Letter From Kathleen: Report From EPN Conference

The Episcopal Parish Network (EPN)
Inspiring Leaders
2024 Annual Conference, Houston
“Strengthening Leaders for a Changing Church”


I had the privilege and pleasure of attending this year’s EPN conference in Houston this March.  It was my first EPN conference and my first time in Houston, TX.  In addition to the regular conference offerings, I attended the pre-conference Administrator’s Annual Roundtable.

This year’s topic was “Church Safety and Security”.  I was impressed by the presentation Jeanie Garret (Principal, Grace Communications & Consulting LLC; Austin, TX) gave during the three hour meeting.  Jeanie consults with churches about security and was once in church administration herself, so she was uniquely qualified to discuss this topic with this group of professional church administrators.  Jeanie was able to communicate clearly about what best practices were and how to utilize available resources to help achieve goals and compliance. 

We learned quite a bit about what some were doing for security on their church campuses.  Many in the room had schools on site so have adopted many “hardened security resources”. We learned that several found the funding for the upgrades via the families of the students at the school, and implemented the security upgrade quickly.   The upgrades included bullet proof glass, intercom and fob entry systems, fences, security guards, partnerships with local law enforcement, and emergency notification systems/apps.

We discussed active shooters and met the administrator from St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Birmingham, AL.  He survived the 2022 shooter event at their church potluck, but they lost three members in the violence.  Zac gave a moving presentation and it really hit home how these situations are not abstract or theoretical.  It’s led me upon returning home to think about planning security and training offerings for the next year. Details will follow after Easter about trainings and projects that we will need to work on. 

We were able to network with our fellow “Admins” during the session which turned into a dinner hosted by TouchPoint (a church management system company).  We got to know each other and compare notes on the common challenges we work on and how we approach things. We shared various resources such as vendor recommendations (a lot of them use REALM like we do), policies (some haven’t gotten Employee Handbooks together or formal policies on gifts, etc.), forms (facility use contracts, security plans, etc.), and other documents.  These resources are wonderful for the Admins in general because they keep one from having to reinvent the wheel.

Thursday, we reconvened and discussed general topics of interest such as HR compliance, security grant funding, facilities use policies and church management systems.  Stuff that would probably put most folks to sleep, but we Admins geek out on it all. 

We integrated into the rest of the convention afterwards.  Many of us went on a tour with lunch of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston.  We learned that this church was one of the largest Episcopal churches in North America with over 10,000 active members, 15 acres of campus and 220,000 sq ft of usable space.  They had just finished a large campus renovation, adding new buildings, signage, a gift shop, and welcome center.  The one thing I didn’t see was the welcoming signage of inclusion.  I learned later that the congregation is not  welcoming of LGBTQ+ (there are no programs for LGBTQ+ parishioners, they do not perform same-sex marriages, and they basically tolerate the gay folks in the congregation).  They say they are committed to social justice but “it’s not their core”.  The rector doesn’t feel that racial reconciliation is a mission of the church, rather a “function of the church”. 

Not actually being an Episcopalian and having the majority of my experience with Episcopal church through the Diocese of San Diego, I guess I was surprised there were Episcopal churches that do not welcome people the way we do.  I’ve known about the  few small “hold outs” in our area, but it seems they are a minority.  Experiencing such a large and influential church such as St. Martin’s and their non-inclusion was an eye opener.  Being in Houston did illustrate how California can be a bubble vs. other parts of the country’s opinions and  values.   A bit depressing, but so grateful for the inclusion that does exist in the Episcopal church, especially at St. Paul’s Cathedral. 

Closest I got to meeting the PB!

Back at the convention, I attended Keynote addresses.  The first was supposed to be from the Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, but with his recent health issues, he was not able to attend.  Instead, we had a wonderful panel of people who had known the PB throughout his career.  One of the people on the panel was the PB’s assistant, the Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers.  Some of the most moving statements came from her.  First, “The more we’re rooted in that deep love, the more we will grow” as a church.  Also, “’E pluribus unum, out of many one’”.  She asked us to examine ourselves and ask each other, “What do you love?  What have you lost? Where does it hurt? What do you dream?” These questions answered lead us to  “the spiritual practice of love in action.”  I found her words and message very soothing after the St. Martin experience.  It restored my faith in the Episcopal Church’s path and leadership.

The rest of the convention was focused on leadership development and meeting new people.  I enjoyed meeting so many people who knew Dean Penny.  I met several deans and rectors with her.  St. Pau’s Cathedral is well recognized throughout the population of the convention.  It was fun to meet people who had been to the Cathedral in the past and shared their fond memories. 

The vendor expo was helpful to meet folks and learn about new and different resources I wasn’t aware of, or didn’t have exposure to.  I met the communications team from EPN, learned more about TouchPoint, the church management system, and the ACS REALM folks who discussed our current church management system. 

Broken Obelisk 1966

I spent my down time seeking out art in Houston.  I visited the Rothko Chapel, a non-denominational sacred space with 14 artworks by the artist Mark Rothko, completed in 1967.  The mission The Rothko Chapel is a spiritual space, a forum for world leaders, a place for solitude and gathering. It’s an epicenter for civil rights activists, visited by over 100,000 people each year, and has a sculpture outside in the reflecting pond by Barnett Newman in honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  (Broken Obelisk, completed 1966, installed 1970). 

The experience of meditating in the sacred space, designed by architects Philip Johnson, Howard Barnstone, and Eugene Aubry, was transformative.  It really centered my being and set me up for the messages of love, leadership, and the Jesus Movement from the conference.

James Turrell Twilight Epiphany Skyscape
James Turrell Twilight Epiphany Skyscape Detail

I visited the Menil Collection and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.  The last thing I did before heading back to San Diego was visit the James Turrell’s Twilight Epiphany Skyscape which uses light and nature to create a unique viewer experience at dawn and dusk.  I went for the dawn phase (6:35 sunrise, arrive 40 minutes early!) and was blown away at the conjunction of the space and environment.  Again, the transformative experience outside of church of communing with God and Nature capped off the conference for me.

I’m most grateful for the opportunity to develop professionally, represent the Cathedral, and bring back so many useful ideas to the Cathedral and its congregation.

Kathleen Sheehan Burgess
Director of Administrative Operations

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3 thoughts on “Letter From Kathleen: Report From EPN Conference”

  1. We are so very fortunate to have you as a member of our community, no less, as our parish administrator! I remember when I was on Chapter and served as the Dean’s Warden when we brought you “on board”, and it has been wonderful since that day. Thank you for all that you do, for all that you have done, and for all that you are planning to do!

    Most sincerely,

    Don Pellioni


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