Several years ago I listened as a lay person spoke of returning to the Episcopal Church after several years in an evangelical church. She said “Episcopalians, there’s more!” What she meant is that she had found that there was more to be learned about being a follower of Jesus than she had previously known. Her hope was that “the more” could be offered in the tradition and language she loved. This is what Jay Sidebotham and his colleagues are offering the Episcopal Church through this new endeavor. It is “intentional discipleship” that can lead to changed lives, renewed parishes and compassionate outreach.
-The Rev. Carol Anderson
I highly recommend the RenewalWorks Program. RenewalWorks has already collected data on the best practices of churches throughout the United States. The team then administers the Spiritual Life Inventory, a confidential online survey, to the participating parish to help assess the parish’s condition and potential needs. Finally, there are a series of workshops facilitated by a lay leader of the parish. These workshops let the parish work out what it wants to do with this data. This is one of the best renewal programs in which I have ever participated. Our congregation actively took part in the survey and workshops and the parish was delighted with the program’s process.
-The Rev. George Calvert, The Parish of the Good Shepherd, Bonita, CA
Experiencing the RenewalWorks process has enabled St. Columba leadership to transition our focus from hurricane recovery to our long held commitment to Christian formation. Sermons are emphasizing ways individuals can add spiritual components to their daily activities as well as “if it’s not about love, then it’s not about God.” Our first steps include Children’s Sunday Club, The Way of Love: The 50 Day Bible Challenge, a leadership retreat, Prayer Share, and weekly small group discussions.
Our RenewalWorks team (now renamed “Spiritual Life Team” ) has actually become a small group ministry in our church and we are putting together our second retreat which will include ways of helping congregation members assess where they are in their spiritual journey. Here are some initial thoughts on how I see RenewalWorks as being vital to congregational development: A church grows in membership (and retains that growth) only if the members are also growing spiritually. Conversely, spiritual growth of congregation members can and should lead to numerical growth, but that doesn’t happen automatically. There are far too many congregations with deeply “pious” members who remain focused inward. That is where a program like RenewalWorks can be so important to both aspects of church growth. RenewalWorks not only provides ways in which congregations can assess “where” members are in their spiritual journeys, the program can help congregations put programs and opportunities in place to foster and deepen the spiritual lives of members. Then as more and more members move toward “Christ Centered” lives, they will begin to invite others to join in their parish life and ministries and that will lead to numerical church growth.
-The Rev. Meredith Potter, Deacon, St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church, Deerfield, Illinois, Former Professor of Congregational Development at Seabury Western Theological Seminary.
The survey has me brooding and thinking about what service means to us at our church – the spiritual work gave me the tools to think it through and one day I was reading a daily devotional book by Henri Nouwen, and on July 20 there it was. Its entitled “who is my neighbor” and Nouwen talked about the Samaritan who crossed the road to take care of the poor man. The key is crossing the road and now I am thinking about what it means for individuals here at our church to cross the road to meet our neighbor. Service is not a passive thing, you have to walk across the street and meet someone who is suffering and who you might not understand. The focus on spiritual growth helped me do that.
-Ms. Kitty Cole, Parishioner at The Church of the Holy Spirit
As we near the end of the RenewalWorks process, I’m aware how much of a gift it has been to do this work in the midst of “corona-tide.”Our RenewalWorks Team is a group of people who are deeply committed to the parish, but some of them have struggled to connect in this time as all our worship and programming was virtual. Being a part of the Team has served as a foothold for some members who needed to reconnect, to be invited back into our life in a meaningful way. We’ve seen a reengagement from them and their families in these last few weeks. I’m also watching ideas emerge that will shape our life in the season ahead, ideas that can be unrolled as we begin to worship together in person at some point in the coming year. There is real energy among the team around the idea that we might begin again as people who are focused on spiritual growth, discipleship, and personal practices. How wonderful it would be if the joy of our being able to gather was undergirded by transformation for the whole community, if we could harness that joy and offer the community a new path forward. For us, this has been a wonderful time to refocus, to plan, and to imagine what our life will look like in the season ahead, both when we can be in person and before that first joyful gathering.
-Rev. Marissa Rohrbach, Rector, St. Matthew’s, Wilton, Connecticut