also helps the upcoming preacher in their sermon prep!). We also watch great Bible courses and other videos for part of our Bible study time—to give us more to think about concerning our faith.
Even with our small budget, it has become the way the past 10 years to get our facility in tip top shape, and to focus at least 20% on outreach—mostly locally. Lately, it has resulted in the freedom to look at crisis needs too and combine with some of our outreach budget, giving by individuals for things like the Oso landslide tragedy, the Haiti earthquake, and the like. (We also have a special focus on Sarah’s ministry with support of the meals in Aberdeen and with some funds.)
Has it resulted in growth in numbers in our church? That answer would be NO! We were so small already when we moved to this model that when anyone comes into our church to worship, there is “nowhere to hide”! We try to not overwhelm newcomers, but it is hard for some new people to imagine being in our church and fitting in, even though we will not be asking them for capital funds to fix our building up, or to become the next Sr. Warden right away. In fact, some are confused by our model if they come for more than one time—who is in charge? Our answer—God is in charge and we all are his ministers!
We do have our building available for several 12 step groups, and are now looking at a real vision for us to support our local community—to become the Montesano Community Center building. We are small in numbers, but we have a great building asset that can be used for much more than we could ever expect to do ourselves. We’ll see if that works out the next few weeks.
As you proceed forward in discussing your future, I would hope you would consider these general principles of TCM, if only to help yourselves become a more trained and focused church community that all see their gifts being utilized in new and exciting ways. That could provide a great boost for your next clergy leader—having an empowered and ignited lay community can do wonders for the mindset and perspective of a clergy leader (and make shared leadership very easy to occur!).