Thursday, May 19, 2005

None of the above?

Early in May, before I went on vacation, I received a copy of a survey of Episcopal Churches. It is to be filled out by the resident clergy and asks a number of questions about the life and health of the congregation. I managed to fill it out online in the time allotted, only to get another copy, reminding me to fill it out and extending the deadline. I am delighted that the national church attempting a comprehensive survey and glad to be a part of it. But it was puzzling. Some of the questions were quite straightforward, like "How often does your congregation hold regular weekend worship services?" There are some where I realize my perspective as the priest may be different from that of my congregation. The survey asks me how well the following adjectives describe our largest weekend worship service, on a scale of "very well " to "not at all":
  • Reverent
  • Informal
  • Filled with a sense of God's presence
  • Joyful
  • Formal liturgy
  • Exciting
  • Thought-provoking
  • Welcoming to newcomers
  • Contemplative
  • Contempoary
  • Predictable
  • Disorganized
  • Has a sense of expectancy
  • Participatory

How would I know? One person's reverent, formal or contemplative liturgy is another person's predictable liturgy, I'd say. I often am obsessed by the things that aren't as organized as I think they should be: typos in our elaborate bulletin which is meant to be user friendly for newcomers, endless announcements by parish leaders who have not submitted announcements for the bulletin in advance or who just don't believe that people read them, acolytes who breathlessly appear, still doing up their cinctures and the snaps on their albs, during the awkward silence after the prelude is over. I don't think that "Will the acolytes and readers make it in time?" is what is meant in the survey by a "sense of expectancy." Actually, many of these questions about liturgical style, demographics, programmatic evangelism and newcomer incorporation, congregational identity would make good questions for a vestry or evangelism committee to discuss, since they invite us to evaluate areas of our life that we don't often stand back and think about. And I have to say that I felt quite proud of this congregation's people and ministries as I went through this process of answering the survey. And my guess would be that most of the rest of the Episcopal church is as hopeful, welcoming and outward looking as we are.

But the most disconcerting section of this survey was the question about conflict. "In the last five years has your congregation experienced any disagreements or conflicts in the following areas?" You are invited to answer NO or YES on a scale of not very serious, moderately serious, very serious. And here are the conflict areas:

  • Money/Finances/Budget
  • How worship is conducted
  • Priest's leadership style
  • Program priorities of the congregation
  • Use of church facilities
  • Actions of General Convention 2003 regarding the Bishop of New Hampshire
  • Other:________________

The GC 2003 question seems so specific compared to the others that it seems out of proportion. Is this the REAL question the survey is wanting to discover an answer to? I invited vestry members to fill out the questionnaire for me, so I would have some input, especially on the one's where my self-assessment might color my answer. Only one did and she answered pretty much as I would have answered but she very kindly put no answer at all in the line where you are supposed to assess the clergy leadership style and the option was " Effective administrator."

Monday, May 02, 2005

Life, the Universe and Everything

Today is my day off and I spent the afternoon at The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. About twenty seven years ago, we sat the kitchen of 149B Woodstock Road, Oxford, listening to the very frist radio episode. It was wildly imaginative and incredibly funny and there are parts of it that are lodged in memory forever. I'm not sure I read the books but I listened to the various Hitchhiker's sequels and watched the BBC TV version. So parts of the Hitchhiker's Guide are etched on my brain, like, "Goodbye and thanks for all the fish." In our family, we often describe things as the Guide, edited by Ford, described earth, as "Mostly Harmless." But it was long enough ago that I am not one of the people whose enjoyment of the movie was ruined by things that were left out or changed. On the other hand, as I watched, there were things I had forgotten about that made me helpless with giggles in anticipation, like when Bill Nighy was reluctant to say his name. It was lovely to look at and the animated book was great. Stay for the credits and you'll get to see even more of the book. I did wonder whether if you had managed to live on this planet without previous exposure to the Hitchhiker's Guide you would think it was as much fun as John and I did.