Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Candidate Forum

I attended the forum for Vestry candidates Sunday. I was pleased that two sessions were offered, which allowed choir members to participate fully. (The choir usually rehearses on Sunday morning between 9:45 and 10:30.)

Candidate brochure
I can confidently say that we seem to have six fine candidates for the four available positions on the Vestry. That said, I didn’t hear much to cause me to think one candidate notably better than any other. I was a bit surprised that candidate Mark Vito made a pitch for voting for Bob Johnston, not because he didn’t want to win, but because he wanted Bob to be available to continue as senior warden.

I have no doubt that Bob has been a fine senior warden, but it is beginning to seem as though he has lifetime tenure. Is this really a good thing? Retaining the same senior warden year after year is comfortable for the rector, but I doubt it is best for the parish. I wish we would return to the practice of former rector Bill Pickering. The senior warden was always someone serving his or her last year on the Vestry, and that person served for one year only. The warden was thus someone with leadership experience, less inclined to burnout, could bring a fresh perspective to the office, and could not be embarrassed by failing to be asked to serve another year.

Under Bill Pickering, Vestry candidates who were not elected joined the Parish Council, a group of parishioner advisers who met with the rector once a month. Parish Council is provided for, but not mandated, by the parish bylaws. There has been no Parish Council since Bill left St. Paul’s. Bob Banse was urged to re-establish the group and promised to do so, but he did not carry through on that promise. Parish Council took advantage of the enthusiasm of people willing to run for Vestry and provided the rector an independent council of advice with no decision-making responsibility.

But I digress. I was struck by a common theme among the candidates—bringing more people to St. Paul’s. There is nothing wrong with that goal, of course, but it is an institutional objective, rather than a religious one. No one mentioned anything about bringing people to Christ. Think about that. Nobody mentioned the three priorities for the diocese set forth by Bishop McConnell in his convention address: Public Gospel, Missional Communities, and Leadership Formation. I don’t mean to suggest that parishes should slavishly follow the lead of their bishop, but it might be worth considering whether priorities articulated by him could offer insight into the formulation of parish objectives.

Following the rector’s lead, candidates emphasized the strengths of our parish. In my role as perpetual gadfly, I asked what the candidates saw as St. Paul’s’ greatest deficiency. Not surprisingly, the panelists were not elbowing each other to be the first to answer this question, and not everyone did. It has been many years since the parish made a serious attempt to evaluate its weaknesses as well as its strengths.

Nonetheless, two ideas were offered that merit consideration. Annette Shimer suggested that we do not do publicity well, especially for music programs. Communications have been an issue at the church for as long as I can remember, so Annette’s comment came as no surprise. She deserves points for being willing to say something “negative.” More interesting was a response from Bob, who suggested that the parish tries to be all things to all people and really needs to set priorities. It would have been interesting to hear more on that subject.

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