Our recent series of summer socials gave me an opportunity to say in person to about 250 of you how much I love St Paul’s and all of you. Every day I give thanks for the tremendous privilege of serving this extraordinary community. You are faithful, smart, sophisticated, engaged, passionate people. By all metrics St Paul’s is an outstanding example of a vibrant progressive church. We have a distinguished history that we will celebrate next year as we mark 150 years of ministry in San Diego, a history marked by ever-widening circles of inclusivity that benefits all of us.
As we have been enjoying the summer socials, a small group of beloved and highly trusted parishioners has been engaged in conversations with parishioners who seem to have drifted away from active involvement. I asked this group to help clergy and Chapter identify themes, currents, and common concerns that we might be able to address, in the interest of strengthening our community and caring for those who feel on the margins. Some active parishioners expressed anxiety about this exercise, fearing that it would create discontent and division in the congregation. I am deeply grateful for the careful work the group did and for their courage and grace in sharing their findings with Jeff and myself. Some of the critique was hard to hear, but we are a people who believe the truth will make us free, so we listened carefully and the comments were offered in love.
Themes did emerge from these conversations, and the group shared their report with Chapter, in executive session so as to protect the dignity of any individual concerned. The overarching theme was one of lost community: a sense that the bonds of affection, especially between clergy and parishioners, are weaker than they once were, which has been a cause of grief and of withdrawal for some. Related to this are the following:
- A sense of imbalance: sermons are more about the world around us and social issues than about the spiritual nurture of the congregation, and I spend too much time on outward-focused activities and not enough on pastoral care;
- Pain over rigidity and defensiveness from clergy and staff in response to critique or suggestions for change;
- Disappointment over not feeling appreciated for one’s ministry;
- Frustration over recent pledge campaigns which have been experienced as tone-deaf to this congregation.