All posts by Susan

Acts 8 Moment Gathering at Convention

Annunciation Icon by Laura Fisher Smith
The Acts 8 Moment calls on Episcopalians to pray for the Church at our gathering at General Convention. On Thursday, June 25 at 9:15 p.m. at the Hilton Salt Lake City, Alpine East Room, we’ll get together. We’ll pray for the Presiding Bishop election, for re-imagining the church, and for the other important decisions to be made at this Convention. We will read the Scriptures together and consider what God is saying to us in this moment. And all present will be invited to share their own prayers for the mission of the church. Join us in praying for the Church!

Acts 8 Mission Gathering – April 22-24 in Scottsdale

Re-Creating a Missionary Church!

a09F000000FxZPCIA3_1Come be a part of a new generation of leadership in the Episcopal Church as we pray, work, and grow into the leadership of a missionary church. Within the beautiful surroundings of the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, Arizona, we will build on the momentum of spontaneous gatherings that started in the summer of 2012. They created a movement that has since spread around the country.

Acts 8 seeks the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the creative renewal of the Episcopal Church. We take our inspiration from the church’s great historic missionary societies, but with a greater flair for modern communications.

resized_CamelbackSMOur movement is not yet fully formed. At this mission gathering, we aim to more clearly discern our specific mission and determine what we are uniquely called to do to help renew the church. Discernment sessions will be interspersed with workshops on missionary prayer, reinvigorating existing communities, and planting new church entities. And of course, plenty of time for prayer and community building.

Lay and clergy participation is encouraged. Prior involvement in Acts 8 is not required or expected.

The conference will begin the morning of Monday, April 22 and conclude at lunchtime on Wednesday, April 24. For attendees coming from the East Coast, planning to arrive on the evening of Sunday, April 21 is recommended.


Acts 8 Flyer

Preliminary Gathering Agenda

Acts 6? … by David Knight

David Knight is Interim Rector of St. James Episcopal Church, Jackson, MS.  This article originally appeared on his blog, Kanite.  

1consecThere is a group of us in the Episcopal church who gathered at General Convention, proclaiming an “Acts 8″ moment for the church.  A recent post on the Acts 8 website asked what questions GOEs (General Ordination Exams) SHOULD pose to show whether seminarians are ready for parish ministry. A good question.

It lead me to thinking more about the role of the Priest. I currently am serving as Interim Rector at the largest church in our Diocese. It’s an amazing place, incredibly busy with a great staff and some of the best people I’ve ever known in the congregation.

As their Interim I have learned a lot about the difference in being the Rector of a large church vs. a pastoral size one. Rector as CEO is the model it seems we’ve adopted for resource size parishes. We have 10 full time staff (including 3 Priests) and several other part timers. Managing staff, working on budget and finance, making daily decisions about use of facilites (ours are really nice and used constantly, 7 days a week), running meetings – this is the stuff of the CEO Rector.

And I wonder about the model….

Oft times clergy will make the comment, “well I didn’t learn that in seminary”. I certainly said that myself post-Hurricane Katrina. And the same is certainly true for the administrative skills asked of Rectors of large parishes. Fortunately I have had a lot of experience in the secular world managing staffs and other admin duties – but that’s not why I became a Priest! It’s part of the job, though, part of the expectations placed on Episcopal clergy (and other denominations certainly). And even though we have many, many Priests who are quite good at it, very competent in those areas, the question is not “can” they do it, but “should” they do it.

And please hear me clearly – this is not a whine! I love (LOVE) where I am right now and enjoy going to work every day, even with the headaches that are sure to come. I really mean that. However, that still does not mean we have this right. Do we just expect our clergy to have all those gifts – preaching, pastoral care, teaching, sacramental presence, and killer admin skills?

One thing I had promised myself 10 years ago when I was ordained, is that I would not be one of those preachers who waits until Saturday to write a sermon. And recognizing that only I can control my own calendar (in most cases) I am here to confess that is exactly the situation I find myself in most weeks. And I hate it. Now it’s true that I read the lectionary lessons early in the week, that I jot down ideas when they come to me, that I spend some reflection time on what to say, but it is now my typical week to write the sermon on Friday (my day off) or Saturday. This is unfair to my family and to me and really to my church. They need more than that from me, yet the administrative demands of a place like this, with Rector-as-CEO as the norm, has put me right where I swore I would never be. And I mean to change that. I love preaching. I love teaching. I don’t love not being able to give the amount of time required to do both well.

And to be brutally honest what has been pushed further on the back burner in my life than anything else has been the time I spend in prayer! That is obviously a recipe for disaster! Recognizing that, I began last week scheduling prayer time on my calendar (sad to think it takes such steps). Of course I pray at other times and pray often for and with parishioners and folks in need,  and that has not stopped. But dedicated time in prayer, alone with God, well frankly I have let other duties and obligations overshadow that time, and that MUST CHANGE.

In the 6th chapter of the book of Acts, the 12 disciples are faced with some administrative problems. There was a complaint that some groups of people in need were receiving more help than others. Instead of putting this on the vestry agenda or hiring a consultant or building a consensus for a best approach or even just making an administrative decision on how to correct the problem, the disciples call the whole congregation together and tell them, basically, this is not part of our job description. They say, “We should not give up preaching God’s message in order to serve at tables. My friends, choose seven men who are respected and wise and filled with God’s Spirit. We will put them in charge of these things. We can spend our time praying and serving God by preaching.”

Now this may sound like the disciples felt those duties were beneath them. That’s not the case when you see the type of people they wanted to step up to the task. Instead, the disciples recognize what their true role was, what their gifts were, and what God had called them to spend their time on – praying and preaching.

There’s a model for ya!

Some of this is economic in nature. Rectors of most of our largest churches are paid quite well. With that salary comes the expectation, of course, that they will be the chief administrator, the CEO of the parish. I wonder if some of them have managed to move the admin stuff to someone else on staff? I would love to hear about that.

And please hear this – this is in no way saying that Rectors / Vicars of smaller churches don’t get strapped with tons of “non-seminary-trained” stuff. The priests in those places have to wear a LOT of hats, from plumber to pastor and everything in between, including “waiting on tables”. This question applies equally to them.

I am blessed to be at a big church that not only has a great staff, but we also have dedicated lay folks who work very hard with me on budget and finance and other administrative matters. Even so, the Acts 6 message keeps whispering in my ear. Is there a better way? A way that makes more sense to the call and gifts we each have? This is not about being “good at” something. It’s mostly about roles and expectations and how to best allocate the most precious resource we all have – time.

I don’t know. I hope so. Meanwhile, St. James’ folks – here is my promise to you. For the remainder of my time with you, dedicated prayer time, work on sermons and Bible studies and Inquirer’s classes will not be last on my agenda, they will be first (along with pastoral care and the like). You deserve that from me. And I know and understand the current expectations regarding the administrative tasks and they will not be neglected. Most of all, from time to time you will be unable to reach me because I will be praying – in the chapel, in my office, on a walk. I believe I will be a better priest for it.

Altar Guild or Alter Guild? … by Sara Fischer

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALike a lot of Episcopal churches, ours has an Altar Guild which, like those in most Episcopal churches, consists of a shrinking handful of faithful folk who polish silver, wash and stretch linens, clean candlesticks, tidy, dust, arrange flowers, set up and clean up for Sunday services as well as every wedding and funeral that comes along, and a hundred other things you and I don’t want to know about.

Like a lot of Episcopal churches, we acknowledge that the Altar Guild is a time-honored tradition and provides a necessary service, but—like others—we have a shortage of people willing to serve.

Like a lot of Episcopal churches, we have a not insignificant number of church members, both within and outside of the Altar Guild, who write “Alter Guild” instead of “Altar Guild.” This used to annoy me. Especially coming from people on the Altar Guild. But then, during a week of particular stress and conflict, brought about by the very real scarcity of people equipped and motivated to do the work of the Altar Guild, I started to wonder if an “Alter Guild” might be exactly what we need.

The majority of people in our congregation are under forty. Those who grew up in the Episcopal Church have memories of their mothers’ or, more likely, their grandmothers’ work on the Altar Guild of their childhood. No matter how many times I share from the chancel steps that setting up the altar for worship is one of the best kept secrets of joyful ministry in the church, our congregation has no interest. Nor should they. They’ve got jobs and kids and lives. They’re happy with the mystery of the sacrament; that’s why they’re here. The 40-somethings in our community are stretched even more thin than their younger peers, and the 50+ folks are either already on the altar guild or overcommitted in other parish ministries. Or in the case of some, they’re simply getting too old and frail to serve in that way.

So recently I’ve been thinking: perhaps what we need is an Alter Guild. A guild that helps those of us who do understand the very real behind-the-scenes needs, to open up our imaginations to what could be. Isn’t that what we’re all called to do as followers of Jesus in the twenty-first century?

So the first job of the Alter Guild might be to dream up a way to get the church ready for the sacramental highlights of our common life without the scarcity-drama that plagues our and many other liturgical communities. What else might be the Alter Guild do? Crowd-source the Annual Report? Flash-mob the Christmas Pageant? Craft a choral hip-hop sermon? A Monty Python-inspired stewardship campaign?

What must we keep, in order to be faithful, and what must we let go of, in order to be faithful? Or, to put it another way, what would you do with a cracker-jack parish-wide Alter Guild?

The Burnout Season … by Susan Brown Snook

My Facebook feed is full of people making cheery New Year’s resolutions.  Exercise!  Pray!  Write scintillating articles!  Read the Bible in a year!  Get more rest!  Take long hikes!  Take a Sabbath each week!  Bike 10 miles a day!  Do good deeds to change the world!

I am all admiration for these amazing ambitions.  I just have one question: where do you get the energy?  Especially for those of you who are worn-out, maxed-out post-Christmas clergy like me.  Really?  You can make plans for the future?  It was all I could do to get myself to church on time last Sunday.

Admitted, my Advent this year was more taxing than ever before: after an intense two years of planning, fundraising, and preparing, our congregation moved to a wonderful new building on December 9, with our Grand Opening service on December 16, followed in short order by, you know, Christmas.  Moving into a new church building involves an incredible amount of work, from unpacking boxes to deciding on placement of art to completely re-training the ushers, altar guild, chalicists, acolytes and lectors.  And then re-adjusting everything when it doesn’t work out quite right the first Sunday.  Tell me again about peaceful waiting in Advent?  Sleepy-polar-bear

But it’s not just me and my situation – there are times when all clergy and lay church leaders fall into exhaustion, when we don’t have the energy to think ahead, when one more hospital visit, meeting, or liturgy feels like it might just drive us over the edge.  Not to mention having zero energy left over for getting out into the community and reaching new people in new ways, where they are rather than where the church is.  I believe in doing these things!  But how do I do them when I am exhausted?

I have to add that it’s not just clergy who find themselves burned out.  I had a ten-year career in public accounting, and I got plenty burned out then, too.  I have lots of parishioners who work just as hard as I do, and some who work harder for lower pay.  We clergy shouldn’t fall into a poor-me trap of thinking we are uniquely put-upon.  Think about public school teachers if you want to consider a noble, service-oriented, hardworking, and vastly underpaid profession!  But I guess I somehow believed when I embarked upon this career that serving Jesus would make me more joyful, less stressful than serving my accounting clients was.  And it does, most of the time.  But then there come those times of exhaustion.

And oh yes – those times hit Jesus, too.  Witness the gospel stories of Jesus retiring to a secluded place to pray, and being followed by the crowds.  He seemed to react the same way I do – sighing and then pleasantly doing what the crowds required.  I’m not much like Jesus, most of the time – but I certainly identify with him in the stories where he is worn-out and stressed.

So that’s the question, Gentle Reader.  How do we replenish ourselves in times like this? How do we keep on leading our congregations in accomplishing Christ’s mission – that mission we have devoted our professional lives to, in which we passionately believe – when we feel like empty, burned-out vessels, with very little left to give?  Where do we find the spiritual reserves to do that joyful, life-transforming mission that we are called to do?

This article originally appeared on Susan’s personal blog, A Good and Joyful Thing.

Fearless Evangelism, Part IX … by Charles LaFond

This is the ninth in a series on evangelism by Charles LaFond.  For links to earlier posts in the series, see below.  

IX. Being Centered in Christ for Evangelism’s Hard Work: Gentleness and Strength

To do evangelism, we will need two things I see in the gospel: gentleness and strength.

Luke 9:51:  
When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.

In this Gospel passage, Luke depicts a strident Jesus, with his face focused on Jerusalem like a river on its ocean. Jesus decides to move forward into his passion-mission with singular focus and despite all opposition. However, along the way, Jesus is showing his disciples, and all of us, that his form of leadership is different –strong but also gentle and compassionate.

In our culture, we do not usually link those two ideas – gentleness and strength. But the gospel finds them compatible and complimentary- they are fruits of the spirit.

In the Gospel passage, Luke begins to ratchet up his story. The engine of the Gospel shifts from first, to second and now into third gear and Jesus and his rag-tag group of followers begin the climb to Jerusalem. The decision has been made by Jesus in the context of His prayer – the deep love he hears from the Father. Jesus has decided what to do – go where it leads, cost what it will.

The geographical direction Jesus sets is through Samaria. Due to the violently inhospitable Samarians, most Jews would naturally travel the long way around to the East of the Jordan River, through Perea, to avoid Samarians– especially if they were on their way to Jerusalem. But Jesus strides into Samaria –like a modern American deciding to hike through Iraq. The Samaritans hated the Jews at least in part because the Jews hated the Samaritans – who had developed their own form of the Bible, their own liturgy, their own mountain for worship, and their own mystical writings. There was vicious distaste, distrust and distain on both sides. Their very similarity fuelled their hatred.

And, of course, a lack of hospitality in the desert is more than a matter of being impolite. The denial of hospitality in the desert is a matter of life and death. Jesus resolutely decides that it is through this inhospitable, unkind, oppressive region that they shall travel. And of course, they are ruthlessly rejected. So, in a flash of anger and righteous indignation, James and John ask Jesus if they may flex some hocus pocus of their own asking to repeat Elijah’s trick of raining fire down on opponents. Have you ever seen anyone burned alive? I have. It is quite a suggestion to make on one person…let alone on a nation.

Jesus is appalled! Jesus – striding at the head of the line to get to his mission in Jerusalem, physically turns around on James and John and rebukes them. Jesus flatly refuses to identify himself with Elijah, the fiery reformer of Second Kings. He will not drop fire on those who are unkind to him. He will not turn on those who deliberately turn on him. He will not be a conquering king. There is no insecurity in Jesus. He can afford to be gentle precisely because he sets aside his instincts for self-protection, defensiveness and aggression. His gentleness is not flaccid or weak. His gentleness is very strong, precisely because it is real gentleness – the kind which comes from spiritual abundance – form the source of gentleness– from knowing who one is.

Gentleness is so often seen as weak – even flaccid. But here we see a different model. Getting something done without bashing through it. Being that deep river instead of a wild, whipping, out –of-control hose – whirling around like a rabid snake -responding to cruelty and oppression with a resolute determination which is strong but not itself cruel or oppressive. The old adage that we should “fight fire with fire” is actually being reversed in this gospel. We fight fire with cool, baptismal water.

Words are so important and can help us here. The root word of gentle or gentleness is not a weak word. It is actually very strong. The “gen” of “generous” or “generation” or “gentle” or “gentile” or “gentry” or “genuine” or “genitalia” comes from the Latin word “gentis” which means race or clan or family. And the root of the Latin is from “gignere” which means to “beget” or to “come from” (as in Peleg begat Reu and Reu begat Serus and Seru begat Nahor…” ). We moderns often roll our eyes and skip the “begat” passages in the Hebrew Scriptures, but they are really very important…they are always, without exception, formulae which highlight an important passage to follow – these passages mark power.

Jesus was gentle because Jesus was aware of his rooted-ness in God. Jesus was gentle because he lived out of a place of spiritual abundance. Our calling is to that same awareness. We are Easter people. One can wear a tie or a cassock – we can wear a clerical shirt or a habit- we can wear a white doctor’s coat or an academic gown – one can wear black or purple – we can put on anything – dress up as anything. But the real test is not what we look like or what we say or what we wear. The real test is what we do – how we treat each other – as people- as nations. What we do is connected to hearing and knowing who we are – as members of one, connected humanity.

God’s central commandment is a call into the powerful gentleness of love. That is what we are doing in Come and See Campaigns – we are, with quiet confidence, together – inviting people to come and see where Jesus is at work. It’s not even about whether we think our church is pretty enough or well organized enough or has music or liturgy stirring enough – our job is to invite.

We have only to listen to God’s whisper of generous love always flowing through our souls like a great river– really listen to the Generous One of Love speak to us out of our Baptismal waters. And then turn to someone and tell them about how it has changed our lives.

In the end, Evangelism is nothing more than knowing we are loved by God (liked even!) and telling the world this good news. It sounds so simple but it is very hard work on many levels. This gentleness and strength will come to a clergy-person, a warden, a vestry and a congregation when their spiritual lives have the ballast of prayer, study in a mindful and balanced life. Evangelism, like stewardship, emerges out of deep, abiding, strong spirituality. The Come and See Membership Growth Campaign is designed to give function and form to the fire in the belly of those whose spiritual life is deep enough and vibrant enough to want to get out there and invite the hungry world to our churches – places where we beggars just found food.

The Rev. Canon Charles LaFond is the Canon for Congregational Life in the Diocese of New Hampshire.  The Come and See Membership Growth Campaign Manual is online and the 7 minute video summary can be found here.  

This is the ninth and last in a series on evangelism by Charles LaFond.  Click for earlier installments:  Part 1Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6; Part 7; Part 8.  Check out Charles’ blog for the full text. And check out the Diocese of New Hampshire’s Evangelism Toolkit, on its website.

Fearless Evangelism, Part VIII … by Charles La Fond

This is the eighth in a series on evangelism by Charles LaFond.  For links to earlier posts in the series, see below.

VIII. Forging New Neural Pathways

What we know from science is that the things we do over and over again become cut into our brains like the groves cut into in an old LP vinyl record. This is what is so hard about recovery from addiction or unhelpful behaviors: we have done them so often and for so long that the grooves in our brains are like a packed, glossy sledding run on a snow-covered hill. Sledding down that often-sled path is fast and fun! But move the sled a few yards to one side or to another and the soft, virgin-snow is deep, fluffy and hard to slide down. Making that new sled run is hard work, requiring slow persistence and many runs before the new run is going be fun and used by sledders. Similarly, evangelism will, for many of us, require us to change our ways of being and change what we are doing. That is hard work, requiring able, effective, persistent and strong leadership.

Facing resistance is hard work. Congregants will resist evangelism when they are either (
1) afraid of vulnerability,
 (2) ashamed of what people would “come and see” or
 (3) lacking in mindfulness of what peace and joy their church gives them and therefore lacking the energy to share that joy with others.

It will be hard for leaders to face resistance, because to face resistance requires staying in the discomfort of the tension. When one person asks another person to do something difficult or invites a new, strange behavior, there may be resistance. When that happens there is tension (conflict) and it is hard to hold one’s ground.  It can be scary and uncomfortable to stay in that tension.  It can be challenging to work towards movement and change.

This is the same stress dynamic in a church as in a family. The temptation is to retreat from the tension – to get myself out of this tension by dropping the request. It is funny really: “Oh….you say you do not like inviting people to church? Oh…well…ok…of course…silly me for even suggesting it….no…you are right….let’s not do evangelism…so sorry…no idea what came over me…I’ll not mention it again!” Then the person being invited into this new, strange place is happy again, the tension is released, the leader retreats and the accomplishment remains unaccomplished.

The Buddhists call this kind of people-pleasing “idiot-compassion” for obvious reasons.

And finally, it must be said that some leaders simply will not have the skills or the inner-strength to lead in this work. They will either be replaced by wise congregations which see the need for strong leaders in these challenging times or these leaders will oversee the slow death of their congregation over the next few decades.

Next: Being Centered in Christ for Evangelism’s Hard Work: Gentleness and Strength

The Rev. Canon Charles LaFond is the Canon for Congregational Life in the Diocese of New Hampshire.  The Come and See Membership Growth Campaign Manual is online and the 7 minute video summary can be found here.  

This is the fifth in a series on evangelism by Charles LaFond.  Click for earlier installments:  Part 1Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6; Part 7.  Check out Charles’ blog for the full text. And check out the Diocese of New Hampshire’s Evangelism Toolkit, on its website.

Blog Force Question: What About CCABs?

We here at Acts 8 have a couple of things we would like to accomplish.  We would like to inspire renewal in the mission, evangelism, and spirituality of The Episcopal Church.  And we would like to contribute to and stimulate the conversation about restructuring the church.

As part of the second goal, we are experimenting with something we are calling the “Blog Force.”  Acts 8 itself doesn’t want to take particular positions on restructuring questions.  Yet we know that many people in the church have great ideas they could share on their individual blogs.  So the Blog Force will, from time to time, ask a question about a restructuring subject, and invite anyone who is interested to respond.  This is an experiment – let’s see how it goes.

So here’s the first question: Recently, all the Commissions, Committees, Agencies, and Boards of The Episcopal Church met in St. Louis for a joint CCAB meeting.  The cost of the meeting of some 200 – 250 people was reported to be $1,100 per person.  So the question is, what is a worthwhile use of these resources: great people, high expense, a face-to-face gathering.  Should we have CCABs at all?  If so, what should they be doing?

If you would like to respond, please do!  There are three ways to respond:  (1) Write a comment here.  (2) If you have a blog, please write your thoughts there and post the link in the comments, here on the Acts 8 website or on Facebook, and we’ll add them into the body of this post next time we’re near our computer.  (3) Or, tweet a link to your response with the hashtags #Acts8 and #BlogForce and we’ll post them here when we notice them.  🙂

To get the ball rolling, here is a blog post from Susan Brown Snook (that’s me!).  CCABs: Let the Holy Spirit Blow!

The Episcopal Cafe picked up the discussion, with some interesting comments, here.

Also, Robyn Barnes talked about the role of social media at CCABs, here.

Similarly, the Crusty Old Dean speaks here.

Let us know your thoughts!




Pray for the Church, by Susan Brown Snook

The Diocese of South Carolina is meeting this weekend in convention to make plans for its future.  This special convention was called after the Disciplinary Board for Bishops certified that Bishop Mark Lawrence had abandoned the communion of The Episcopal Church, and this certification triggered a Diocese of South Carolina fail-safe mechanism that took it out of The Episcopal Church.  Here are some letters that came out in the last couple of days:

Bishop Dan Martins of Springfield wrote a blog post begging both sides to back down.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori wrote a pastoral letter to the Diocese of South Carolina.

I am, of course, helpless to do anything to effect reconciliation.  But here is what I can do: I can pray.  And I can ask all of you to pray.  Because it is a heartbreak when brothers and sisters can’t live together in peace, working for their common mission despite their differences.  So pray for the Church.

For the Human Family

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For the Church

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world
see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus
Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Fearless Evangelism, Part VII … by Charles LaFond

This is the seventh in a series on evangelism by Charles LaFond.  For links to earlier posts in the series, see below. 

VII.  Can Christians Learn from our Mistakes?

If we look around our congregations and notice the average age, and if we notice the trends in the next generation’s disinclination to join, attend or fund churches as members; then we do this membership growth work or we will die out in 25 years. We could easily become like the Shaker communities –like the one in Canterbury, New Hampshire. We do not do evangelism to grow or even to maintain numbers – we do it for invitation to LIFE ABUNDANT. However there are costs to not doing this work.

The Shaker Village in Canterbury is a place of stunning antique beauty. It is empty of its original worshipers much like our Anglican Cathedrals and some charming churches. They are empty places which tourists visit for their beauty, asking shyly, politely where the people are who built them.

The Shakers made a choice: NO EVANGELISM. They said “We will not change our ways – no outreach. No procreation. No adaptation to the culture around us.” They had lots of money from what they invented, made and sold, so why bother reaching out…they could pay their bills. They stood by their unwillingness to change until the last house in Maine whose web site says this:

“The Community presently consists of eighteen buildings located on 1,800 acres of land… a tree farm, apple orchard, vegetable gardens, commercial herb garden, hay fields, pastures, a flock of sheep, and a variety of livestock.”

The description never mentions people.

There are four Shakers left at Sabbath Day Lake, the last shaker village with shakers in it, preserved by an endowment of $3.7 million. At the turn of the last century there were 60,000.

In 1800 there were 1,233,011 people in New England of whom 60,000 were Shakers or 2% of the then population. In 2010 there were 14,444,865 people in New England. If the Shakers had done nothing but keep their numbers stable to a percentage of population growth – there would be almost 300,000 shakers in New England today. Instead there are four Shakers in New England. Their houses and communities are currently all museums but one.

I recently baptized a little baby named Evangeline. I want there to be an Episcopal Church for her when she grows up and makes her adult life-choices in 25 years. What we do now – in this in-between time as the church molts from one form into another – may determine if there is an Episcopal church in 25 years or simply monuments to an intransigent, extinct church.

This is hard work but this is also great and exciting work. How do we move forward? What do we take home as tools to get this work done and face everything from ambivalence to resistance back in our parishes?

Next:  Forging New Neural Pathways

The Rev. Canon Charles LaFond is the Canon for Congregational Life in the Diocese of New Hampshire.  The Come and See Membership Growth Campaign Manual is online and the 7 minute video summary can be found here.  

This is the fifth in a series on evangelism by Charles LaFond.  Click for earlier installments:  Part 1Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6.  Check out Charles’ blog for the full text. And check out the Diocese of New Hampshire’s Evangelism Toolkit, on its website.