St. Peter’s members and friends from Old Ellicott City and West End gathered on May 18 to discuss the first question: “Who is our neighbor?”
We had 17 participants in this second visioning session and engaged in both small and larger group discussions about our neighborhood and St. Peter’s place in it.
What is the purpose of the Church?
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said this:
First, the church exists to worship God in Jesus Christ. Second, the Church exists to make new disciples of Jesus Christ. Everything else is decoration. Some of it may be very necessary, useful or wonderful decoration, but it’s decoration.
Churches are often subject to “mission drift” in their lifetimes trying to be everything to everybody. One example is congregations becoming primarily seen as "social service organizations” running pastoral counseling centers, food pantries, and other social services and losing their focus on worship and discipleship.
But why do we do this? Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple observed:
The Church is the only institution that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members.
So our working definition of why St. Peter’s exists is:
To worship God in Jesus Christ, and
Make new disciples of Jesus Christ
for the sake of the whole world.
Dr. Steven Covey, author of the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, said this:
The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.
Our “main thing” is worship God in Jesus Christ and make new disciples. Notice that doesn’t mean “make new members of your congregation” - although in making new disciples, you often will see new members join the congregation.
Faith Development in Community
We looked at a model of faith communities which consists of concentric circles. The smallest circle in the center are the “Mature Practitioners” whose spiritual lives are not just consisting of Sunday worship, but who also engage in daily prayer practices, Scripture reading and study and who give of their time and money generously toward the mission of the church. Surrounding that core group is a larger circle of the “Sunday Sacramentalists” - folks who attend Sunday worship regularly, engage in some mission and fellowship, who give some of their time and money to the mission of the church but who also sometimes feel a disconnect between what happens on Sunday and the rest of the week. The next larger circle are the “Occasional Attenders” which is more than just the “Christmas and Easter” crowd. They may come when they are in town but otherwise live elsewhere (such as college students on break). The outer circle are the “Vicariously Connected” - this is the rest of our community of Old Ellicott City and the various groups who use our building (AA, NA, Toastmasters, Tiber Watershed Group, EcoWorks).
A healthy congregation has people in every single one of these circles. Mature Practitioners need the Vicariously Connected to keep them grounded in the needs of the world and vice versa as the Vicariously Connected need the spiritual support of the Mature Practitioners.
Those gathered put dots on the chart to indicate where they considered themselves on that spectrum and we had dots in every circle. This is a sign of a vital congregation!
We then delved into a visual tool the Diocese of Maryland has licensed called MapDash by DataStory. This tool allows us to see important demographic information about our surrounding neighborhood. We looked at age groups, ethnic groups, poverty rates, unemployment rates, levels of education, rates of childcare spending, locations of schools, locations of nursing homes, and various other pieces of information about our immediate neighborhood. We then overlaid a perimeter showing the 15 minute drive time to St. Peter’s Church because one statistic about congregational engagement which is stable is that 75% of members in sustainable, vital congregations live within a 15 minute drive time to your parish church.
With the 15 minute drive time overlay, we found there are seven Episcopal Churches in this area which shows a saturated region!
The above graphics show the importance of why St. Peter’s needs to be different in some way (our worship practices are different) and why St. Peter’s needs to be a healthy community of faith.
Our small groups shared their insights from the MapDash data which will feed our next session on where the intersection between St. Peter’s and OEC is.
Given what we have discovered about our neighborhood, what ministerial gifts and qualities do we seek in ordained leaders?
Before Mother Anjel departed for the last half hour of the session, our neighbor Beth Woodruff presented us with a book of "thank you notes” from the OEC community for our work in the 2018 flood relief. This book was officially presented at the Howard County EcoWorks “EC SoakItUP!” event which immediately followed the session.
Mother Anjel left and Doug Pryor introduced this question for the small groups to consider. Through this process we are developing a list of competencies that we seek in ordained leadership to work with St. Peter's. This is not only going to inform the vestry they consider calling a settled rector but it will also help inform a future request to the diocese for a deacon as we discovered St. Peter's has a long history of deacon ministers in the parish. The current list of qualities was shared with the table participants and new items added.
Our sessions close with this prayer from the Book of Common Prayer:
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.