Saturday, July 31, 2010

Former St. Paul’s Priest Resigns from Cincinnati Parish

The Rev. Stockton WulsinThe Rev. Stockton (Stocky) Wulsin, who was on the staff of St. Paul’s a decade ago, has delivered his letter of resignation to St. Andrew’s, Evanston, in Cincinnati. Stocky is rector of St. Andrew’s, and his wife, the Rev. Barbara Wulsin, is also employed by the church.

The resignation was reported by the Cincinnati Enquirer:
In his letter [to the Vestry], which Wulsin said was not intended for the public, the priest cited two reasons for his decision. “The Anglican Communion has been in a state of crisis for several years over the choice of the American Episcopal Church to ordain bishops living in openly homosexual relationships and to pronounce liturgical blessings on people living in same sex relationships.”
Bishop of Southern Ohio Thomas Breidenthal announced last November that priests in the diocese could begin blessing same-sex unions in Easter 2010. (See story in The Columbus Dispatch.)

I don’t know what Stocky’s plans are, but, given his reasons for his resignation, I assume he is leaving the Episcopal Church. I also assume that, wherever he is going, Barbara is going also. You can read additional details in the Enquirer story.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

An Unwelcome Innovation

I was surprised when Lou announced at the 10:30 service today that there would be no August issue of The Messenger. This is certainly an unwelcome innovation. As long as I have been at St. Paul’s, we have had a newsletter every month. In fact, years ago, St. Paul’s also sent out a 1-page mid-month update on legal-size paper each month. (Admittedly, this was before the Internet had become a factor in the lives of most of us.)

Why, in 2010, we cannot manage to produce an August newsletter, I don’t know. I suspect, however, that the decision was a last minute one. If we had actually planned to skip the August issue, we should have included an August calendar in the July issue along with the July calendar. Of course, not all August events would have been known by the end of June, which is one reason we usually have an August Messenger.

The weekly e-mail message can compensate somewhat for the lack of a printed newsletter, though not for those parishioners—I have no idea how many there are—without access to e-mail. I hope we are not also going to see an August without e-mail missives. Under the circumstances, I would think that we would want to expand the quantity of information communicated through e-mail next month.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Welcome Improvement

Men in the choir frequently use the men’s room just down the hall from the choir room. Often, we do so with music in hand on our way the the church. This has been something of a problem. Where do you put your music while using the facilities?

I have often said that we need a shelf in the men’s room, though I don’t think I ever mentioned it to anyone who might be in a position to make such a fixture materialize. I was delighted yesterday to find that the sink in the men’s room had been replaced by a vanity. I wasn’t aware of anything’s bring wrong with the old sink, and I don’t know why it was replaced, but I’m glad it has been. The vanity, of course, has enough counter space to hold a music folder and hymnal.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Fulfilling the Vision, Part 6

My fifth post on Fulfilling the Vision is here. My seventh post is here.
One item in the Fulfilling the Vision proposal is $75,000 for a part-time musician assistant to Doug Starr. The primary duty of the person to be hired is support of the proposed Sunday evening Refuge service. (See my earlier posts here and here.) It is conceivable that this service could become a great success, but it is risky enterprise at a church with a recent poor track record of serving the needs of worshipers.

Before going to choir rehearsal this morning, I looked in on the 8:45 service. I counted 21 people in the pews—rather spread out from one another in a typical Episcopalian fashion, I might add—only one of whom was a child at this service that is supposed to be the “family service.” From my seat in the choir, I had a hard time getting an equivalent count at the 10:30 service, but there seem to have been about 65 worshipers in the pews. Additionally, lots more people were involved in putting on the 10:30 service; there were 22 choir members alone.

What is my point here? Simply put, I contend that the current 8:45 service is an unmitigated failure. People are avoiding it in droves.

Perhaps people don’t like the time of the early service. That seems unlikely. When St. Paul’s had an 8:30 and a 10:45 service, the services were similar, but the earlier service, like the present 8:45 service, was designed to be briefer. The concern of the church at that time was that the 10:45 service, despite its richer liturgical content, was attracting fewer and fewer worshipers, whereas attendance at the earlier service kept growing. The obvious conclusion is that a large number of parishioners prefer an earlier service. They also want a relatively mainstream Episcopal service, however, and they are willing to give up their time preference to avoid the band and eclecticism provided by the current early offering.

Why haven’t we given up on the disastrous experiment that is the present 8:45 service? Because, I suggest, this is the rector’s baby, and it is embarrassing to admit to having made a mistake. (In his defense, I should say that the rector may not believe he has made a mistake.)

What is worrisome is that the Refuge service is being initiated in the same way as the 8:45 service. The service does not come as the result of parishioner demand. The rector first brings in musicians to give us a glimpse of the coming attraction. He doesn’t ask what people think or try to achieve widespread buy-in. Instead, he forms a committee of supporters to plan the service and moves forward despite significant skepticism within the parish.

The questions about the Refuge service are legion:
  1. Are parishioners behind this service? I see no evidence of it.
  2. What are the competitors? (We’ve been told that there is nothing like this service in Pittsburgh. There are certainly services enough like it to be a threat, however. Where are they and how much of a threat are they? Television and sports may be a bigger threat, of course.)
  3. Where is the market research supporting Refuge? Who is the audience, and where is it coming from? How do we expect worshipers to get to St. Paul’s on a Sunday evening?
  4. Where is the cost-benefit analysis for the service? It may be unreasonable to expect the church to make Refuge into a profit center, but could the money spent on the service be put to better use? Could clergy time devoted to the service be put to better use? Apparently, we are doing a poor job of pastoral care—the proposed campaign looks to spend more money on that item—so perhaps the clergy time expended on Refuge would better be spent visiting parishioners in distress.
  5. What intended or unintended effects will Refuge have on St. Paul’s and on other Episcopal churches in the diocese?
  6. By what criteria will we conclude that Refuge is a success or failure? Judging from our experience with the 8:45 service, I suspect that the very existence of the service will be taken as a sign of its success.
Is St. Paul’s ready to invest $75,000 in Refuge? And make no mistake, there will be other visible and hidden costs of this service.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Meeting with Episcopal Church Foundation

I was surprised when I was greeted by name by Glenn Holliman of Episcopal Church Foundation as I walked into the lounge this afternoon. I was about 10 minutes early, and I seemed to be the first to arrive for the discussion of Fulfilling the Vision. Folding chairs for 20 or so people were set up in the lounge. Jane Little, moving slowly down the hall behind her walker, was behind me. As it happened, Jane and I were the only parishioners being interviewed in this particular session. Holliman made the educated guess that I wasn’t Jane Little.

Jane and I were each given a copy of a new document, a Tentative Case Statement. Neither of us read the four-page handout at St. Paul’s, but it is, in many respect, more helpful than the presentation made to parishioners last month. (The Tentative Case Statement does not seem to be on the church’s Web site. I made a PDF file from my copy and was planning to post it here. As I was checking over this post, however, I discovered the following notation on the bottom of the last page: “©2010 Episcopal Church Foundation. Do not copy without permission.” I’m not sure why the copyright is held by Episcopal Church Foundation and not St. Paul’s, and I’m not sure why there is concern about copying it. When I get an opportunity, I will ask if I can post it on the Web.) As it happens, Holliman did not reference the document during our discussion.

Our session was strictly limited to asking for our opinions. Holliman, who was both knowledgeable and friendly, asked specific questions and noted our answers on forms designed for the purpose. I suppose I talked too fast, as he asked me to slow down a couple of times for him to catch up on his note-taking.

I can’t speak for Jane—we haven’t discussed the experience—but I was reassured that parishioner voices will be heard. I don’t know what other parishioners are saying, but I said that I thought that more information about the proposed projects is needed, and that I did not think that St. Paul’s was ready to launch the campaign this fall. I suspect that I am not the only person who feels that way.

Update, 7/17/2010: I ran into Glenn Holliman this morning at church, where I had gone for Saturday Bible Study. He assured me that there was no reason not to post the Tentative Case Statement on the Web. Therefore, you can read the document here.

Preparing to Offer My Two Cents’ Worth

It is my understanding that the Episcopal Church Foundation began parishioner interviews yesterday to assess the feasibility of the Fulfilling the Vision project. My own appointment is for 1:30 this afternoon. It’s a bit hard to know how to prepare for this session, since I have so many questions and concerns about what is being proposed, and the interaction with Episcopal Church Foundation representatives is to be so brief.

If you’re asking yourself how you can be prepared for your own interview, I suggest that you begin by reviewing the presentation made last month, which you can find on the St. Paul’s Web site here. Some specific questions to think about might be these:
  1. Which of the proposed projects are essential, and which are perhaps not so essential?
  2. Are some of the projects simply projects you think should not be done? (I feel strongly that we need to air condition the church, for example, but some people think this is a waste of money.)
  3. Are essential projects missing from the to-do list? (They might be buried in one of several miscellaneous categories.)
  4. Do we have enough information to have an informed opinion on the Fulfilling the Vision project? If not, what is needed?
  5. What benefit, exactly, can we expect from the $425,000 expenditure for “Ministry Enhancements”?
  6. What parishioner involvement will there be as the projects move forward? For example, I am surprised by the $100,000 cost of a new sound system. The last time I was on a committee to explore such an improvement, the cost came in at about half that. Have sound system costs gone up that much or are we planning to buy more than we really need? Do parishioners have any visibility into this purchase or any say about it?
  7. Are we confident about the ability of St. Paul’s to make reasonable decisions and to know when to change plans based on actual conditions? (It is not reassuring, for example, that the 8:45 service, which is drawing very few worshippers, is not only continuing, but is continuing during the summer, when, in recent years, we have combined the two principal Sunday services. The last time we had two principal worship services on Sunday, they both followed the prayer book closely, and the earlier service attracted a much larger crowd than did the later service.)
You also might want to read my posts on Fulfilling the Vision, beginning with the first one here. I’ve written five posts on this subject, but I feel I haven’t really scratched the surface.
I hope to report later this week on my own experience giving my two cents’ worth. Good luck with your own preparation if you’ve not yet had the opportunity to voice your views.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Independence Day in Church

It is not often that the 4th of July falls on a Sunday, but, in 2010, it does. (Independence Day next occurs on a Sunday in 2021.) The occasion provides a reason for singing some patriotic music in church. In case you missed it, Doug Starr provided the following information about tomorrow’s 10:30 service:
When July Fourth falls on a Sunday, we have a wonderful opportunity to worship God in thanksgiving for our nation. Sunday’s music and hymns include some unique musical gems. At the 10:30 liturgy, after the prelude, Al Fedak’s sympathetic setting of the Navy Hymn tune, the great national hymn “God of Our Fathers” begins the liturgy. A new work by Lionel Deimel is sung by the choir at communion. This piece, entitled “Out of Many, One,” was his submission to a project to produce new national anthems, and his tune and text are nicely crafted. After communion, we all sing the great national hymn “O Beautiful for Spacious Skies.” The postlude is a wonderfully idiosyncratic piece by Charles Ives entitled “He is There,” a song he wrote in 1917 paying tribute to the young American soldiers of World War I. In this music, he quotes several great nineteenth-century American songs, including “Tenting Tonight,” “Battle Cry of Freedom,” “Marching through Georgia,” “The Star-spangled Banner,” “Dixie,” and probably several more! Happy Fourth of July!
You can find out more about my anthem on my Web site here.