St. James Episcopal Church
Thursday, December 18, 2014
Located on Historic Route 7A in the heart of Arlington, VT
Partner for Sacred Places
and St. James
Partners for Sacred Places
(the national organization)
Partners for Sacred Places is the only national, non-sectarian, non-profit organization dedicated to the sound stewardship and active community use of America's older religious properties. Partners provides assistance to the people who care for sacred places while promoting a new understanding of how these places sustain communities.
ST. JAMES EPISCOPAL CHURCH 2010 ANNUAL REPORT:
PARTNERS FOR SACRED PLACES
Partners for Sacred Places (http://www.sacredplaces.org/) is the only national, non-sectarian, nonprofit organization dedicated to the sound stewardship and active community use of America's older religious properties. Founded in 1989 by religious, historic preservation and philanthropic leaders, Partners provides assistance to the people who care for sacred places and promotes a greater understanding of how these places sustain communities.
St. James was selected to participate in the diocese-wide Partners for Sacred Places project for Vermont. Since May, 2009, a committee of St. James parishioners has worked steadily and diligently to learn as much as possible from our guiding consultants, to bring that information to bear on our goals and vision for our church and to help ensure the long-term viability of St. James as a community resource as well as a vibrant congregation telling and living the “Good News” of our faith.
Members of the St. James PSP Committee are:
Joanna Taylor, Chair
The Rev. Scott B. Neal
Patricia Gordon Michael
During 2010, the Committee met regularly as a group onsite. One of the meetings included our PSP consultant, Tuomi Forrest and the Rev. Angela Emerson who is in charge of the entire project for the Diocese of Vermont. In addition, members of the team traveled to attend meetings of the entire group of teams from various parishes in the diocese at different locations in Vermont.
One of the highlights of the Sacred Places initiative during 2010 was the Heritage Breakfast and Parish Forum on March 7, 2010. As part of the PSP project, we prepared a case statement - the core document that is at the center of our plan and strategy for the future of St. James. The case statement presents our mission, purpose and vision; our strengths and challenges; and our plan for the future. An important part of the case statement is our history not simply as an Episcopal congregation but also as a vital community resource for almost 250 years.
The audience for the case statement is broader than simply our parishioners. Therefore, it was important to demonstrate to those who don’t know us that our history is the foundation for an evolving, aware organization – still vital, still significant, in our diocese and in our greater community. Our heritage is in the minds, hearts and memories of all parishioners as well as in documents and photos.
In order to ensure as much participation as possible from our members and gather as the information that is not written, we planned a Heritage Sunday for March 7, 2010. We had one service at 9 a.m. followed by a potluck breakfast/brunch and parish forum.
In preparation, on February 14, 21, 28 and March 7, 2010 we included a series of different-colored inserts in the Sunday bulletin, each one with a single question to stimulate thinking, encourage participation, and facilitate discussion. The questions for March 14 and 21, following the Forum, dealt with our individual and collective visions for the future at St. James.
The questions were:
February 14: In your own words, what are the mission and purpose of St. James?
February 21: What is your favorite memory of St. James?
In your opinion, what is the most momentous event of the last decade?
February 28: What do you think about St. James’ involvement in the greater community and our connections to other organizations?
March 7: If St. James were to close, what would be the impact: To you personally and to the greater community (including the Diocese of Vermont)?
March 14 and 21: What is your vision for the future of St. James?
In the interim before the Heritage Breakfast on March 7, the weekly questions were posted on the Sacred Places bulletin board to encourage people to participate or to add comments even if they had responded already. We were delighted to receive many responses from parishioners; all were thoughtful, informative, and heartfelt.
At the March 7 breakfast forum, we reported to the parish a summary of the responses to date and used that summary as a stimulus for further discussion. Thanks to our creative and very talented Rector, we had an excellent Power Point presentation to present the summaries and other information we had gathered. The beautiful photographs helped to stimulate our memories of the ideas, events and thoughts that reflect our past and present and that will help us shape the future.
The information gathered from the parish was incorporated into the case statement we prepared. As team members reported to the other PSP teams at a meeting at St. Paul’s Church in White River Junction: “The people of the parish really wrote the case statement. Their thoughtful and extensive participation and the expression of their genuine love for St. James created the framework and the language of the document that will convey our essence to those outside our immediate parish family. “
The final diocese-wide meeting was held in May 2010 but the teams agreed that there would be a final “reunion” meeting later in the year. On November 13, 2010, Father Scott, Joanna Taylor and Patricia Gordon Michael traveled to Christ Church, Montpelier, for that reunion of the Vermont Sacred Places teams. These were the people who met on a regular basis to learn, to discuss, to share ideas and visions, to identify problems and the solutions to them, and to affirm our commitment not only to our living faith but to the historic structures that symbolize and house that faith.
At the reunion, we were fortunate to enjoy the presence of our Bishop whose vision and support made it possible to have the Partners for Sacred Places project in Vermont. In his informal remarks at the beginning of the session, Bishop Ely said that he thinks of this group as “leaven” for the rest of the diocese, as part of the “seeding” of the life of the diocese. He said he felt that the project’s approach to look at buildings as stewardship resources rather than as burdens will have a powerful impact on the diocese as it moves forward with its strategic plan for the future. He also said he was especially grateful for the commitment demonstrated by the group, as teams and as individuals, to make use of the opportunity given to us.
Tuomi Forrest, our PSP consultant, said that the impact of the Vermont group will reach not only throughout the state of Vermont but will have national resonance as well since the insights and ideas will be used by the national organization in its work with other groups. He also assured the group that PSP will continue to be a resource for us in the future. Then he asked us to share our experiences during the project, including the skills we had developed, the partnerships we had identified, our accomplishments to date, the challenges we faced, and where we saw new energy emerging from the process.
As the individual representatives began to recount their experiences of the past 18 months, amazing, affirming and inspirational stories were told. Several major themes emerged:
At St. James we have seen examples of all these themes in our own PSP endeavor. Among our accomplishments we:
Bishop Ely was asked to offer some concluding comments after hearing all the reports. He reflected that when he and the Rev. Angela Emerson, Diocesan Minister for Stewardship Development, first learned of the PSP effort, they weren’t quite sure if this was the best route to follow and now he was “thrilled to hear of the positive results and the successes” of each of the participating parishes. He noted the geographical distribution of the participants and the different sizes and types of congregations who chose to participate. He also noted how we inspired and encouraged each other and that there was no sense of jealousy or competition but rather mutual respect and affection as well as a sense of common mission and ministry.
The Bishop thanked the participants for their commitment to the project. He also told us that
he was impressed by our ability to tell our stories and reminded us of the theme for the 2011 Diocesan Convention: “I Love to Tell the Story”. He said that our stories made it very clear that the PSP project was not simply about the preservation of buildings but was about our faith, about our Baptismal ministry – that the building is a tool of that ministry.
Before adjourning, the group, led by Tuomi Forrest, agreed to the following:
All the participants in the Partners for Sacred Places project, at St. James and in other parishes in the diocese, agreed that the entire experience was energizing and affirming. The information we gathered, the information we learned, the friendships and partnerships that developed and the materials we received will strengthen us for the future. Each of us who was able to attend the various sessions and participate in the work assignments came away with renewed confidence that, as a congregation, we will be able to meet the challenges of the present and to take charge of our future so that St. James will survive, thrive, and continue to be a positive force in our community, our diocese and our state.
Patricia Gordon Michael for the St. James Partners for Sacred Places Committee