Prayers for Church Growth and Development

A number of years ago, St. John’s in Sharon offered the following four prayers for the development of our church’s mission and ministry. The prayers are based on suggestions by Dick Eastman in his book The Hour That Changes the World.

Eastman suggests that as part of our world-changing intercession, we should ask God “to give more laborers into the harvest, to open doors for these workers, to bless them with fruit as a result of their efforts, and with the finances to expand their work” (page 79). These four prayer foci are also important prayers for the growth and development of our diocese and for our congregations. At St. John’s, we took each area and wrote a short scriptural prayer that we could use to pray for that intention.

Prayer for Laborers in the Harvest
Thank you, Lord, that the harvest is plentiful. We pray that you would send out laborers into your harvest. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
(From Luke 10:2)

Prayer for Open Doors
Thank you, Lord, that you promised what we ask for we will receive, what we seek we will find, and when we knock the door will be opened. We pray that you would open doors for our ministries and provide us opportunities for success in your work. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
(From Matthew 7:7-8)

Prayer for Fruit
Thank you, Lord, that we did not choose you, but you choose us, and you appointed us to go and bear fruit. We pray that we may abide in you and bear much fruit, and thereby glorify our heavenly Father. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
(From John 15:5,8,16)

Prayer for Financial Resources
Thank you, Lord, that every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights. We pray that you would gift us with everything we need in order to do the work you have given us to do. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
(From James 1:17)

The Rev. Adam Trambley is rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Sharon. 

This is the sixth installment in our Prayer series that will run up to the Diocesan Prayer Vigil in March. Click here to view other stories in the series, and here for more information on the Vigil.

God Gave the Growth – Church Planting in the Episcopal Church

God Gave the Growth: A Book Review

growthAs our diocese has embarked on its first new church plant in decades, many of us may have questions: Why do we need to plant churches when so many churches around us are failing? What would an Episcopal Church plant look like?  What would it take to help a new church succeed?

These questions, and many others, are answered in Susan Brown Snook’s book, God Gave the Growth: Church Planting in the Episcopal Church.  Susan Brown Snook is the rector of Church of the Nativity in Scottsdale, Arizona, a church that she planted in 2006.  She is also a member of the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council and a founder and steering committee member of the Acts 8 Movement.  (Disclaimer: I work with Susan on the Acts 8 Movement and am in her Doctor of Ministry cohort at Virginia Theological Seminary.)

God Gave the Growth’s first section deals with the basic issues concerning church planting, including specifics about church planting in the Episcopal Church. Two chapters provide reasons for planting new churches, including the ways that new plants can benefit existing churches.  Then the book looks at types and models of church planting, including a discussion of the need to continue doing traditional church plants.

The second section deals with factors promoting church planting success.  Here Susan addresses topics including important characteristics of church planters, discerning a new plant’s mission, the formation of a leadership team, methods of evangelistic community outreach, the launch, the formation of disciples, the worship facility, and finances and stewardship.  Susan’s final section provides wisdom and counsel for diocesan and church leaders who want to see successful new churches planted in their dioceses.  Without the vision and support of current established churches, new plants are much less likely to succeed.

While God Gave the Growth is contains needed statistics, models, principles and explanations concerning different aspects of church planting, part of the book’s strength comes from extended quotations from various Episcopal church planters.  Throughout the book, we hear elements of Susan’s own story, but we also hear stories of Episcopal church planters who have started churches in a working class area in Georgia, in a wealthy area of Los Angeles, with the homeless, with Latino communities, and in other contexts.  We also hear from Bishop Andy Doyle of Texas, whose diocese has planted numerous churches in recent years, and other Episcopal Church leaders.

Overall, God Gave the Growth is a helpful and inspirational book for anyone interested in learning more about church planting in the Episcopal church.  It is an especially important book for our Diocese at this time.

The Rev. Adam Trambley is rector at St. John’s, Sharon. 

‘Planting’ Hope for the Future at Buhl Day

Buhl Day (the annual Labor Day celebration held in Hermitage, PA) was a success for the diocese’s newest church plant in more ways than one.  The church’s food stand, besides being a great fundraising opportunity, brought together people from eight different congregations all over the diocese to work and reach out to the community and each other. Good food, good fun, and building relationships while helping to further the Kingdom of God – the definition of One Church at work. It was definitely a Great Day in the Kingdom!

Read on for some personal reflections on the day:

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“In the beginning of Buhl Day there is a parade that local residents are excited to attend; giving us time to prepare before the rush.  I had helped prepare for this in the two days prior, but I was getting pumped on what was to come. Eventually, after getting everything ready and seeing more people arrive to help, we got customers. The crowd did not seem as big as usual, but we had a steady amount of people buying things. It was time to roll and perform my duties, alongside others who were working diligently.

There was a fantastic amount of people there helping, so I found I could sit and actually take a break – something that I and  others that had worked at this booth on Buhl Day in the past had not experienced too often. Finally after smelling the sandwiches being prepared all morning, I enjoyed one myself.

photo-sep-05-10-47-30-amAt one point I was standing outside the booth to help direct people, and I looked at all the people inside the booth.  Seven churches and the new Episcopal church plant all gathered together for this one goal.  Everyone was at a station talking amongst themselves.  There were so many there, you could find someone to talk to.  It was good to catch up with people I hadn’t seen in a while, and meet new ones throughout the NWPA diocese, including Canon Martha and Bishop Sean.  The feeling of “one church” was clearly evident.

As the day was winding down, we counted down things that were close to being sold out.  After the last kielbasa was sold, we shouted a loud “Amen” that caughtphoto-sep-05-10-14-43-am the attention of those nearby. Seeing the Bishop work in the different sections was such a pleasure, especially when he was a cashier talking to the customers.  We talked, laughed and maybe even sang and danced with others there feeling the energy flowing throughout the place.  To the bittersweet end where we tore down everything, I couldn’t have imagined things going too much better. I left feeling proud of all the accomplishments this day had made, and was glad that I was involved and witnessed something that wondrous.

In the amazement of how everything went, I think, as a new Episcopal church we are ready to tackle anything that comes our way. The support and thankfulness we felt with all the other people of the churches in the diocese is overwhelming. Together, I believe, that since we got through this, then we can get through many things our church will face. I, as well as others, are very hopeful for the future. ”  Laura Betz, Hermitage Church Plant


Pastor Jason Shank, Hermitage Church Plant

Roots and Renovation – Growing a Movement

God has great plans for a specific hill in Millcreek Township – that hill is the land upon which St. Mark’s is situated.  Many of you are aware of the exciting things happening at St. Mark’s.  Over the past five years, St. Mark’s has grown from an average Sunday attendance of around 50 to 150!  The faithful people of St. Mark’s have taken to heart the calling of the resurrected Christ in the Great Commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”  They have developed a regular practice of inviting friends, family, and co-workers to church.  And they are committed to continually fostering a deeper sense of community, connectivity, and formation through small groups, house groups, Bible studies, outreach ministries, alternative worship experiences, and much more.

Beyond being committed to programmatic and experiential opportunities, the people of St. Mark’s also realize that it’s time to make the physical Parish Hallbuilding of St. Mark’s reflect the Spirit and needs of a growing community.  The current parish hall and church have been basically untouched since their completion in 1961 and 1965.  And let’s face it; brown asbestos tile, cinderblock walls, military green bathrooms, broken windows, no gathering area, and a lack of air conditioning don’t tell a newcomer that a church is alive and growing in Christ in the year 2016.  Even more importantly, the congregation has exceeded the capacity of the current parish hall and is aware of the need to create space for the next 100+ worshippers yet to join to St. Mark’s.

This realization was the birth of our capital campaign and building project.  The congregation fully met their campaign goal of $600,000 and with financial assistance from Diocesan Council, St. Mark’s is Bathroomscurrently in the process of preparing the hill for a 1700 sq. ft. addition to our parish hall and kitchen to include proper storage, kitchen equipment, carpeting, lighting, drywall, and new windows.
A gathering area will also be added to the front of the church to create a space for people to mingle and live further into our practice of welcome and hospitality.  Enlarged and fully renovated restrooms are also part of the plan.  And all of the above mentioned areas will have commercial HVAC!

The church space itself is also being enhanced with new LED lighting (as most of the peak lighting has been burned out since the late 1980s).  And the balcony will be renovated to serve as overflow seating for larger attended liturgies.  As with any building project, there will be things done to the property that won’t been seen, but are necessary to the current and future development of the hill.  We are upgrading the electrical service, installing new electrical panels, abating all asbestos, and creating a land development and stormwater management plan for the long-term growth and development of the hill.

Even though demolition has only been happening for a few weeks, there have been some fun discoveries along the way.  There is a 12-foot stained glass window from the original St. Mark’s building (formerly located at 10th and French Streets) in the corner Trinitarian Stained Glassof the boiler room featuring some wonderful Trinitarian and Eucharistic themes waiting to be resurrected and put into ministry again.  Also, the bell tower came down for restoration allowing us the chance to read the bell.  The bell was made by the Aspinwall Bell Company in 1831 – it’s amazing to think that our bell has been calling Christians to worship for 185 years!  So while St. Mark’s appears to be on the surface a simple 1960s A-frame church, we are discovering our roots and praying that from those roots grow a great movement in the name of Jesus Christ unlike anything ever seen before in our region.  Stop up sometime; I’d love to show you around!

Bell

Craig Dressler – Associate for Parish Life at St. Mark’s, Erie

Focus Local – Trinity Church, Houtzdale

Trinity Church in Houtzdale, PA, is a prime example that you don’t have to be a large church to be effective in your community and to deliver on God’s promise of compassion. They are representative of the current revival of the neighborhood church model where congregations live into being the church of and in the neighborhood in which they are located.

Trinity is doing just that. They support many local clubs and institutions that make a difference in the community. They recently completed their semi-annual Roast Beef Dinner, held in late spring. A 10% of the proceeds from last year’s dinner went towards three local fire companies and to a local Veterans’ Halfway House. They also give 10% of their total income each month to the local school’s backpack program that provides weekend meals to needy children.

They have also leveraged their space to support the community. The church facility is used by the Houtzdale Lions Club for their dinner meetings and, from February through April, as practice for their annual “Showboat” Show. The Showboat Show is held each year as the Lions Club’s major fundraiser and Fr. Bill Ellis, vicar at Trinity Church, and a few members of the church participate in the show. Other organizations also use the facility for their meetings: the Widow/Widowers Club, the MoValley Alumni Association, and the Lady Damsel Soccer Club.

Trinity does fellowship that is small and intimate. Each Sunday they have coffee hour and bible study following Eucharist. They are currently studying “The Story” by Adam Barr, which is about how God goes to great lengths to rescue lost and hurting people, which is something Trinity is familiar with. Instead of creating a program to help the poor and marginalized that they would not be able to sustain due to their size, they instead help the individual. Recently they helped a young woman who has Chiari, a disease that affects the brain. The church community came together to provide childcare, cook meals, and help pay medical bills.

Trinity also shows a compassion for who they are and who they were. In addition to fellowship, Coffee Hour is about honoring their older members and the sharing of memories. Recently, they spent time remembering when there were enough Sunday School children at Holy Trinity to put on a Christmas Pageant. They had enough children for a Mary, Joseph, an innkeeper, shepherds, angels and three wise men. There is a dust free box packed full of nostalgia in the back closet. Over 70 years ago, a group of dedicated women made costumes for the “actors.” Gauzy white angel gowns, homespun drab looking tunics for the shepherds, a better quality tunic for the innkeeper and rich, brightly colored robes and turbans for the three kings. The competition to be Mary, in a flowing blue headdress and pure white gown, and stately, protective Joseph, standing so proudly by, was fierce, but Miss Langsford had the last word. She was a retired schoolteacher and would not tolerate any nonsense.

FB_IMG_1450639267291The costumes, made many years ago, were used this past Christmas. The older members sat in the congregation and watched their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren wearing them as they put on a shortened version of the pageant that was done so many years ago. The pageant was enjoyed by all and the children did a great job, even the youngest, who is 2.

Trinity knows that even though the makers of these costumes have passed on, what they made with love lives on and will live on in the compassion of this neighborhood church.

By Eleanor Washic and Elizabeth Carey, members of Trinity, Houtzdale.

#doinganewthing Social Media Sunday at St. Mark’s

“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”

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Screen shot of Kate Amatuzzo’s (with Carly Rowe) Facebook post during the service.

It was only somewhat coincidental that St. Mark’s planned our first attempt at Social Media Sunday on the same day that we heard this passage from the prophet Isaiah. While I admit, I was pleased when I read the appointed lessons, it was actually after the fact! We picked Sunday, March 13, because it was the end of Lent and timely in that folks may in fact be considering attending church for Holy Week and Easter. It was also planned to happen at the same time that we launched our new website (www.saintmarkserie.org in case you were wondering). Once we determined those two things, the Isaiah reading made it all the more appropriate. So much so, that we used #doinganewthing as part of the day!

So why do a Social Media Sunday? This idea is certainly not original to St. Mark’s. The Episcopal Church has done several on a national level in recent years. Why? Because Social Media has become a powerful way to encourage people of faith to share the gospel. Facebook reports that they have 1.2 billion users (238 million in the United States alone) and Twitter reports 230 million users. I think we could all agree that this kind of reach is greater than just about any other medium available right now – oh and it’s free!

Our goal, like others who have done similar events, was to get people beyond their fear of using digital media and understand that these are effective tools that we can use to invite others, show our care and concern, tell our friends about our church, and introduce them to Jesus. Not everyone is an extrovert and not everyone is going to be comfortable walking up to someone and inviting them to church. However, if you are on Facebook or Twitter, you can post, share, invite and you have reached into your network of folks in a way that your church couldn’t do without your help. One on one evangelism times the number of friends you have on Facebook!

59695_976127559130832_6951792523750174087_nOur organization for this Sunday was simple. We produced a handout with clear instructions that everyone who came to church was given. It explained where to find St. Mark’s on Facebook and Twitter and then we suggested posts and tweets and of course hashtags (#doinganewthing #getconnected #stmarks). We gave those who were not on social media a way to participate by giving them the opportunity to write out their tweets and giving them to me to tweet. We also projected the new website and the live twitter feed in the church. (Yes, projecting in an Episcopal church and nothing bad happened, it was just fine.) Both really helped people get engaged. Vanessa Butler was on hand posting and tweeting on behalf of the diocese so our reach was even broader.

The results of all of this were beyond what we could have expected. The participation from the congregation was overwhelming and we had so much fun engaging in it on a Sunday. We picked up 20 new Twitter followers and 10 new page likes on Facebook, all in less than two hours. The website traffic was exponentially higher than any other Sunday morning. Will these people turn up at St. Mark’s for Easter or another Sunday? That remains to be seen, but at least they now know who we are and what we stand for when they decide that they are ready to come to church.

An unexpected result was that our members found new relationships and connected with other members they may not have otherwise connected with, by liking and sharing their posts and tweets. They were looking for each other after the services, introducing themselves by asking “Were you the one that posted that?”.

We said all along it was about the relationships, not the technology. Indeed it was. We reached hundreds of people outside of the walls of St. Mark’s on March 13 and we formed community for those who were already there. Win, win, and, yes, we would most certainly do it again!

Carly Rowe, Associate for Programs and Development, St. Mark’s, Erie

Update On St. Jude’s

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 11.57.36 AMDecember 17, ERIE, PA–Bishop Sean Rowe announced on Wednesday that, in keeping with the recommendations of its Vision Committee, St. Jude’s, an Episcopal mission with three centers of ministry that began in January, 2011, will conclude its ministry on December 31.

After that date, two of the ministry centers—Trinity Church in New Castle and St. Clement’s Church in Greenville will continue as missions of the diocese, and the Church of the Redeemer in Hermitage will close. Bishop Rowe will preside and preach at Redeemer’s final service on January 31.

In his letter to St. Jude’s congregants, Rowe acknowledged that the end of St. Jude’s and the closing of Church of the Redeemer is a painful time for many of its members and for him. “But as I said at diocesan convention last month, I believe that God is leading us to a new place in a new time, and this movement is only possible because together we have done the hard work of examining what has worked and what hasn’t, and have trusted one another enough to recognize hard truths,” he wrote.

“Over the past five years we have made many friends from all three ministry centers, we have laughed together and cried together, we have started new ministries and even enhanced current ministries,” said Jeff Mills, a member of Church of the Redeemer and treasurer of St. Jude’s. “But we were not able to grow our church enough to be self-sustaining based on the current setup.”

After the ministry of St. Jude’s concludes, St. Clement’s will continue as a mission under the part-time direction of the Rev. Doug Dayton. Trinity Church will undertake a period of “intentional development,” said Rowe, who has appointed the Rev. Erin Betz Shank as its vicar.

Betz Shank was sponsored for ordination by St. John’s Episcopal Church in Franklin, where she grew up. She was educated at Thiel College, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, Boston University, and the General Theological Seminary in New York, and was ordained by Rowe in February. She currently serves as assistant rector at Middleham & St. Peter’s Episcopal Parish in California, Maryland.

“There is an old cliché that says as one door closes another door opens,” said Dorothy Perkins, a member of Trinity Church in New Castle who served on the Vision Committee. “It will be an exciting time in our church life as we move forward, worshiping and working together with our new priest, Erin. She is an energetic, spiritual young woman who will work alongside us to reach our goals of having a stronger presence in the community, developing a strong stewardship program and finding ways to serve the needy of our community with a strong outreach program.”

Later in 2016, after what Rowe terms “a time of preparation,” the diocese will plant a new church in Hermitage under the leadership of Jason Shank, a Methodist pastor and experienced church planter who is beginning the process of ordination in the Episcopal Church. He is married to Erin Betz Shank.

Church planting, said Rowe, has long been part of the diocese’s congregational development strategy, and Hermitage’s growing population and economy make it a good candidate to be the location of the diocese’s first new church in 50 years.

“Hermitage is a growing, changing community, and we know that thriving congregations reflect their communities in worship style, outreach, and parish life,” said Bishop Rowe. “As difficult as it is, the Vision Committee and I determined that the people of the Church of the Redeemer were better equipped to embrace a fresh vision for a new generation of Hermitage families and residents than to work within the existing constraints.”

Members of all three congregations are invited to meet with Bishop Rowe on January 3. On that day, he will preach and preside at the 8 a.m. service in New Castle and meet with the congregation afterward, and preach and preside at the 11 a.m. service in Hermitage and meet with the congregations of Church of the Redeemer and St. Clement’s afterward. Members of the St. Jude’s Vision Committee will also attend both meetings.

Sabbatical Church Hopping

This is a reprint from Father Adam’s blog “The Black Giraffe” November 1, 2015

Today is the last day of a three month sabbatical.  During that time, my family and I have had the opportunity to visit a variety of other churches.  We have been to Episcopal churches, other mainline churches, evangelical churches, “mega-“churches, and an African-American church.  Here are some thoughts about those experiences.

1. In general, the quality of preaching is disappointing.  I could easily believe that the decline in church attendance is due solely to bad sermons.  In more than half the churches I visited, the quality of the preaching would have made me think twice about ever returning.  The four sermons not in this category (and yes, there were only four of them) were preached in an Episcopal church, an African-American Church, a mainline church and an evangelical church, so I’m not worried about style, but of substance.  The award for “Best Sermon Delivered To My Family While on Sabbatical” goes to Craig Thompson of East Side Church, Sharon, for his preaching on the paralytic being let down through the roof to see Jesus.  The criterion for the award is that his exegesis and delivery made enough of an impression that my daughter could talk about what he said two-and-a-half months later.
As a sermon listener, I would much rather hear a sermon from someone who has clearly been studying the scripture, trying to live it, and has some good news they desperately want to share with me, even if the sermon has serious flaws, than someone much more polished and sophisticated who thinks I need to hear their wisdom.
2. If the peace allots enough time for you to do more than hug your family and shake hands with the person in the pew behind you, it is too long.  Most churches have coffee hour to catch up with friends.  As a visitor, my experience of a “warm, welcoming peace” is standing there for five minutes, while every 30 seconds someone smiling comes up, shakes my hand, and then goes off to an extended conversation with someone they know better.  At some point, the well-meaning priest comes over, often asking a question and then ignoring the answer while being pulled away by a parishioner.
When an frustratingly long peace is followed by interminable announcements being read out of the bulletin that I have in front of me and have already read, I become so disengaged from whatever sense of worship may previously have been present that I just want to go home.
3. More sophisticated or professional music doesn’t make for better worship, but hearing people’s voices does.  I have been moved during this time by music done with choir and organ, with praise band, with “worship karaoke”, and with a couple of singers and an acoustic guitar.  Some styles and some songs I prefer to others, but all can be powerful.  What I did find that makes a difference, however, is being able to hear other people singing.  Ideally that means the entire congregation around me, but it also means that the instrumentation, whether organ, electronic, or otherwise, doesn’t drown out the choir or the worship leaders.  When worship music stops being primarily about people singing, something central is lost.  The other unexpected musical discovery of sabbatical: reading song lyrics off screens at the front can make it much easier to sing, including easier to sing hymns (although obviously singing in parts requires words and music in my hand).
door-lock-401714_19204. Unlock the doors and let people know how to get into the church.  Should I have to write this? No.  Do I?  Apparently.  The first church we visited was a terrible experience that started with the doors.  The doors that could be seen from the street were closed with no outside handle to open them.  The doors closest to the parking lot were all locked.  We only found the way into church because a uniformed security guard (!) came and showed us how to go into an adjacent building, up a flight of stairs, across a breezeway, down a hall, and through a door that had a handmade sign taped to it directing us to the sanctuary.  The kicker was when the rambling sermon described all the work the church was doing to reach out to the community.
5. Church pews can be very uncomfortable (and they don’t need to be).  When I am waiting for the opportunity to kneel down or stand up because sitting any longer has become unbearable (a condition worsened by bad preaching), the pew is a problem.  Everybody in the church doesn’t need their own barcalounger, but the environment doesn’t need to be a barrier either.  One church we visited replaced what were clearly very tight upright pews with more slanted, comfortable pews with much more space between them. (I could tell because the floor still had holes where the old pews were bolted in.  So work to be done, but a good first step.)
6. God is being worshiped by good people in a wide variety of settings.  Some of those settings are rather depressing, as congregations dwindle, but people are still gathering to pray for their needs and the needs of others, to praise God, and to do good work in the community.  All the issues mentioned above notwithstanding, in every place I went, I found a part of the Body of Christ, and the Holy Spirit showed up.
The Rev. Adam Trambley, St. John’s, Sharon, PA

Grandma’s Stuffing – A Third Space story

4TOq6PhIEvery Thanksgiving my family makes the same kind of stuffing we have made for years; the recipe has been handed down through at least three generations. It is one of my favorite components of the meal because its presence makes my grandmother present at the table, even though she has passed from this life. Unlike other family recipes that are no longer at the table, the stuffing remains. It remains because it is a meaningful tradition; it connects me to people I still love though gone, cooking it leads to laughing over stories of my Gran, and it tastes awesome. It is tradition, but it is alive and meaningful.

But there are dishes that are no longer on the table that were once part of the fare. For various reasons, they are no longer present. We didn’t like the flavor of the cranberry relish; the corn pudding simply didn’t stir up the feelings of the stuffing. And so the tradition modified to include new dishes we like that we will hand down, while also keeping the old dishes that still meant something to us. We kept major parts of the traditional meal, but we tweaked it so that it was more meaningful to us- and more delicious!

All good traditions are constantly in flux, finding a balance between what works and what no longer has relevance, and adding in new components to impart more meaning to the tradition. All traditions are subject to review and evaluation, which is why I propose we subject our Christian, worshipping traditions to the same scrutiny. As attendance declines, one has to ask why and generally the why has something to do with culture and something to do with the perceived irrelevance of the institution. So why not look at the tradition, keep major parts that are still meaningful, let go of parts that are not meaningful, and add in now components that have increased relevance today?

There is no reason we have to worship God using the same patterns that have prevailed for the last half-century. It is interesting that while the rest of culture has undergone enormous shifts and changes, the houses of Christian worship have largely not participated in that change. No wonder their relevancy rating has dropped! But change is difficult, especially when folks experience such rapid culture shifts and hope that church remains a place of stability. But what is stability; is stability a continuation of the same? Or can stability be a shifting of tradition, a modifying of the inherited past so that it cultivates more meaning and relevance for those in the present?

I think how we worship God and gather to talk about our spirituality can look different. Imagine a space in which folks from every walk of life could gather together around a common table, sharing a meal and sharing their lives. A space we could talk about what is happening in our lives and where God is in the midst of them. A space where we read together, discuss together, and pray together. If that sounds like an experience to test out, let me tell you about Third Space. Third Space is a gathering of folks who share a meal, share our lives, and try to figure out where God is in our lives and in the world. You’ll find us in downtown Brookville at coffee shop once every month. We’ll be there eating and talking about God, trying to figure out how to be the people God calls us to be in our community.

By the Rev. Melinda Hall, Vicar at Trinity Memorial, Brookville, PA, Church of Our Savior, DuBois, Pa and leader of Third Space that meets at CREATE Cafe (168 Main St. Brockville, PA) Third Wednesday of the month from 7:30-9p.

Writing Church Histories by our Diocesan Historiographer

Robert Guerrein Diocesan Historiographer

Robert Guerrein Diocesan Historiographer

This year, the Cathedral of St. Paul celebrates 100 years as the diocese’s mother church. As part of the celebration, I have written a history of the cathedral – I called it “a history,” not “the history,” because much more remains to be discovered and published about St. Paul’s and its congregation. (I joke that to do a proper job, I would need at least two more years, a research assistant, and an expense account.) But I have learned a lot about what works and what does not, and what problems you might have writing your own parish histories.

For example, making a list or spreadsheet of resident clergy might be a good way to begin. Who was the rector, who were his assistants (until recently, it was always “his”); what were their dates? This seems easy enough – usually older parish histories can be trusted here – but you might find gaps you will want to fill from a variety of sources. You might want to present this list as an appendix, but you will find it very useful as a framework for the full history.

Assume you create this list. Now you must decide how thoroughly you want to research it. You might find it difficult to track down the personal history of a rector. An old parish history might say he came from church X and left after five years’ service to accept a call at church Y. But where was he born, raised, and educated? Where did he serve before church X, and where did he go after church Y? Was he an immigrant from Britain or an American raised, say, as a Methodist in North Carolina? Was he a graduate of Harvard or, say, the University of Virginia? Was he married, with a family? Why did he leave his pastorate at your church? (Older histories often try to hide unpleasantness.) Where and when did he die?

Tracing the careers of the clergy can be more difficult than you would think. The national church’s archives do not help much in this regard – records in the days before computers make searches difficult. The archives’ advice was that college alumni magazines are a good way to track someone’s career. So are obituaries, which nowadays can often, though not always, be found online.

You will also have to decide how much attention assistant clergy merit. How extensive a history do you intend to write? Assistant clergy can be mere names, but they can also be interesting character studies. (One 1920s assistant at St. Paul’s was so taken by the preaching of the missionary bishop to Alaska that he followed him to the north. Perhaps the climate did not agree with him, because I found him later on Hawaii.)

Once you have an accurate list of rectors, you can begin to study your church’s records to see how they led your congregation. That means you must read the vestry minutes. This might be tedious … well, it almost certainly will be tedious … but it is absolutely necessary. Do not trust previous parish histories, however, good they are. You must go to the source.

You will want to check the clergy’s dates of service (Aside: Check and cross-check everything) and all of the motions the vestry has passed over the years. The minutes will tell you what the vestry passed or voted down, but not necessarily who voted for or against. They will concentrate on finances rather than theology though you might want to look in the 1890s for signs of discontent over the liturgy and “Romish” innovations. If you want to know how your church reacted, or didn’t, to World War I or to the Depression, the vestry minutes might tell you. (The Cathedral’s archives do not say much about Depression troubles. Diocesan records do.)

I found other sorts of records very useful, but after erecting the scaffolding of the history. Service books, pamphlets, memorabilia such as graduation programs, parish magazines are all very helpful in making history real.

Surprisingly, parish registers of who was baptized, buried, or married were not as helpful as I thought they would be. They did offer some interesting details of parish life, but they seem of more use to genealogists than parish historians. For example, I discovered by chance that in 1843 one rector of St. Paul’s buried a niece of President James Buchanan (then a U.S. senator); Elizabeth Kelso now rests in the Erie Cemetery.

Here is advice I have given previously:

Contact (and join, if you can) the National Episcopal Historians and Archivists. Its address is 509 Yale Ave., Swarthmore, PA 19801. Its email address is nehahqs@aol.com. Also, contact the Historical Society of the Episcopal Church, P.O. Box 1749, Harlingen, TX 78551. Its email address is administration@hsec.us. I have taken this information from the Autumn 2013 number of the Historiographer, the newsletter for both organizations, “published to promote the preserving of church records and the writing of parochial and diocesan history.”

Here is another resource, two concise publications from the National Archivists. If you have questions, begin with them:

  • Archives for Congregations: An Introduction and Guide.
  • Writing a Congregational History, by Laurence D. Fish.

Robert T. Guerrein, Diocesan Historiographer and member of the Cathedral of St. Paul, Erie