by EDOW | May 25, 2023
While “A Compelling Mission & Vision” is just one of seven vital signs identified by our Diocese [as areas that contribute to a healthy, growing church], I would argue that it’s the most important. A compelling mission and vision are the roots from which all the other vital signs grow.
The Diocesan Vital Signs resources suggest that a parish’s mission and vision are “vital” when they are stated clearly, when all of a parish’s ministries are aligned to that mission and vision, and when the mission and vision are supported by all levels of ministry leadership.
The way we’ve approached this work at St. Margaret’s is by articulating a clear, concise, and relatively permanent purpose statement, and a longer, specific, and measurable five-year vision statement. Both were a result of a strategic planning process, which we undertook in 2019 through engagement with the Unstuck Group.
Our purpose statement is in essence our mission: an articulation of why we exist. For us, it was useful to articulate this through the lens of our neighborhood’s demographics and the new people we hoped to reach. Of course, it also is informed by and resonates with those who are already part of our faith community.
St. Margaret’s purpose statement is:
St. Margaret’s is a warm place to renew faith in God, care for one another, and thrive in a diverse, LGBTQIA-affirming, and inclusive community.
Our vision statement is future-oriented–an articulation of where we’re going. And we’re not talking about 100 years from now–just five. After five years have passed, the intention is to repeat the process, recasting a new vision for the next five years. Year by year, the vision statement serves as a roadmap for our ministries and a filter for our priorities.
To discern our vision, we prayed, asking the question, “What is God’s preferred future for St. Margaret’s?” The resulting statement is our faithful answer.
St. Margaret’s vision statement begins: “Drawing on the diversity of our people and their gifts, with God’s help we will grow spiritually and numerically over the next five years by…”
We then list three overall “buckets,” each of which are action-oriented. In other words, they’re gerund verbs–each an articulation of how we aim to grow.
St. Margaret’s vision states that we seek to grow by:
- Inspiring every person to experience the love of God in Christ;
- Educating disciples of Christ and equipping people to put their faith in action;
- Growing generosity and neighborliness.
Under each of these three areas, we then list three specific objectives we hope to accomplish. Under the first, “Inspiring every person to experience the love of God in Christ,” we list goals related to worship; hospitality and newcomers; and sacramental commitments. We also track various metrics related to each objective. For example, under the second, “Educating disciples and equipping them to put their faith in action,” we measure parish engagement. That is, what percentage of our active members are engaged in formation programs, are serving regularly as worship leaders, or are volunteering through our outreach programs. By 2026, we’re shooting for the lofty goal of 100% engagement.
Similar to the process the Diocese is following with its strategic plan, St. Margaret’s Vestry meets annually to set three priorities for the year, informed by our self-assessment of the gaps between our vision’s objectives and where we currently are. Setting these priorities has arguably been one of the most challenging aspects of this work. Now that we have an energizing vision of where we want to go, it’s hard to slow down and acknowledge that we can’t accomplish everything in just one year. We’re constantly reminding one another, “This is a five-year vision–not a one-year sprint.”
You can check out St. Margaret’s full Purpose and Vision here.
For any parish considering the work of strategic planning and visioning, I highly commend you to make it a priority. For us at St. Margaret’s, it has been a vital, clarifying, and energizing tool, which has helped us align our purpose and calling with our day-to-day, year-by-year activities and resources. To God be the glory.
The Rev. Richard Weiberg
Rector, St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, DC
In the coming months, we will continue to highlight parishes in the Diocese that exemplify each of the Parish Vital Signs through a story they share about their ministry. Read the series launch article
by EDOW | Feb 16, 2023
In early 2021, the congregation of Trinity, Upper Marlboro faced a painful truth: that their beloved parish could not survive much longer given the circumstances they faced. Rather than ignore the signs, Trinity’s leaders proactively requested to undergo a Canon 54 Diocesan Stewardship and Parish Viability assessment, becoming the first congregation in the diocese to go through the process after the canon’s approval at a special diocesan convention in the spring of 2021. They hoped to receive guidance around determining next steps for tending to finances and developing strategies for new ministries that would appeal to the people in the surrounding community.
The initial recommendation from the assessment committee, based on the state of Trinity’s finances and the leadership available, was to close. But during the period of the assessment, new life began to blossom in the parish. New leaders stepped forward, the church’s spaces were beautified, and a new ministry for children was planned. With this hard work of the members, Diocesan Council, rather than closing the parish, decided to change the parish to an organized mission status and to explore shared ministry with nearby St. Thomas’, Croom.
Under this new mission status, the Rev. Dr. Peter Antoci, rector of St. Thomas’, would be appointed as part-time Vicar of Trinity for one year with the Rev. Thomas Bauer serving as Sunday Chaplain. The twelve months would serve as a testing period for leadership and for the viability of Trinity, with the main goals being 1) to develop a plan for financial sustainability, 2) to engage the leadership of St. Thomas’, Croom regarding opportunities for coordination and collaboration in ministry, and 3) to commit to a renewal plan for Congregational Vitality. Trinity’s first service as a mission took place on July 31, 2022.
The Rev. Anne-Marie Jeffery, Canon for Congregational Vitality has been working with Trinity leaders on their renewal plans, and says from the first time she met with them, “The people of Trinity were energized and already had a sense of new ministries they wanted to try. They had created the Claggett Cafe, a space to have coffee hour that was near where worship happened, so people could easily be greeted and have a place to connect. A grant had been applied for and received to offer a program for children in the evenings to give parents a break.”
With some teaching about congregational renewal best practices, the Seven Vital Signs of Parish Health, and a study of the demographics of the surrounding area, the congregation’s commitment to the necessary renewal and vitality work deepened. During the fall of 2022, the new mission prepared to host a community event – the dedication of the monument celebrating the 100 year anniversary of Crain Highway. Volunteers at the mission also planned to walk the neighborhood so they could see with new eyes how they might be a blessing to the wider community.
The main focus of their renewal plan is the creation of Fit and Faith, a Friday evening program for children ages pre-K to sixth grade that draws on the strengths of the mission’s many educators and leaders in the surrounding community. The program will include arts and crafts, indoor and outdoor play, cooking, career awareness, and music awareness, with the particular hope that, through their participation in Fit and Faith, both children and parents will experience the gift of being in community – an experience important in the life of Trinity, Upper Marlboro and one its members are eager to share.
After a recent check-in, Canon Anne-Marie is pleased to report that Fit and Faith is well underway and the first informational meeting for parents will take place on February 17th. To get the word out, organizers have been advertising the program with the local school as well as with a large after school program. They are also reaching out to the area churches and have made arrangements with Prince George’s County Board of Education for this program to be a site for junior and high school students to get their service hours. By the end of May, organizers anticipate they will have held at least six sessions.
The Fit and Faith program is an example of what’s possible when a faith community focuses on one of the vital signs of parish health – in this case, blessing our community – with the intention of serving the needs of the people of that community. The members of Trinity Mission are finding hope and sowing the seeds of renewal in their good work.
Trinity has also made progress in their long-term financial planning, another key part of their renewal efforts. They are on track to end 2023 with a balanced budget.
On January 17th 2023, Trinity Mission held its Inaugural Eucharist & Formal Organizing Meeting, followed by a reception. St. Thomas’, Croom was well-represented at this celebration as the two congregations continue to collaborate and share life together.
by EDOW | Dec 2, 2022
by the Rev. Dr. Kate Heichler
On an Advent Sunday [in 2021], a chunk of the congregation at Christ Church in La Plata gathered for our first parish lunch since the pandemic. Over chili and cornbread, we welcomed first-time visitors and longtime members, all there to share and tell the “Story of Christ Church” as part of the Tending Our Soil thriving congregations initiative. Two longtime parishioners, who came to the church at the ages of 0 and 5, respectively, took us through a timeline of the past 25 years. Then we moved the tables, circled up the chairs – with room for the big screen showing Zoom participants – and began a Story Circle.
Starting with “Once upon a time, in 1683, in Port Tobacco, a group of settlers decided they wanted an Anglican Church…” each person in turn took up the story, adding their part, all prefaced by a time reference: “Roughly 350 years after that, my family and I saw the rainbow-colored wind sock in front of Christ and thought, ‘I’d like to try that church.’” And “About 14 years before that, my wife and I moved to La Plata and found Christ Church, and two years later I was confirmed as an Episcopalian,” and “Two years ago I attended a HeartSongs Open Mic night here and Rev. Kate asked me, “How do you bring light into the world.” (She did? Yikes!)
As we went around the circle, a story emerged of a church in which many have found a welcoming home, sometimes after painful times elsewhere; of a sanctuary and worship in which many feel the presence of the Holy Spirit; of active and creative outreach; and warm fellowship. This exercise is to help us craft a succinct “Story of Christ Church” that people can easily tell others. It is one of the ways Tending Our Soil invites us to turn over our soil and aerate it, letting in light and air, making room for planting seeds that will bear abundant fruit of transformation in our community. The next step will be to learn the “Story of Our Neighborhood” – to better know the fields in which we are called to plant those seeds of gospel life.
Tending Our Soil is a rich opportunity for Christ Church in La Plata and our sister church, Christ Church Wayside, to get our hands dirty in our missional gardens. Over the course of three years it will help us to focus our mission, strengthen our lay leadership and ministry teams, and make a transforming impact in our regions. We are poised for growth, ready to pivot to where the Spirit shows openings.
We are living a story God has been writing since the beginning of time and invites us to add our chapters; a story of sorrow and joy, stuckness and movement, despair and hope. Above all it is a story of Jesus and how we make him known. God has written the end to that story already. We just get to live it out.
by Anne-Marie Jeffrey | Nov 10, 2022
“…So that we may become a spiritual home for our children and grandchildren.”
Diocesan Strategic Plan
As people gathered by region and special interest cohort in 2019 to begin listening to where the Holy Spirit was guiding the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, one conviction rose again and again: we had to make an intentional effort to serve the needs of our youth and young adults so that we could become a spiritual home for our children and grandchildren. When the time came, the team tasked with drafting our Diocesan Strategic Plan molded that belief into a goal: to launch or relaunch three worshiping communities focused on rising generations.
In part, this goal emerged from the recognition that the average age of nearly all our congregations is significantly higher than that of their surrounding neighborhoods, Bishop Mariann shared in her address to Diocesan Convention this past January. “It is clear,” she said, “that the churches with the greatest success in growing young are those that make reaching rising generations their top priority.” In her address, the bishop issued an invitation to individuals interested in joining this effort.
Nearly every congregation in the diocese wants to be a spiritual home for rising generations and we are committed to providing resources and opportunities for that important work. The new faith communities initiative, however, asks different questions. Where in our growing population of young adults is The Episcopal Church underrepresented or not present at all? Where might God be calling us to offer something new? Whose spiritual needs are not being met?
In June, diocesan staff began working with experienced church planters from ACS Technologies–the company behind the powerful demographics tool MissionInsite–to help us discover what communities hold the greatest promise for new worshiping communities and dig into the specific context of each area under consideration.
Chuck Salter and Emily Reece–our ACS Technologies partners–prepared an extensive demographic report that identified regions with high and growing concentrations of young people. After prayerful deliberation, diocesan staff ultimately discerned four potential areas:
- Bowie, MD
- Downtown Silver Spring, MD
- Brookland/NoMa, DC
- LaPlata/Waldorf, MD
In late October, Emily and Chuck were on the ground visiting churches in these four areas exploring the possibility of partnership. The site visits were followed by a workshop on Saturday, October 29 for those who responded to Bishop Mariann’s call to be part of this work along with members of the congregations in the targeted areas and diocesan staff.
During our time together, we learned that it is likely that these new faith communities will not be the “bricks and mortar” based communities we are accustomed to, but they will need the support and input of existing nearby communities. We also learned that relationship building is essential for planting new faith communities. It is only by being in relationship with the people where we want to plant that we can know their needs and how to engage them.
At the end of the workshop, participants were invited to take their next step, from praying for this vital work to committing to being part of the initiative. I will repeat that invitation here. Please pray for us as we take our next faithful steps in growing younger as a diocese and please contact me if you’d like to take part.
Creator God, we seek to find new ways to share your message of love beyond the walls of our church buildings and ask you to send us leaders who are called to this work. Plant the gospel in their hearts and empower them with the Spirit, that they may see and hear the people they are sent to reach. Grant them joy, wisdom, and freedom in the midst of challenges; give them enough fruit for encouragement; laughter and humility to soften their hearts, refreshment for sanity; grace to support their teams; and resources to minimize their stress. In all things encourage them with your constant presence and knowledge of your love through Jesus who is our guide.
The Rev. Anne-Marie Jeffery
Canon for Congregational Vitality
by EDOW | Oct 27, 2022
by The Rev. Diana V. Gustafson
‘I came to myself, in a dark world, where the direct way was lost.’
Dante, The Divine Comedy
If you have ever taken a personality test, you may have identified personal strengths, such as the ability to organize people or ideas or to express yourself musically, and weaknesses, such as a fear of speaking in public. It can be fun to gain insight into who we are and how we operate in the word. But consider your spiritual gifts and personality. How might tests to identify spiritual gifts give you insight into your relationship with God and your church?
Perhaps no one is more interested in this question than the newcomer to a church and the people dedicated to walking with them on their spiritual journey. Identifying and honoring newcomers’ self-identified talents is vital to guiding them on a path of discipleship.
St. Paul teaches us that:
There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same God; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. ~ 1 Corinthians 12
For the newcomer, understanding their abilities and desires through a spiritual lens is an important first step in their path of discipleship and participating in the life of the congregation. At St. Margaret’s in DC, we invite newcomers into just such a practice of discovery. In our class, “St. Margaret’s Go!,” newcomers journey together, exploring who they are as spiritual beings and the life that God is calling them to. In three one-hour sessions, newcomers identify and explore their spiritual gifts and discern where they are along a pathway of faith. Just as they are learning about the church’s mission, values, and ministry, they discover what this church can offer them and consider how they might participate in and contribute to a community of faith.
The Go! class begins by using pictures of common objects and events, such as crayons in a box or a child crying, to explore the kind of relationship with God they would like to have.
Go! then helps the participants identify where they might start on the threshold of their discipleship paths. Are they “Experiencers,” engaging with God through song, prayer, and fellowship? Or “Searchers,” at a point of questioning Christian theology and investigating concerns about racism or tasting other faiths. Other places along the path are for ‘Belongers,’ who locate themselves in community and corporate worship, and for ‘Owners,’ who regularly pray on their own, and are ready to teach others from their experience and wisdom. Together the class looks at each person’s spiritual gifts, such as “mercy,” “hospitality,” or “wisdom.’” Go! also asks participants about the individuals who have influenced them.
Through such exploration, participants gain a greater understanding of who they are as spiritual beings. They are better equipped for involvement in the life of religious community and worship because they have a stronger sense of self in relation to God. They are ready to self-identify intelligently as disciples.
Discoveries made during St. Margaret’s Go! informs not just participants but leaders as well. Clergy and formation leaders can use participant’s self-identification to plan formation offerings and general forums through the church year. “Experiencers” may be drawn to bible study, for example, while “Searchers” may benefit from classes, such as Sacred Ground, that explore the church’s response to racism. Formation is focused on guiding disciples along their spiritual path toward deeper relationship with Christ. An understanding of spiritual gifts and desires also helps participants and clergy identify ways laypeople can take part in the life of the congregation. The participants may feel a call to join an outreach group, serve as an usher, or attend weekly healing prayer.
You can learn more about the Diocese of Washington’s path of discipleship at www.edow.org/path and learn more about how St. Margaret’s is using that path and spiritual gifts discernment to meet the needs of newcomers at the upcoming course, Spiritual Gifts and the Newcomer noon on November 16. Learn and talk about the needs of the newcomer and how your church can implement a newcomer’s Go! program.