Dean Letter: Congregational Feedback

Dear St. Paul’s family,

                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.
                I take all of these concerns extremely seriously and am working with the staff to do better. I am very sorry that we have not served you as we should. I hope that the summer socials, these weekly letters, and a renewed focus on congregational nurture will help to heal wounds.
                It will help me and the staff do better and will create a stronger community all round if you are willing to bring any continuing concerns directly to me or the staff member involved. Some of the information that our research group unearthed turned out to be inaccurate, and I am grateful for the opportunity to correct the record. For example, I was saddened to learn that some thought I didn’t want sign language in worship. In fact I find sign language beautiful and would love to see more of it in church.  If you hear something that seems “off” to you, please don’t hesitate to make a date to visit with me. Believe it or not, I am quite a good listener!
                We all love St Paul’s Cathedral and I know we all want this to be a place where love and truth are abundant. I and my colleagues will inevitably disappoint you from time to time: please give us the opportunity to make amends when that happens, for the good of the body and for the love we share.
With affection and gratitude,

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