Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Impressions of the 8:45 Service

As I mentioned in my last post, I attended the 8:45 service at St. Paul’s this past Sunday. I did so for convenience, but I was also interested in seeing what the service was like, as I had not attended an 8:45 service for some time. I was also interested in seeing what attendance was like, but Sunday School teachers were being honored, and that clearly increased the size of the congregation and the number of children present.

Service booklet coverMy experience began badly. Because I was close to the stairs nearest Mayfair Drive, I walked up those stairs to get to the church. I found no service leaflets there. It soon became obvious why; the musicians made it impossible to enter the church through the south transept. I tried going in back of the chancel, but the door was locked. Instead, I had to return to the undercroft and walk up the other flight of stairs. I was given a booklet and found a seat in the nave.

Service Booklet

The service booklet was relatively free of errors, I am happy to say. (I found things I would change if I were editing it, but most of those lapses would go unnoticed by the less obsessive.) I did find that the addition of “A beacon of Christ’s love for 175 years. 1936 - 2011” at the top of the cover and “175th Anniversary” at the bottom of the cover made the page look rather too busy, particularly since the descender of the final “y” of “Anniversary” was cut off. Also, on the calendar, I did wonder if the EYC End-of-Year Cookout was really going to be held in the youth room. Serious errors, however, were not in evidence.

That said, I was surprised that the service leaflet did not indicate when people were to stand, something the 10:30 bulletin does show. The leaflet was generally helpful, however, and I never had to turn pages in the middle of a hymn—or whatever we call what we were singing—as I did during Bishop Price’s visit. (See “Putting Our Best Foot Forward?”)


A few aspects of the service surprised me. Clearly, the service is intended to be friendly and contemporary, though, in most ways, it is really rather conventional. For a contemporary service, I was surprised that the traditional version of the Lord’s Prayer was said. (Does anyone use the more modern version in the prayer book?) I was surprised, too, that most of the Easter blessing in the service booklet was skipped, though perhaps this was an oversight. As was the case at the 10:30 service when the bishop visited, “God” was substituted for “him” at the beginning of the Great Thanksgiving in the service booklet . (See “Putting Our Best Foot Forward?”) Finally, I though it odd that the pulpit was not used for reading the lessons. Instead, a lectern—or perhaps it was simply a music stand—was employed. No doubt, this is done out of some mistaken sense of democracy. The pulpit is located where it is so the reader can be seen.

The sermon, of course, was not delivered from the pulpit. Instead, Mabel, who had the preaching duties, gathered the children in front of the altar and sat down with them to deliver her very short sermon. From a few pews back, of course, I couldn’t see her. No matter, the sermon seemed more an excuse to interact with the children than a talk intended to make any particular theological, moral, or philosophical point. Apparently, however, I shouldn’t fault Mabel for the sermon, since these pointless sermons aimed at amusing the pre-kindergarten set seem to be a “feature” of the 8:45 service—something to earn its billing as “family-friendly.” (Every 8:30/8:45 service I’ve attended included such a sermon.) Most families that I have known, however, have included at least one adult, and there was nothing in the sermon for adults other than an opportunity to look at cute children. (Surely, even this must get old after a few Sundays!)


Other than the sermon, the most conspicuous distinguishing feature of the 8:45 service was its music. Much “contemporary Christian music” or “praise music” is—not to put too fine a point on it—simply awful. I had hoped, however, that when St. Paul’s used more modern music, we would select from the better material that’s out there. Sunday’s service was not encouraging.

The best hymn we sang was Richard Gillard’s “The Servant Song.” In contrast to other hymns used in the service, I thought this one actually had something interesting to say. The words are set to a pleasant tune that is easy to sing. Here, for example, is the first verse:
Won’t you let me be your servant;
let me be, as Christ to you;
pray that I may have the grace
to let you be my servant, too.
Two additional verses follow.

Even this song is very much about the singer, rather than Christ’s gathered faithful, but it is not an unreasonable choice for corporate worship. Most of the other music we sang, however, seems to come from an Evangelical tradition for which only the question “Have you been born again?” seems important, a tradition in which the Church, as a body, almost assumes the role of necessary evil. This tradition is nearly devoid of theology, for which it substitutes repetition of its few shibboleths, particularly about praise, worship, and how worthless we all are. For example, we sang “Thank You Lord” by Melissa Nigro:
Jesus you are everything I need
You are more than life to me
You are my king.
Jesus you laid down your life
You paid the sacrifice
To set me free
All I know
I am nothing without your grace
Lord I bow to you and say…

Thank you
Thank you Lord
To you be all the glory
To you be all the praise
Thank you
Thank you Lord
You deserve the glory
You deserve the praise
(I am reproducing the punctuation of all these hymns as they were printed.)

Here is the first verse and chorus of “More Love, More Power,” by Michael W. Smith. (This one has actual, if somewhat idiosyncratic punctuation.)
More love,
More power,
More of You in my life.
More love,
More power,
More of You in my life,
and I will worship You with all of my heart,
And I will worship You with all of my mind,
And I will worship You with all of my strength.
For You are my Lord
You are my Lord.
The service began with “Standin’ in the Need of Prayer,” a spiritual whose three verses are all minor variations of the first:
It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, O Lord,
standin’ in the need of prayer.
It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, O Lord,
standin’ in the need of prayer.

Not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me, O Lord,
standin’ in the need of prayer.
Not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me, O Lord,
standin’ in the need of prayer.
Even the service music had its problems. The Sanctus, for example, managed to insert “Lord, we sing your praise” into the traditional text five times. Most objectionable, however, was “The South African Creed,” which substitutes for the Nicene Creed. It has four verses:
I believe,
I do believe,
truly I believe it,
truly I believe it,
truly I believe it
I believe,
I do believe,
truly I believe it,
truly I believe it,
truly I believe it.

I believe in God
the Almighty Lord Creator,
Mighty Lord Creator,
Mighty Lord Creator
I believe in God
the Almighty Lord Creator,
Mighty Lord Creator,
Mighty Lord Creator.

I believe in Jesus
the Savior of the people,
Savior of the people,
Savior of the people.
I believe in Jesus
the Savior of the people,
Savior of the people,
Savior of the peopple ]sic].

And I do believe
in the Power of the Spirit,
Power of the Spirit,
Power of the Spirit.
And I do believe
in the Power of the Spirit,
Power of the Spirit,
power of the Spirit.
Notice that the corporate “we” of the traditional creed is replaced by “I,” consistent with use in the rest of the music. More significantly, however, the creed has been stripped of virtually all of its theology other than an acknowledgement of the Trinity. Our fourth-century forebears who worked so hard to hammer out the Nicene Creed would be appalled at the way their work has been castrated here.

Instrumentalists played the Clavinova, drums, three guitars, and violin. There was one singer who played no instrument. It was difficult to tell how well the ensemble worked together, as it was often difficult to hear anything but the drums and (perhaps) the Clavinova. (Churches with bands often place their drummer within a Plexiglas box to achieve a more reasonable balance of sound.) An unlisted piece was played and sung by the musicians during communion, but I found it impossible to understand the words.

Because the musicians were standing just inside the communion rail, I was wondering how we were going to do communion. As it turns out, we distributed the elements at stations, which avoided the use of the communion rail completely.

To sum up, I thought the music was very bad, and it did not seem to be performed, either by the musicians or the congregation, with any great enthusiasm.

Some Final Words

I left the service feeling seriously depressed. Admittedly, we used the prayer book (mostly) and celebrated a Eucharist, but the whole spirit of the affair was very Protestant and very Evangelical. Evangelicals do this kind of service much better than we can. Why do we not just let them do it?

All Things to All People?

Is St. Paul’s trying to do too much? Here is its mission statement, reproduced from the church’s Web Site:

St. Paul’s mission statement

(This mission statement is actually rather hard to find on the Web site. Nine tabs are shown at the top of the home page. Hovering over the “About” tab displays four options. One gets to the mission statement, however, by clicking on the tab itself, not on any of the options. Many people would not think to do that.)

I find our mission statement wanting in a number of respects. It begins with a slogan which is surely untrue, and proceeds to offer a laundry list of what St. Paul’s does. One gets the impression that, should we take on some new project, we will simply append it to the laundry list.

This is how “mission statement” is defined on Wikipedia:
A mission statement is a formal, short, written statement of the purpose of a company or organization. The mission statement should guide the actions of the organization, spell out its overall goal, provide a sense of direction, and guide decision-making. It provides “the framework or context within which the company's strategies are formulated.”
Writing mission statements for churches is difficult, since most churches do basically the same things. Identifying a special role—charism, even—of a particular church can be tough, but, if the exercise is useful at all, it needs to identify not what churches generally do, but what is special about the particular church in question.

The St. Paul’s statement fails in its being too long and diffuse. A good mission statement helps an organization decide, when faced with a proposed project, whether that project enhances its mission or is a diversion from it. It is not clear that any reasonable project that might be proposed for St. Paul’s would ever be rejected as inconsistent with our mission statement.

A Variety of Styles

Because I had to attend a meeting at St. Mark’s, Johnstown, early Sunday afternoon, I concluded that attending the 10:30 service was not practical. I therefore decided to worship at the 8:45 service, which I had not attended in a long time. It was this experience that got me thinking about our very broad notion of offering, as our mission statement declares, “[i]n worship, an Episcopal liturgy expressed in a variety of styles enriched by great music.”

Under our current rector, we have expanded our three weekend services, each of which was distinctive, to five. The new services are very different. Whereas both the 8:45 service and Refuge follow, in a general sense, the prayer book, one seems aimed at the lowbrow, egocentric Protestant, and the other seems aimed at the equally self-absorbed seeker who is skeptical of organized religion. Neither of these audiences is unworthy to be served by the Christian Church, but are they really the people best served by our parish?

I worship at St. Paul’s for two reasons. First, it is an Episcopal church that is close to home. If St. Paul’s shut down tomorrow, I would look for another Episcopal church. Second, I attend St. Paul’s for the music. If the music at 10:45 deteriorated in quality or changed its character substantially, I would leave in a minute. Although these are clearly not the reasons others attend St. Paul’s, over most of the 24 years I have been at St. Paul’s, the parish’s most conspicuous asset has been its ability to do mainstream Episcopal liturgy really well. Of course, the parish was also engaged in doing what churches in general and Episcopal churches in particular do, but I have felt that traditional worship well done was our calling.

Our branching out to do other worship styles is problematic in two ways. First, it taxes our resources and diminishes what I think should be our main focus. Actually, Refuge, for what it is, is done reasonably well. The 8:45 service is, in my opinion, simply badly done. (I will have more to say about his in another post, but I will at least offer the opinion here that the music of the service is surely not “great music.”)

Second, we have to ask if members we attract with our new services are the kind of members best served by a traditional Episcopal parish. Not everyone needs to be (or should be) an Episcopalian. The 8:45 service is the kind of service done by many other churches that can do it better and whose congregations are more likely to seem compatible with new members attracted by it. In the worst case, members brought in by our new services will have different ideas about how we should worship, and this could be a threat our more traditional services.

Already have the new services affected our worship space. A modesty screen has been removed from the south transept, which is now both unsightly and unusable for seating because of the instruments, audio equipment, and outright junk that now permanently reside there. (See “Clutter.”) Cables snake across the floor, representing a tripping hazard, and unsightly speakers flank the extension of the chancel. No doubt, our new sound system will be influenced more by the needs of our band than by the need to reinforce speech and to record musical performances. How long will it be before we dump our 8:45 service booklets and project PowerPoint slides on a screen at the front of the church?


By now, you may be thinking that I am inflexible and paranoid. Perhaps so. But I fear that St. Paul’s is trying to be all things to all people, and this seldom works for any organization. We should stick to what we’re good at (or what we think we can be good at) and not worry about serving everyone.

In fact, the overall quality of our main worship service has greatly deteriorated in recent years, and not everything can be blamed on new services. (For now, I will resist the temptation to provide a list, though I will mention one problem I have commented on at length—we can no longer count on having a full complement of acolytes at the 10:30 service.)

Our parish is neither big enough nor rich enough to be adding worship services geared to every niche market we can identify, particularly when we are having trouble paying our staff and can afford no money from our operating budget for outreach. Let’s do what we do well, and let others do well the things we can only do poorly.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Better Way to Involve Parishioners in Physical Plant Changes

God indeed works in mysterious ways. Two days ago, a plan for a new capital campaign was announced at St. Paul’s. (See “Scaled-back Capital Campaign.”) Today, I added links to all posts to allow visitors to print posts or create PDF files of them. In writing about the new blog feature, I mentioned that I had occasionally produced a PDF version of a post manually, and, searching for an instance where I had done this, I came upon my post from January 17, 2011, “Managing Change in a House of Worship.” As part of “Managing Change,” I wrote about how I thought we could make better decisions about changes affecting our physical plant. My suggestions are particularly relevant now, as we embark on raising funds for many physical changes. Rather than write a new post, I thought it would be helpful simply to reprint what I wrote back in January. Below is the section of “Managing Change” that I called “A Suggestion.”
I have long thought that no significant changes to the physical plant of St. Paul’s without the approval of a person or committee responsible for the overall appearance and integrity of the chuch property should be undertaken. Ideally, one might like to see a committee headed by a parishioner who is an architect and whose members might include a representative of the Vestry, a member of the clergy, and a select group of parishioners. The goals of forming such a committee are twofold: to assure that changes benefit the parish globally, rather than simply filling a local need that could conflict with other needs; and that parishioners feel that their concerns are considered and that they will not encounter unpleasant surprises.

Hundreds of members move through St. Paul’s every week, and, collectively, they are aware of many small details of which any one person might be oblivious. Ideally, changes to the building should take advantage of our collective knowledge of how the church functions and where it is deficient.

Recently, renovations, some small, some not so small, were made to the restrooms at St. Paul’s. All the changes represented improvements, but I’m not so sure they represented optimal improvements. Consider the men’s restroom nearest the choir room. Choir members have long been frustrated by the lack of a place to put their hymnals and folders while using the restroom before the service. The updated restroom now has a vanity that offers some flat surface on which objects can be placed, but an added shelf would have been much appreciated. Of course, no one in the choir knew that changes were going to be made, so they had no opportunity to express their need for a shelf. Why could not a facilities committee have posted a notice outside the restroom soliciting ideas and concerns for a renovated restroom? Not only would this have resulted in a renovation that better filled the needs of the parish, but it would have made the users of the restroom feel better about their church and more cared for.

St. Paul’s used to have a Property Commission, which, although it did not really function like the facilities committee I have suggested, at least was a group of people thinking about the physical plant. Certainly a Property Committee could oversee all physical changes to the church. My understanding is that now, however, the junior warden and assistant junior warden function largely on their own and are concerned mostly with fixing things that are broken.

St. Paul’s has a history of some renovations being financed privately. This has sometimes led to complaints that the tastes of the donor, not the needs of the church, determine what is actually done. Such objections would be minimized if all changes had to be approved by a facilities committee. Moreover, the committee could build a list of desired changes and their priorities. It could even make the list public and subject to discussion. When someone wants to make a major donation to the church for physical improvements, we could pull out the list and say, “These are our needs. What can you help with?” Similarly, when we are considering a capital campaign, we should have a list of possible projects available without having to do additional analysis. At least we would have a starting point, even though a capital campaign might support more ambitious plans not on our incremental improvement list.

Printing from St. Paul’s’ Epistle

From time to time, I have made available attractively formatted PDF versions of particular posts on St. Paul’s’ Epistle. (See, for example, “Managing Change in a House of Worship,” where a link to a PDF can be found at the end of the post.) Because some extra work is involved in reformatting a post, however, I haven’t offered this option very often. Moreover, it is impossible for me to know what posts readers will find useful to print.

Taking advantage of a service called Print Friendly, I have now added the option at the end of all posts either to print the post or to turn it into a PDF file. Not only does the Print Frindly service format the post for easy reading, but it also eliminates material extraneous to the post, such as the contents of the sidebar. To use Print Friendly, click on the link just above the “Posted by” line at the end of the post.

Print Friendly does a very nice job of formatting text—graphics may be split across pages, however—but there is one thing you should keep in mind when printing a PDF file that it generates. Print Friendly uses very narrow margins, which may result in some text’s being cut off when using a printer that cannot print close to the edge of the page. You will likely want to print from whatever PDF reader you use—this will be Adobe Reader for most visitors—using an option that takes printer capabilities into account. In Adobe Reader, for example, you can select the Fit to Printable Area option or the Shrink to Printable Area option.

I know that many people prefer reading long essays on paper, rather than on the screen. For such folks and for people who want to share my essays with others on paper, I hope the new feature of this blog will be a welcome addition.

Happy printing!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Scaled-back Capital Campaign

The rector and Vestry presented their scaled-back capital campaign proposal at yesterday’s adult forum. The main presentation was done by treasurer Bob Johnston. Bob claimed that parish leaders listened to what parishioners said about Fulfilling the Vision, and there was evidence that that was true. The scope of the coming campaign is more restricted, and the amount of money the parish seeks to raise is substantially smaller than that of the overreaching Fulfilling the Vision. In fact, the campaign is so scaled back, it isn’t even clear that it has a name. The title slide of yesterday’s PowerPoint presentation contained the slogan “Celebrating Our Heritage/Securing Our Future,” but that was juxtaposed to “175th Anniversary of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 1836–2011.” In case that slogan was meant to be a name for the campaign, it should be said at the outset that it’s too long. (“Conserving Our Heritage” wouldn’t be such a bad title.)


Bob Johnston articulated a number of principles for the capital campaign:
  1. The parish will take on no new debt.
  2. Projects will be undertaken on a pay-as-you-go basis.
  3. Costs will be kept as low as possible.
  4. Annual stewardship will remain the parish’s first priority.
These precepts require some explanation and comment. Items (1) and (2) are closely related. In our most recent capital campaigns, we did not quite raise the amount of money we needed to do the work we undertook, and we were required to use loans to complete the projects. (I think our outstanding loan may in part be needed to pay for our organ, which is more than a decade old. It is also paying for parking lot paving, for which we did not even try to raise extra funds.) Whereas some financial people would argue that paying of a $60,000 loan at 3% interest is not a high priority, there is a symbolic value in getting rid of existing debt and reassuring the parish that additional debt will not be assumed. Retiring debt was universally applauded in the Fulfilling the Vision plan.

The pay-as-you-go idea would not be practical for a large, complex project, but this campaign will be funding many relatively small, unconnected projects, so it probably is practical to say that we will fund each activity only after all the funds for it are available.

I find item (3) worrisome. We expect our leaders to be good stewards of the buildings, grounds, and money entrusted to them. We would be upset if the church were to install gold-plated telephones or telephones from the dollar store. On the other hand, I think that few would complain about the purchase of a sterling silver chalice, rather than a silver-plate chalice. A 175-year-old church that expects to be around for a long time can afford neither extravagance nor penny-pinching. I worry that there is penny-pinching going on here in order to assure that this plan comes to fruition. I think that many parishioners would agree that doing the most needed repairs and enhancements well is preferable to doing more work just adequately.

In particular, I am not encouraged by the recently complete (or nearly complete) repair of the steps at the Mayfair Drive entrance to the narthex. I thought the steps should be limestone, not concrete, so they would match the steps at the front of the building and at the lower Mayfair Drive entrance. (See “Construction Progress?”) I’m sure the concrete steps, which I think look awful, were cheaper. We will be living with them for a long time.

Principle (4) has to do with timing. Preliminary work in organizing the capital campaign will begin soon, but actual pledges to the campaign will not be solicited until the fall, at the same time as the annual stewardship campaign. I think Bob was saying that he doesn’t want people to decrease their pledges to fund the capital campaign. The priorities of the Vestry, however, may not be the priorities of parishioners, and running the two campaigns in parallel will necessarily cause people to consider how they want to allocate their contributions to St. Paul’s.


The only handout at the presentation was this one:

May 22 handout
Bob’s presentation was accompanied by a slide show that, it must be said, added little to what he had to say. (It was telling that the slide show was clearly derived from the PowerPoint presentation used for Fulfilling the Vision. Both presentations pictured the deteriorated steps to the narthex and show the audio equipment in the library to illustrate the church sound system, which is actually behind the high altar. I guess this is an illustration of keeping costs as low as possible.)

As I understand it, the projects identified on the handout are to be funded in the order listed. Thus, for example, no work will be done on the physical plant until the existing debt is paid off. One could quibble both about this procedure and about the ordering of projects, but the overall cost of the proposed projects, $775,000, is only 42% of what Fulfilling the Vision was projected to cost. Raising $775,000 should certainly be possible for St. Paul’s, although the amount is more than the Episcopal Church Foundation estimated that the ambitious Fulfilling the Vision could have raised. I think that parishioners saw Fulfilling the Vision as simply ridiculous, however. The current proposal, though hardly perfect, is both reasonable and practical.


Nevertheless, the devil, as they say, is in the details. The most distressing part of yesterday’s presentation was the lack of important details. The three items labeled “Property Maintenance” are black boxes that the Vestry itself hasn’t yet filled in. These projects simply represent stuff that needs to be done, and someone will figure out just what that stuff is at some unspecified time. I believe that, before anyone is asked to contribute to the new campaign, the contents of those black boxes need to be determined and disclosed. As things now stand, $250,000 (32% of the entire campaign goal) is a blank check. How are parishioners to evaluate priorities when they do not know just what all the projects are? Is there really $175,000 of repairs to the church that are more important than saving our stained glass windows?

I was perhaps most pleased by one item that does not figure into the revised project list—the reconfiguration of the undercroft. I never thought this was a good idea—see “A Proposal for a Capital Campaign”—and spending $100,000 on it was not good stewardship. On the other hand, are we sure this project has been dumped? We need to know what our $250,000 in “property maintenance” is actually going to buy.

I have very mixed feelings about item (3) on the project list. This seems to have made it from Fulfilling the Vision without modification. Some or all of the exterior doors are to be replaced, and electric door openers are to be installed on the exterior door nearest the elevator and, apparently, on one of the front doors. Moreover, the paving in front of the building is to be sloped from the sidewalk to the level of the narthex floor, eliminating the front steps. Parishioners have yet to be shown an elevation of the “improved” church façade, but I think it will look horrible without being very useful. (I say more about this irredeemably bad idea in “A Proposal for a Capital Campaign.” In that same post, I also offer other accessibility projects that no one else seems to have thought of.)

I asked a question about the fact that the projected cost for a new sound system has dropped $25,000 from what was proposed in Fulfilling the Vision. Vestry member Paul Barker gave an explanation that seemed to suggest that the new proposal involves first-rate equipment without “custom” nameplates. He also indicated that some desired functions “can be added later.” St. Paul’s tends not to get around to such enhancements, however, and I fear that the apparent cost savings is part of our keeping costs as low as possible. On the other hand, it is not clear that we need even a $75,000 sound system. It worries me that Paul, who plays in our 8:45 band, answered my question. A sound system to support speech and the choir and one to support a band can be quite different. Does St. Paul’s want to commit to alternative worship styles for the foreseeable future?

I am frankly a bit offended that no one asked me about our audio needs. I am a member of the choir and, for more than 15 years, was Audio-Visual Coördinator at St. Paul’s. Moreover, I was on two committees that studied (and priced) a new sound system. I have concerns both about the audio equipment we actually need and the aesthetic impact new speakers might have on the church. A more general concern is that our parish leadership seems to feel no need to ask parishioners what they want. Nor do our leaders seem inclined to take advantage of the expertise that may exist in our rather talented congregation.

I also asked about the $60,000 for our stained glass. Apparently, we are pinching pennies here as well. I wanted to know if $60,000 was really enough to conserve our windows for the future. Jack Foster, who was not part of the presentation but who had consulted with experts about our windows, indicated that $60,000 would only fund the first phase of a three-phase program to conserve our precious windows. In particular, it would only fund urgent repairs. How soon will we need another capital campaign to make the urgent repairs on the windows we are going to ignore for the present?

I am pleased that we are going to do something about our signage. The slide show was illustrated with our large sign near Washington Road and the brass plaque on the front of the building. Nothing was said about how the signs are to be changed, however. Inquiring minds want to know. Moreover, the overview calls for improvements in both external and internal signage. What signs do we really need to change inside? Are we planning to replace all the signs that say “Undercroft” with signs that say “Parish Hall” or—God forbid!—“Parish Hall/Undercroft”? Again, I suspect that parishioners want to know what they are being asked to pay for. They also want to know that what they are being asked to pay for is reasonable.

Finally, I should say something about the campaign costs. Bob explained that we have already spent $14,000 on the feasibility study that shot down the last capital campaign proposal. The Vestry is suggesting that we restore that money to the Property Fund and pay another $30,000 to the Episcopal Church Foundation for assistance with the campaign. Another $6,000 is to be spent on miscellaneous items such as a grand celebration when we’re done. In other words, we really are putting $264,000 into property maintenance and improvement. In any case, capital campaign costs are listed ninth in the campaign overview. This may be unrealistic. I suspect that the Episcopal Church Foundation will expect to be paid even if we only raise $650,000.


Our scaled-back capital campaign is clearly an improvement over the ill-considered Fulfilling the Vision, but parishioners need to know more than they know now about what the plan really is. (Actually, even the Vestry needs to know more than they know now.) If our own leaders do not recognize the requirement for more information, perhaps our adviser from the Episcopal Church Foundation will bring it up.

Having said that, I must say that I am not yet on board with Son of Fulfilling the Vision. The plan is half-baked, ignores many needs of the parish, and, I expect, will not solicit parishioner opinion in any sincere or effective way. For another take on what a capital fund might support, see my previous post “A Proposal for a Capital Campaign.”

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Proposal for a Capital Campaign

The last time the details of a capital campaign were unveiled at St. Paul’s, parishioners had no advance warning as to what projects were to be proposed. I offered my own analysis of the plan after it was announced, but I would have preferred being better prepared to discuss Fulfilling the Vision at the one and only opportunity the parish was given to do so. (My comments on last year’s proposal can be read beginning with the post “Fulfilling the Vision, Part 1.”)

Presumably, the plan to be presented on Sunday is going to look much like the last plan, less the features to which parishioners most objected, especially the “ministry enhancements” that were priced at $425,000.

Rather than wait until Sunday to comment on the latest plan, I thought it would be an interesting and helpful exercise for me to propose my own plan, which can then be compared to what will actually be presented on Sunday. I don’t have the wherewithal to put costs on each item I think should be funded by a capital campaign, but many of my suggestions will be in the parish’s plan anyway. You’ll have to guess what everything else will cost.

Fulfilling the Vision was actually pretty vague on many points. For example, $100,000 was to be spent on
Miscellaneous painting, repairs throughout: roof, nursery school water damage, improve lighting, improve interior and exterior signage
Because I have not inspected the entire building, I will have to be just as indefinite about some items, but I will try to be as specific as possible.

Guidelines for Inclusion

It is clear that parishioners will only support a fund drive that is restricted to repairs and improvements of our physical plant. Valid projects should make the church more beautiful, more inviting, more functional, more secure, or more efficient. Expensive projects that have only a small payoff or that have undesirable side effects should not be undertaken. (Often, for example, architectural modifications intended to facilitate handicapped access turn into aesthetic disasters, particularly when construction details are chosen primarily on the basis of cost.)

Fulfilling the Vision proposed to pay off the church’s existing debt, an idea that was popular with parishioners but was something of a surprise to the representatives of the Episcopal Church Foundation who did the feasibility study of the aborted campaign. Since then, our debt has been restructured, the parish having borrowed from the Growth Fund at an attractive interest rate. Any capital campaign is likely to require some short-term financing, and paying off our existing debt might require our taking on at least short-term debt at a less attractive rate. Forget paying off the debt for now.

Clearly, much of the aforementioned $100,000 was intended for what can only be described as routine—and, in many cases, deferred—maintenance. St. Paul’s must get into the habit of maintaining its buildings and grounds on a current basis, financed through the normal operating fund. Putting money into a “Facilities Maintenance Fund,” as was proposed last time to the tune of $200,000, is a bad idea in the abstract and looks suspiciously like a scheme to shelter routine expenses from diocesan assessment. I hope that the Facilities Maintenance Fund idea has been dropped, though I expect to see it proposed again on Sunday.

Likewise, neither outreach nor our endowment should have any claim on money raised for capital expenses. Our buildings and grounds are indeed in need of repair and upgrading, and we should focus exclusively on those needs.

A Capital Fund Drive Proposal

Below, I offer my list of worthy projects for St. Paul’s to embrace. I will try to be clear, but I will not attempt to write an essay on each one. For convenience, I will group projects that are somehow related. I will not try to rank the projects in order of desirability. It isn’t important that all parishioners agree on the relative importance of all the tasks to be done; it is only important that we have a general sense that the projects we essay are worthy ones.

The order in which I list projects (or even categories of projects) is arbitrary. Moreover, I make no claim that I have thought of everything. I may have missed some significant undertakings or suggested others that might be done differently. My goal is simply to offer a checklist for evaluating what will be offered to parishioners on May 22. It is my hope, though not my expectation, that parishioners will be given a chance to modify what is being proposed.

Accessibility. Put electric door openers on the door to the parking lot near the elevator and on the handicapped rest room. The door on the rest room is very hard to open, particularly if you are in a wheelchair.

Provide an awning at the door to the parking lot near the elevator. This would be very helpful in inclement weather. This need not be a permanent part of the building. (I don’t know the best way to provide shelter here.)

Add a ramp or lift to the chancel near the sacristy. The chancel is one of the areas of the building currently inaccessible to the handicapped. This would allow handicapped/wheelchair access to the chancel. I suspect that the existing stairs could be replaced with a ramp. (The balcony is also not handicapped accessible, but there is little we can do about that.)

Replace the stairs to the choir room with a ramp. This is tricky but doable. (The choir room is another area within the building not handicapped accessible.)

Provide a ramp from the door near the financial secretary’s office to St. Margaret’s garden. The steps can be replaced with the ramp. There is currently no handicapped access to the garden.

There is at least one place in the church where a wheelchair can be conveniently placed during a service or other event. We should create a few more by shortening pews.

Security. Replace any external doors that need to be replaced. (This may be most of them.)

Re-key all the locks in the building, so that there are not so many keys required and there is a master key (and, perhaps, sub-masters). It might be helpful to have an external door with programmable keys, so that temporary keys (or key codes) could be distributed for specific events. (If I have a need to enter the building to prepare for an event, I could be granted access for that day only, for example.)

It is not clear that security cameras are needed at St. Paul’s, but their use should be considered.

Maintenance. Repair water damage and repaint as necessary. Make whatever permanent changes are needed to prevent future damage. (I understand that there is water damage in the chapel and perhaps in the nursery school.) The old sacristy next to the storage area at the end of the undercroft is very damp, which threatens the material stored there. This should also be fixed.

Repair and stabilize our stained glass. There are broken panes, and it may be time to reset all of the glass. St. Paul’s has lovely stained glass, and we should do all we can to conserve it.

There are, no doubt, other painting and wall repair to be done, as well as other minor maintenance projects.

If the roof needs repair, by all means repair it.

Comfort. Air condition the church. I realize that this is controversial, but, in 21st-century America, people expect their churches to be comfortable.

Air condition the kitchen. How could we not have done this before?

Air condition the choir room. There is currently a room air conditioner in the choir room. It is nearly useless and rather noisy.

Replace the deteriorating choir chairs in the chancel. Besides being in poor repair, the chairs have a distressing tendency to fall over backwards. When the chancel was renovated and the new organ installed, there was never a plan for how the choir was to be accommodated. We are using chairs predating the renovation.

Develop and execute a plan for seating in the balcony. Even less planning was done for the balcony when the organ was installed. It’s obvious, and it’s embarrassing.

Exterior and Grounds. The stonework of St. Margaret’s garden is in a poor state of repair. We should fix it.

We should hire a landscape architect to develop a master plan for the grounds and begin implementing that plan.

The sidewalk immediately in front of the main doors is in bad repair. I would like to see the area expanded to become a gathering area for events such as the Palm Sunday service. I wrote about this and about the plan to provide handicapped access to the front door in my post “Fulfilling the Vision, Part 4.” For a number of reasons, I am now opposed to the idea of eliminating the front steps and sloping the paving in front of the church from the sidewalk to the level of the narthex floor. There are many reasons for my opposition. The main reason is aesthetic, but the idea of dropping off the handicapped on Washington Road has its own set of problems. After much consideration, I find little reason to provide a handicapped entrance to the narthex. After all, most people, whether handicapped or not, enter the building from the parking lot. There is reason to provide a handicapped exit from the narthex, however, as, in case of fire, someone in a wheelchair, say, will not have access to the elevator. A ramp could be built from the narthex door facing Mayfair Drive, but I don’t have a favorite plan for this. We need an architect’s help here.

Re-engineer our outdoor sign, which is not a good advertisement for the church. (See my post “Welcome, If You’re Going South.”) We long ago gave up changing our sign with any regularity. The interior of the sign is deteriorated, the lock on one side is broken, and only one side of the sign is lit. On the other hand, the frame of the sign is quite handsome. I would like to see the sign rehabilitated and its innards replaced with an electronic sign, as is becoming common for churches to use. Such a sign can be updated from inside the building. Mt. Lebanon may give us grief about such a sign, but the fight is worth fighting, as it is the only kind of sign that really can be read from a passing car. Our outdoor banners are tacky, cannot be easily updated, and seem to come loose from their moorings with alarming frequency.

Redesign or replace the brass sign on the front of the church. This brass plate has service times on it from many years ago and a place for the rector’s name. The sign should have the church’s name and the dates when it was founded and when it moved to its present location, and nothing else. That information will never change.

Clean the external building surface by whatever means.

Functional Improvements. Wire the entire building for Internet service and provide WiFi throughout the building.

Add electrical outlets outside the front and rear of the building. These would be useful in a variety of circumstances.

Replace all two-wire outlets with three-wire outlets. Two-wire outlets remain in the church (and perhaps elsewhere). This is inconvenient (and potentially hazardous) when one needs to power a device with a three-wire plug.

Install a completely new sound system. Suggesting this makes me very nervous, as I am afraid we will choose a sound system oriented toward use of a church band rather than an organ and choir and the spoken word. Parishioners should ask hard questions about what is to be installed and how obtrusive that might be, either sonically or visually.

Install wireless microphones in the undercroft.

Improve ability to aim fixtures in the church and replace lamps. Some of the spotlights in the church that are high off the floor are unusable now because the fixtures are mis-aimed. They are difficult to adjust, and it is difficult to replace the lamps when they burn out. Some fixtures need to be replace, and it may be useful to replace them with fixtures with motors that rotate them. It may even be practical to add cat walks to make it easier to replace lamps and adjust fixtures.

Replace the piano in the undercroft.

Efficiency Improvements. The church uses many lamps that are power-hungry or expensive. New technologies are becoming available that will allow us to light the building at much lower cost.

Aesthetic Improvements. The lanterns in the chancel should be replaced with lanterns that match the majority of chandeliers in the church. These will have to be custom made, but the “witch’s hat” lanterns are both ugly and dangerous, as they encourage heat buildup that melts the wiring insulation.

Provide better lighting in the sanctuary area. The lighting in this area was never revisited after the cantilevered organ chests were added. The exposed organ pipes are now a major architectural feature of the church, yet they are poorly lit, and the areas under them are lit even worse.

Additional lighting should also be provided for the antiphonal organ. Again, a significant architectural feature is being insufficiently highlighted.

Add additional down light toward the rear of the nave. In the last building campaign, down lights toward the back of the nave were deleted from the project due to a misunderstanding between the church and the contractor. The rear of the church remains darker than the front.

Construct some kind of partition at the front of the (liturgically) south transept to hide sound equipment and instruments when not in use. I don’t know if St. Paul’s will continue to have a band, but, as long as it does, we seem to have created an unsightly mess in the transept. Since we cannot reasonably put all the instruments somewhere else during services in which they are not being used, let’s at least hide them.

Lighten the stain of the remaining dark wood in the church. This includes the doors to the narthex, some baseboard, and the front balcony wall, which may actually have to be replaced.

Final Thoughts

This is, I think, a substantial list.

Notice that I have not advocated spending $100,000 to reconfigure the undercroft. I have not heard a credible argument that doing so, which will reduce the amount of usable space in the undercroft, is either wise or cost-effective.

If we do go forward with a capital campaign, I hope that parishioners will have some say both in what projects are a part of the campaign and just how those projects are executed. If parishioners have no say in just what the campaign is going to fund, I suggest that they do not fund the campaign at all.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Transforming Churches: Trinity Cathedral, Phoenix

I was checking news from The Episcopal Church the other day and found an interesting video in a series the church is producing on healthy congregations. I decided to view this particular video because it was about Trinity Cathedral in Phoenix, Arizona, where Nick Knisely is dean.

When I first got involved in diocesan affairs, Nick was rector of St. Barnabas, Brackenridge, which was a much healthier parish than it is now. We worked together on a project to connect all churches through e-mail. When St. Paul’s was looking for a rector to replace Bill Pickering, Nick was one of the candidates. The parish called Bob Banse, however, and Nick eventually moved to the Diocese of Bethlehem, where he became rector of Trinity, Bethlehem. Nick was successful in growing that parish and, after a few years, became dean at the Phoenix cathedral.

The video is very much about how Trinity Cathedral, which was a dying enterprise in the sixties, is now thriving. (Nick says that Sunday attendance has grown from 175 to about 450 in the past four years.) Frankly, I don’t know the secret to growing a parish, but I am impressed by what Nick seems to have accomplished in his various positions. Near the end of the video, Nick offers this advice:
Growth is kind of paradoxical. I find that churches grow inversely proportional to the amount of control the clergy are willing to give up, and the more we treat the congregation as the primary ministers of the Gospel in the world, the faster a congregation grows. Basically, our job is to equip them and get out of their way.
Click on the first item in the window below to watch the video.

Trinity Cathedral, Phoenix, ArizonaTrinity Cathedral, Phoenix, Arizona

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Bishop Search Comes to St. Paul’s

I attended the meeting in the undercroft today after the 10:30 service presented by the diocese’s Nomination Committee that will seek candidates for our next bishop.

Please see my other blog, Lionel Deimel’s Web Log, for a description of the event.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Physical Plant Notes

This is a quick update on the physical plant of St. Paul’s.

Mayfair entrance steps. The work on the steps and sidewalk around the Mayfair Drive entrance to the narthex is almost complete. I am told that iron railings will be added to the steps, presumably to match the railings in front of the building. The sidewalk is a good match for the existing sidewalk. Alas, the steps do not look anything like the front steps.

Parking lot striping. Parking places have again become visible with the repainting of stripes in the parking lot. My suggestion for minor improvements in the definition of spaces was ignored.

Parking lot lights. The parking lot lights, which have been out since at least March 3—see “Dark Day for Kenyon Concert”—are still not working. I don’t know what the problem is, but I have made the junior warden aware of the problem. I am concerned that the lack of illumination in the parking lot at night might lead to accidents.

Gird Your Loins for Fulfilling the Vision II

This week’s e-mail newsletter from St. Paul’s announced that, after the 8:45 service on May 22, there will be “an important informational meeting concerning St. Paul’s Capital Campaign.” Prepare for Fulfilling the Vision II.

This is what parishioners have been told:
You will learn how the Vestry has responded to the opinions and concerns you expressed in last year’s feasibility study, and the plans for a more modest Capital Campaign focusing on much needed improvements and maintenance throughout the church. Come to listen, learn, and have your questions answered.
In fact, the Vestry has voted (1) to go ahead with a capital campaign, and (2) to take the purchase of 28 Mayfair Drive off the table. I suspect that the new, “more modest” capital drive will look much like Fulfilling the Vision, with deletions. The brick-and-mortar portion of that proposal cost $730,000. It will be interesting to see if other items have been added to the campaign or if the items proposed last year have been modified at all.

Significantly, the meeting on the 22nd is “informational.” I assume that means that we will again be told what the campaign is going to be, and we will have no opportunity to question exactly what it is we are being asked to pay for. Even if that is the case, it would be helpful for parishioners to have information about the proposal in advance of the May 22 meeting, so they can ask meaningful questions or express carefully considered opinions. Like the last presentation on a capital campaign, however, this one is likely to be depending on shock and awe.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Putting Our Best Foot Forward?

Last Sunday, Bishop Price made the annual episcopal visit to St. Paul’s and, at the 10:30 service, presided over Confirmation. No doubt, St. Paul’s was trying to put its best foot forward. As usual, I attended the 10:30 service as a member of the choir.

Instead of the usual bulletin, worshipers were provided with a service booklet that, presumably, contained everything the congregation needed to know. I can only speculate on why we expended the labor and materials we did on a replacement for the standard bulletin. Were we trying to impress the bishop? Were we trying to be “welcoming” to non-Episcopalians who might be attending as guests of the confirmands? Unfortunately, producing a larger program offers more room for errors. Here are some things I noticed in the service bulletin:
  1. Names of some of the confirmands were omitted. That was a shame and surely a disappointment to relatives who were expecting a souvenir of the event.
  2. One significant musical item was left out. Doug Starr sang a solo at communion, but mention of it was omitted.
  3. Another musical glitch was the reproduction of two hymns that were begun on an odd numbered page and were continued on an even numbered page. It would have been better had worshipers used hymnals for these hymns, which would not have required page turns in the middle of a hymn.
  4. It being the first Sunday of the month, we celebrated birthdays and anniversaries with appropriate prayers. Why was the celebration not listed and the prayers not reproduced in the booklet? The rector had to tell us that the birthday prayer was on page 830—“in the back of the prayer book,” he added redundantly. As usual, the congregation was not requested to read the anniversary prayer, which is also in the prayer book (on page 431).
  5. I wonder if the bishop noticed the substitution of “God” for “him” at the beginning of the Great Thanksgiving. This is a variation often made in the name of “inclusive language,” but it is not strictly proper. It is one thing for an individual to make the substitution; it is quite another for the parish to do so officially.
  6. I didn’t spend much time looking for typographical errors, but I could not help noticing serious formatting errors in the weekly calendar. A minor criticism is that times should have been right justified. Where “10:30 AM” was under “9:30 AM,” for example, the “9” should have been preceded by a space, so that it appeared directly over the “0” in “10.” The real problem, however, was that, in 54 instances, the event name followed the time without an intervening space (for example, “9:30 AMYouth Forum Lounge”). In a single instance was there the required space. Well, perhaps the bishop didn’t notice.
The bishop no doubt did notice that we had a single acolyte. (A full complement of acolytes is seven.) Once again, in leading the choir down the side aisle, I had to look across the nave to try to stay even with the procession in the opposite aisle. I do not understand why we cannot turn out more acolytes, particularly on such an important Sunday. (See “Where Have All the Acolytes Gone?”)

In honor of Confirmation, we had confirmands reading the lessons. The good news is that the two readers seemed familiar with the readings and generally did not trip over the text. Both read too fast, however, and the second reader tended to drop his voice at the ends of sentences. These are common errors of novice readers, but, given that the readers had clearly worked on their presentations, it is unfortunate that no one helped them do just a bit better to really nail their assignments.

Another problem the bishop could not miss was the fact that the sound system kept acting up. While it is true that our sound system is somewhat outmoded, it could serve our day-to-day needs reasonably well if components were repaired or replaced when they misbehave. Rather than repair the cables used with the wireless microphones properly, for example, the cables have been taped together in a way that makes the proper connections only about 90% of the time. Yes, it would be nice to install a new sound system. In the meantime, it would be helpful to keep the one we’ve got in good repair, rather than using it as a fund-raising poster child. (We will be asked to replace our sound system in the upcoming capital campaign.)

Finally, I wonder what the bishop thought of the rector’s incessant stage directions (“We will now …”). I attend services at other Episcopal churches more often than most parishioners, and I almost never hear other priests giving directions to the congregation as Lou does. I’m sure the instructions are intended to be “helpful” and “welcoming,” but I know that I am not the only parishioner who simply finds them insulting to one’s intelligence. Why provide an order of service at all if the assumption is that no one knows how to read one? It is a great relief whenever I attend a service in which the flow of the liturgy is uninterrupted by unnecessary directions.

If the bishop were unfazed by the usual directions from the chancel, he must surely have been taken aback by an incident that occurred at the end of communion. Because people were still at the rail after all the planned communion music was sung, Doug added “Seek ye first” as an additional communion hymn. The choir (and perhaps others who know the hymn or know how to use the hymnal index) sang the first verse. Then, in the middle of the hymn, Lou shouted out over the singing that we were singing the second verse of Hymn 711! This may be acceptable behavior in the Holy Roller Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church in Dogpatch, Kentucky, but in a suburban Episcopal church it is simply uncouth and embarrassing.

So, did St. Paul’s put its best foot forward? I certainly hope not! We can do better. We used to do better. Perhaps we can again.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Joyful People Cancelled

Last night, the day of workshops planned for Saturday, May 7, 2011, was cancelled. Joyful People: A Day of Celebration, which I wrote about last Friday—see post here—did not have enough registrants to assure its success. The cancellation is disappointing, but the decision to call off the event was prudent.

Just two days ago, Bishop Price told parishioners gathered at St. Paul’s that our diocese is healthy, yet Joyful People encountered widespread indifference. What went wrong? There is probably no simple answer to that question, but we should seek to learn from what did and did not happen.

For one thing, our diocese is smaller than it used to be, and expecting the turnouts typical of such events decades ago may be unrealistic. A smaller diocese also means that there are fewer hands available to keep the diocese running, and those hands may be somewhat overworked and therefore inclined to skip an event now and then.

The timing wasn’t ideal. Early May is a busy time, and, this year, it comes just after Holy Week, Easter, and a visit from the presiding bishop.

Perhaps the biggest problem was that there was insufficient publicity, and what there was did not appear early enough. A parishioner at St. Paul’s without e-mail had no way of knowing the event was scheduled, and even those with e-mail had to have been signed up for the diocesan newsletter to learn of the workshops, since no mention was made by St. Paul’s at all. People could have visited the diocesan Web site, of course, but how many folks who do not receive Grace Happens actually do that on a regular basis?

More publicity would have required more labor, and, as I said before, our diocese is smaller than formerly. In retrospect, however, probably much more public relations work was needed. Many of the workshops were specialized, such as the one aimed at altar guild members. For such workshops, targeted advertising was required.

Well, even successful organizations are not successful all the time. Perhaps lessons learned from the Joyful People experience will help make the next day of workshops (or perhaps some different event) a bigger success. I do believe out diocese is healthy—but it isn’t perfect.

Update, 5/7/2011: I am told that Joyful People has been postponed, rather than cancelled. I think this means that the diocese, at some point, will sponsor a somewhat similar event. I don’t know when that will be, and it will assuredly be an event with a different set of options. I look forward to attending Joyful People II. Ironically, today I received a check from the diocese refunding my registration fee for Joyful People.