Thursday, January 17, 2013

Divested

Just got back from my final Vestry meeting at Holy Apostles. (I could have run for a second term, but pleaded imminent sabbatical as an excuse for not pursuing it.) I had a chance for some final reflections and mentioned that I was glad I hadn't known that the Vestry was also the board of the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen as I would not have run, since I lacked the necessary skills. I still may not have the skills but I've learned an immense about non-profit organizations, about budgeting, about how boards work. I've learned also how much work goes into keeping a church going, and how many people work behind the scenes on all sorts of committees - and that the church is in a good place as far as that is concerned, with qualified and dedicated volunteers to serve on them.

It's hard to believe I've been a Vestry member for three years, until you think of how much has changed in these three years. I agreed to be nominated in part because I wanted to see a church go through a leadership transition, and that I have definitely seen. The clergy and most of the staff have changed completely. The physical plant has changed too - the Soup Kitchen serves food in the church now, and the Mission House next door has more spaces for more activities. The unsightly trailer that used to stand next to the church is gone.

But I've learned also to see that - well, not that plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, because things have definitely changed. In particular, several parishioners have moved to other parishes, and new parishioners have arrived to take their places. Several of my fellow Vestry members resigned before their terms were out, and have been replaced by new people better able to work with the new regime. If I had spent the last three years away and walked in of a Sunday I'd be struck by the changes in the chancel, and by a more racially integrated congregation, and one with (a few) more families with young children. I'd wonder if it was "the same place."

What I've learned to see is that change isn't easy - something has to be given up to make space for the new thing - but it's normal. It is, indeed, the life of an institution. CHA's a different place than it was five years ago, but still a good place. And a good thing that is, too. If places did not survive changes of leadership, which means changes in personality (and personalities) as well as in vision, they would not survive. What keeps it going, what gives the new a chance to take hold and go new places, is a certain amount of inertia - or is it momentum?! - in the physical place, the community, the liturgy. (And, I should add, as an Episcopalian, the polity.)

I rode the subway back to Brooklyn with one of my fellow Vestry members (who is running for a second term), and we talked about the past, present and future of the place. He said he couldn't make out whether I was happy at changes or cynical about them. Maybe both, I said; I'm resigned.

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