Monday, October 16, 2006

Church Conflict: A Good Sign?!?

Most of us cringe at the thought of conflict in our congregations. But is conflict something to be avoided? A recent study of small Episcopal Churches seems to suggest that the answer is no.

When the Faith Community Today 2005 responses of the most rapidly growing, most rapidly declining, and stable small churches are compared, both the rapidly growing and rapidly declining congregations report far more "very serious disagreements or conflict" in all areas. For example, serious disagreement over how worship is conducted occurred in 7.1% of declining churches, 6.9% of growing churches, and in no stable churches. Money was another divisive issue, with serious disagreements erupting in 18.5% for the rapidly declining, 13.3% in the rapidly growing, but in only 3.4% of the stable churches. When one looks at the areas of priest's leadership style, use of church facilities, and the actions of General Convention 2003, a similar trend emerges. Both growing and declining congregations experience serious disagreements and conflict; it is the stable congregation that reports being least conflicted.

These statistics suggest that lack of conflict may be a sign that a congregation is at a plateau, or at the point of stability in its life cycle. This point is an ideal time to begin the revisioning process, looking towards new ministry and mission in the future. What is God's intention for your congregation in the coming years?

Do you have a story about how your congregation discovered new vision? If so, please post your response. If you've never posted to a blog, you can do so anonymously. Other (sm)all congregations can benefit from your wisdom and learnings...

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Sermon for Domestic Violence Awareness Month

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. The sermon below was preached today at the Episcopal Church Center by the Rev. Jayne Oasin ( ).
Sermon for
Domestic Violence Awareness Month
October 12, 2006
Episcopal Church Center

SAFETY – a word that many of us have traditionally taken for granted perhaps prior to 9/11 and even the tragic event yesterday. Safety – a simple word that most of the rest of the world has not been able ever to take for granted

Webster’s Dictionary defines SAFETY as Freedom from danger, injury, or the threat of harm such as
A Place where one is free of worry from potential harm
And it gives as the
example of safety -- “as safe as you are at home”

Well the irony is that for many, HOME IS THE LEAST SAFE PLACE OF ALL

When I decided to speak about safety today, I assumed that there would be several passages in the Scriptures that spoke about safety. Much to my surprise there were very few that spoke directly to the idea of safety and fewer that spoke about the safety of a home. In two passages, safety was used to speak about holding a prisoner in safety so that he couldn’t escape but somehow that didn’t convey the meaning I wanted. Perhaps that is why many people and sadly, many ministers and priests don’t seem to understand the dynamics of domestic abuse and what it really means to be and to feel safe in the family home.

In my time of serving in a domestic violence shelter, I listened with sadness and horror to the stories of how many of our colleagues, who are good men who have dedicated their lives to serving God, yet who nevertheless sent women and men back home to their abusive partners in the mistaken theology that going back home to the abuser is the best way to preserve the unity of the family. This is bad theology, my friends and I reject it. It springs from a place of power and control that negates all of the principles of love and care given to us by our Savior Jesus Christ. Some Jewish friends of mine shared with me the concept that in a Jewish home, the woman alone is responsible for keeping the family together and while that sense may not be explicitly stated in other denominations, often it is implicitly felt and so women and men, hundreds of thousands of them annually go home, go home to more abuse and often, death.

And the story does not end there - their children, the children who witness this abuse, day after day, month after month and are themselves abused, those who actually survive, carry the physical and emotional scars with them for a lifetime. Their daughters make unwise marital choices, often marrying abusive men themselves and their sons, are almost 75% more likely to grow up to be abusers themselves, have substance abuse problems and often spend many years in prison. So SAFETY is neither a word nor a feeling that is familiar to them.

I wish, sincerely I wish, that this sermon could have a happy ending. But it does not. Abuse continues and the most that we can do is to keep both the abused and the abusers in our prayers because most people who abuse have themselves been victims of abuse. And we can watch for the signs of abuse and continue to work to identify possible victims and help them to get to a safe place and pray and work to help them gain a sense of their own empowerment. We can lobby our legislators to pass more stringent legislation to protect the victims of abuse and we can examine the seeds of violence in ourselves that contribute to an overall climate of violence in our society.
And we can offer to victims and victimizers the assurance that God is present in every situation and that there is no place, no place, no place where God is not.

And we can dedicate ourselves to work for peace and safety for allLet us pray…Sheltering God…Amen
For more information on domestic abuse, including downloadable resources for programs that your church might implement, go to

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Being the Small Church in a Big Space

Are you a small-membership church that worships in a BIG space? For a creative, and humorous, look at how one congregation solved this dilemna go to Fr. Matthew Moritz’s newest v-blog (video blog) found by clicking on
It is 1:30 minutes of fun.
But in all seriousness, a "cavernous" space can be difficult for the smaller congregation. I recently heard of one congregatoin that regularly worships in the parish hall, reserving the use of the sanctuary for days when large numbers are expected. (However, if you decide to meet elsewhere it is important to keep the sanctuary tidy and "seasonally" appropriate, especially if the doors are left unlocked. Imagine it is March. A visitor travelling through your town seeks some quiet Lenten solitude. She sees your church, joyfully finds the door unlocked, and opens it. The creche is still in place, and the dry and brittle Christmas greens are still up. From personal experience, I know this has happened.)
Father Matt's suggestion of using the chapel is another valid option. What creative alternatives have you experienced, or has your congregation tried? Let us learn from one another...

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Urban Revitalization: Church of the Ascension in Western New York

This story of urban church renewal is submitted by Tori Duncan, Canon for the Development of Mission and Ministry for the Diocese of Western New York.

A Small congregation with a big vision
by Tori Duncan, Canon for the Development of Mission and Ministry

Church of the Ascension. You’ve probably seen this beautiful church building in our diocese on Linwood Avenue… gorgeous architecture and beautiful windows, with grounds carefully and lovingly tended by one of the members of the congregation. You also may or may not know that there are not many people who currently gather for Sunday worship in this space that has been the site of the prayers of many, many people over the decades. This small congregation in a large church building has every outward reason to feel discouraged, but they have a hope, vision and dedication to God that surpasses all understanding!

Over the past several months Church of the Ascension has come to a place of one mind and vision that they are going to “give their all” to become a successful urban church restart. They are committing their energy and their finances to hiring a priest experienced in re-starting churches in downtown locations. We’ve sent the word out coast-to-coast that we have a church in our diocese, brimming with potential, who is of one mind to become a national example of what big urban churches with small congregations can do. They want to spread the Good News, they want to welcome those without church homes, they want to worship God in a beautiful place that their ancestors in the faith created for them a long time ago.

“Ascension’s restart is a sign of hope for our Diocese and the City of Buffalo, said the Very Rev. David Selzer, Dean of Central Erie. “The Episcopal Church is not going to abandon the city, and we will use our facility and people resources to be the presence of God in Western New York. As former Senator John Danforth said at the 2006 General Convention: ‘The Episcopal Church is the right church for the right time.’ We in Western New York are committed to this vision, living the Gospel in the midst of the City.”

Dean DeLiza spangler of St. Paul’s Cathedral shares David’s enthusiasm. “As Christians,” she says, “we are to step out in faith, trusting that where we are being led is where we are called to go, even if we can’t clearly see every step along the way. The Church of the Ascension is doing just that, and I am grateful for the witness of faith, courage and discipleship which they are giving to us all.”

Please pray for the faithful members at Church of the Ascension, that they may have the focus and courage to live into God’s dream for them. Let your friends in other dioceses know what a little church with a big vision is doing in Western New York. Be assured that God’s joy with Ascension is like God’s joy for you, and celebrate the hope he’s given us in Jesus Christ.