I am grateful to Andrea for her summary of our time together at the vestry retreat, and wanted to add a few words from about the new liaison areas and the process we used to determine them.
First, we had a conversation about what our priorities for 2018 should be. Using that list of ideas, we started from scratch in terms of liaison areas, looking for common themes among our priorities to determine what liaison areas would be most helpful to us in focusing on those priorities.
We came up with the following big-picture categories that we want to focus on in 2018:
- WORSHIP - How can we make worship more accessible and welcoming for children and families? For people with disabilities or limitations of various kinds (hearing loss, ambulatory issues, etc)? Might we want to consider adding a Spanish language worship service? What about a Taize service, or use of Taize music more frequently in our regular worship? Is our current schedule of worship times (8 am, 10 am and first Sunday 5 pm) meeting our needs as best it could?
- EDUCATION - How can we provide more quality faith formation for all ages, something people requested during the parish survey during the interim period? Could we offer more Sunday morning formation programs for adults? A formation hour where adults and children all had classes meeting simultaneously? Maybe dividing up our Christian education into “children & youth” and “adults” has created a sense of separation and disassociation. Perhaps we should think of “education” in our faith more broadly, as a task that should engage all ages.
- BUILDING USE -- We want to begin thinking about the bigger picture of the use of our facilities and how they are or are not meeting our needs: Are we beginning to outgrow our current worship space at 10:00? (Church growth specialists say that if 20% of your seats aren’t empty on Sunday mornings, the space will feel too crowded for newcomers to be comfortable.) How can we provide more Christian formation offerings for all ages with a largely multipurpose space that doesn’t allow for very many meetings happening at the same time? How can we make our worship space more accessible to people with hearing loss and other needs of our aging population? Is coffee hour too crowded to be welcoming? How might we use that space differently to make it more accessible to newcomers?
- CHURCH GROWTH -- St. John’s has been at the “transitional” stage between a “pastoral-size” (50-150 members) and a “program-size” (150-350 members) congregation for many years. A significant shift in management style and structure happens when a church fully makes the shift into “program size,” usually when a church reaches about 250 people in worship on a regular basis. Although we don't have the numbers of a program-size church (our Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) is currently 91; its highest point in the past 10 years was 120), in some ways we are beginning to function like one, especially with the gift of the Rebele fund for youth and the impending addition of another full-time person to our staff. But how can we ensure that we have sufficient people to sustain a program-sized operation? There was some hope that building the new building would bring larger numbers of people to worship here, a hope that has largely been unrealized. How might we determine if we are indeed called to grow into a program-sized congregation, and if so, how could we intentionally work toward that goal, rather than just thinking “if we build it, they will come?”
- OUTREACH - How can we continue to engage our community outside the walls of our church? Could we expand our ESL program, maybe partnering with another church? Could the Helpful Shop play a larger role in our engagement with the community? What is the future of the Helpful Shop, anyway? Are we able to sufficiently staff it and make enough income for it to be financially viable long-term? What will the new youth program at St. John’s look like, and how can we make sure it best serves the needs of youth ages 11-18 in the Aptos community?
Working off that list of “bigger picture” priorities for the coming year, we designated the following liaison areas (below) to help us achieve them.
To assign people to the liaison areas, we used a process of discernment in which vestry members were asked to name which members of the vestry (other than themselves) would be good at each of these categories. This took the focus off “what do I want to do?” and turned it to “what gifts do I see in others for this work?” As the consensus of the group emerged about who might be most called or gifted for leadership in these areas, we assigned liaison areas accordingly.
Worship - We decided that the rector would serve as the official liaison from the worship committee to the vestry. Since the rector has final say over matters of worship and the vestry does not specifically have a role in approving or voting on changes to worship, we decided we could free up a liaison area spot by trusting the Worship Committee to do their work well and the Rector to keep the vestry informed about it, without needing a separate vestry liaison person for this category.
Education - We decided to have one liaison area for “Education” for all ages, rather than having separate liaisons for “Children & Youth” and “Adult Education.” The idea is that the vestry liaison would form an education committee, and on that committee there would be different people representing the needs and interests of children, youth, and adults. Since this was now a bigger area of oversight, we decided to assign two vestry people to this area. Barbara Raney and Peter Goodman are your liaisons for Education this year.
Facilities - We decided to create a broader category than “Building & Grounds,” with the term “Facilities.” We chose this term because we wanted the liasons for this area to consider the bigger picture questions outlined under “BUILDING USE” above, not only to focus on the nuts and bolts of fixing things that break around the church. Jon Showalter and Rick Becton are your liaisons for Facilities this year.
Welcome & Invitation - We decided we should broaden the “Newcomer” category to include a bigger picture of how we welcome people into our community when they arrive and how we invite people in to join our community in the first place, addressing the questions under our priority of “CHURCH GROWTH.” (This category is really about “Evangelism,” but as good Episcopalians, no one would let me call it that. ;o) Sally Lewis is your liaison for Welcome & Invitation this year.
Hospitality/Parish Life - Because the term “Welcome” could easily be confused with “Hospitality,” we decided to specify that the “Hospitality” liaison area is responsible for overseeing parish events (not for the work of welcoming new people into the congregation, as the Welcome & Invitation liaison is). This area might also be called “Parish Life,” as it tends to all aspects of our time together in social and fellowship oriented events, as well as tending to the details of planning receptions for funerals, weddings, and other major services. It involves overseeing the functioning of the parish kitchen and making sure there are systems in place to recruit volunteers for major parish events. We realized that this is a big enough area of responsibility that it would be good to have two people responsible for this area. Karen Greenleaf and Jeanne O’Grady are your liaisons for Hospitality/Parish Life for this year.
Parish Care - We decided that caring for our members within our walls, the ministry of parish care or pastoral care, should rightfully fall to the junior warden, since the role of that person is to be a liaison between the vestry and the congregation. We felt it also made sense for that person not just to be a communications link, but also to oversee all the ways we care for one another in this place. The group saw gifts for this ministry most strongly in Andrea Seitz, and re-elected her junior warden for another year, now also to be overseeing Parish Care.
Outreach - We felt that keeping “Outreach” as a broad category was important to our focus on taking our ministry outside our walls. Gina Muller emerged as the clear consensus of the group for the person most called to this work on the vestry, and she will be your liaison for Outreach this year.
Stewardship - We decided that “Stewardship” should be its own category, with someone devoted entirely to this (rather than combining it with another category as we did last year), because Stewardship is not just about overseeing the annual pledge drive, but about helping us to think about how we can best be stewards of all God has given us -- not just our financial resources, but our time and our gifts, and the resources of this planet earth. Suzanne Krakover-Nickel will be continuing as liaison for Stewardship this year.
Helpful Shop - Given that we are about to undertake a serious study of the work of the Helpful Shop with an eye toward what its future should be, we felt there should be a specific vestry person assigned to be a liaison to the shop, even though the work of the shop appropriately falls under “Outreach.” Bill Kell, as a member of the Helpful Shop management team, was willing to serve in this official capacity in addition to his duties as Senior Warden.
Finance/Treasurer - While we normally have a liaison for finance, since our treasurer is currently a member of the vestry, she also serves as the finance liaison to the vestry. (The treasurer has not been a member of the vestry in the past, but our by-laws do not prohibit it: they only say the senior warden and junior warden must be members of the vestry. The by-laws don’t say that the clerk and treasurer must be members or must not be members; they leave the matter of their status on the vestry undefined.) Anne Baker will continue to serve as your treasurer and finance liaison this year.
I came away from the vestry retreat excited about the energy generated and hopeful for the future of our congregation as we begin to engage the work of discerning who we will become in the next 5, 10, or 20 years. (Our current "strategic plan" on file runs out in 2021, so be on the lookout for information about re-convening a strategic planning team to begin thinking more systematically about where we are going as a congregation.)
If you have ideas, suggestions or energy around any of the areas we want to prioritize this year, I encourage you to contact the vestry liaison for that area and start to talk about it. We will only make progress on these priorities if we all work together as a community.