By Rev. Dr. Stephen Hendry
I have often wondered how parishes respond when they are notified that representatives of the diocesan coaching team are coming to spend a few Saturdays with their leadership.
Recently, Archdeacon Perry Chuipka and I spent some time with the congregation of St. John’s in St. Thomas.
Beverly Walker described the initial response of her congregation: “When there appeared an announcement in the Sunday bulletin of a meeting to be held one Saturday a month over three months to discuss what appeared to be the future of our small congregation, it gave rise to a feeling of dread.”
But St. John’s was in for an exciting surprise. Martin VanWeert provided a summary: “St. John’s took part in a VIVA program that went on three consecutive Saturdays, and a total of 12 to 16 hours was contributed by 20 to 25 parishioners. Week 1 focused on personal views about the life at St. John’s. Week 2 consolidated the personal views into team-oriented characteristics of the most important aspects of our church life. Week 3 brought focus to our mission ‘spiritual growth’ and how to achieve such growth. Overall, a well presented and worthwhile project.”
Beverly remembered, “We were asked to describe a transformative incident in our lives and what we had come to value about ourselves and others and then the all-important question of ‘what did we value about our congregation?’
“There were many things that we valued, from the generally welcoming attitude, the acceptance of differences of the people who made up the congregation, our enthusiasm expressed by our attendance at worship services and our willingness to volunteer to perform tasks related to the church.”
Warden Tom Marks saw two important components in the success: “getting input from many parishioners” and “all . . . looking in one direction”.
Archdeacon Perry said, “The eagerness of the rector Jim Innes and the creative work of the 30 people who attended the three sessions enabled them to do some forward thinking about the life of their church family. They came up with four practical goals that they presented to the board of management. The results from the VIVA experience motivated the board members to use this VIVA work to begin a new Renew campaign that would begin immediately.”
Jim Innes reflected on the experience in this way: “The VIVA process is well thought-out. From the beginning to the end of each session there was clear direction. The material connected both heart and mind. Participants were able to join with one another and produce results . . .
“It has been and continues to be difficult for people here at St. John’s to think outside the box. Many see any success measured by bums in pews and dollars in the bank and they have traditional ways of thinking how this might happen. Steve and Perry were able to provoke creative thought nonetheless.”
Perry said the evaluations “indicated that the VIVA process had been a life-changing experience. St. John’s Church family is one the many examples that I have experienced as a coach going into a faith community and simply working alongside them, enabling their creative gifts to blossom.”
Jim stated, “Archdeacon Perry Chuipka and Rev. Dr. Steve Hendry helped our congregation to develop a mission statement. They gave us the ingredients to delve into our Renew initiatives.”
Beverly summarized her excitement when she shared, “St. John’s is hopefully going to emerge from the cocoon of dull tradition and safe ordinariness and tell the world that we are a community dedicated to spiritual growth.”
As I got in the car at the end of the third session, it was abundantly clear to me that Perry and I had had an extraordinary privilege to come alongside a congregation to share faith, fellowship, and food; and to provide a setting for inspired dialogue for an exciting future at St. John’s.