St. James Parish Profile 2015

Below is the sermon delivered by Jamie Pagliaro, chair of the Parish Profile Committe, delivered on Sunday 9/13. The complete Parish Profile document is attached.

“To be or not to be, that is the question!”   

I couldn’t resist starting with that quote from Hamlet, where he asks whether to continue to exist or not.  Because in today’s current climate, where very few people identify themselves with a specific religion, let alone a specific church, the question for many parish’s like ours literally is whether we plan to “be or not to be” for future generations.  After working on our Parish Profile for the last six months, I am convinced that the members of St. James plan “to be” around for many years to come.

I’d like to start by introducing and recognizing the work of my fellow Profile Committee members, and I will ask each of them to stand when there name is called, and remain standing: Rev. Dr. Tim Barrett, who served as our Chaplain and provided the inspiration for our parish-wide event this past spring; Nat Cheney who worked on the financial components; Lyenda Delp who helped us articulate the gifts we desire in a new rector; Jim Griffin who assembled distinctive demographics of Upper Montclair for the profile; Elle Moser our resident organizational development expert who analyzed and synthesized the results of our parish-wide event; and Dave Smythe who took on the difficult job of highlighting some of our many gifts and ministries as a church.  I’d also like to thank and recognize Paul Kneuer, our Vestry Liaison, for organizing an initial committee to survey church members last year and begin the process, and who also provided guidance, support and wisdom to me throughout this process.  Please join me in recognizing all of them for the time and talent they poured into the profile.

A little background: the Parish Profile is an important first step for a parish like ours, which is in transition and searching for a new rector.  The diocese of Newark, to which we belong, provides a guide for this transition process, and an outline for developing the profile, both of which we followed closely.  According to this guide, “the parish first searches for itself before looking for a pastor.”  Therefore, the profile is less about who we want as our new rector, and more about who we are as a church community and putting that out to the world.  Potential candidates may then review the profile and decide if they are being called to St. James.  From there, the Vestry will appoint a Search Committee to develop and implement a process for screening, interviewing, and ultimately recommending candidates to the Vestry for final selection.

I want to emphasize that this document is YOUR profile, not ours as a committee.  In fact, when the Profile Committee began meeting back in March, we quickly reached consensus that our role was NOT to come up with the content for this document, but rather to facilitate a process that elicited responses and provoked aspirational thinking amongst our members.  Our role was merely to document and synthesize these responses.  In putting together the profile, we relied on data from many sources: a survey conducted in spring 2014, feedback gathered at our parish-wide event in spring 2015, conversations with members and the diocese, other church artifacts, historical documents, and internet research.

While there are several sections of this document, which we encourage you to review in detail after today’s service, if you haven’t already done so, I’d like to talk about a few main themes today, and state some disclaimers.  Let me start with the disclaimers…

One of the greatest challenges to writing the profile was that we could not possibly list or summarize all of the wonderful gifts and ministries present here at St. James.  Had we set out to do that, our committee would still be writing and the profile could easily have become a document hundreds of pages long.  The same goes for writing about Montclair as a community.  Therefore, we took the approach of highlighting distinctive features of both St. James and Montclair, and also included links to the church and town websites, along with other web links for those seeking more information.  Undoubtedly, when you review these sections, you will find things that many of us care deeply about but perhaps were not included.  Please keep in mind that our goal was not to be exhaustive in documenting, but we do welcome your feedback if you think something critical to our identity is missing.

Now on to the themes from our parish-wide envisioning event…

It should come as no surprise that the first theme was that St. James is described by you (its members) as a welcoming and supportive community.

The one word that describes St. James by a large margin fell into the category of supportive with that specific word mentioned most of all. Like words included caring, compassion and comforting as well as acceptance, reassuring and understanding.  The second category of words that stood out could be described as welcoming, also stated multiple times, and community.  Some other words relating to welcoming & community were not-alone, open, inclusive and accessible.  That was followed closely by the enriching spiritual aspects of St. James described as spiritual growth, spiritual foundation, gratitude and God’s presence.

The second theme was that members most often recall receiving help from St. James during times of trouble and transition.

There were two primary themes that emerged when members commented on receiving help from the church.  Over a quarter of the participants cited receiving help during times of death, illness and surgery.  This help took the form of prayer, prayer circles, spiritual comfort and support from clergy and people in the parish as well as meals that were brought into their homes.  

Many also remembered an occasion when they were going through a time of trouble or transition. Numerous examples were mentioned: loss of employment, difficulties on the job, divorce, when family members were deployed overseas, personal issues, as well happy occasions such as births, weddings, and new marriages.  During these times the church again provided support, comfort and someone to talk to.

Our service to the community during Hurricane Sandy, when the church opened its doors to all, was also mentioned several times. During that ten-day period following the hurricane, St. James was designated as an official emergency relief center, and provided shelter, electricity, heat and food for hundreds of people in the surrounding community, many of whom had never set foot in St. James before, but suddenly were here on a daily basis.

The third and final theme that emerged from our event was that God is calling us at St. James to continue to grow as a welcoming community.

Without a doubt this church, as overwhelmingly characterized by the members of the focus group, believes that God is calling upon St. James to continue to grow as a vibrant church serving its members and its extended community of Montclair and the world.  People want St. James to have an even greater established presence in Montclair; that it be known by its actions as a thriving, caring, Christian community that reaches out and serves all who surround it.  It was expressed that St. James should be a spiritual respite for our members and all who come to find peace and develop a relationship with God.  That we, as a church move our holy mission forward and be a center of inspiration that continues to be inclusive, welcoming and accepting of everyone no matter who they are or what they believe.  And finally, in our outreach efforts St. James should aid those who are less fortunate.

Now on to the Gifts and Ministry of the Clergy (in other words, what we are seeking in a New Rector):

Note, this is NOT a list of personality traits or a description of our “ideal” rector, rather a set of core values and skills that YOU identified as priorities.

  • Someone who is Engaged and Engaging
  • An Inspired Preacher and Spiritual Leader
  • A Multi-dimensional Manager 
  • And finally, someone who Sets the Example; A Moral Compass for our members and community

The Search Committee will undoubtedly want to further define the responsibilities and desired characteristics of our new rector, but remember: the profile is about defining who we ARE, not who we WANT.

Finally, we discussed Future Challenges facing our church:

As I stated earlier, this profile was developed through a lengthy and multi-faceted process.  Our hope is that the profile serves not only as a guide for selecting our new Rector, but also as a starting point for discerning what we as the members of St. James want for the future of our parish.  It should also provide a foundation for the new Rector to engage with members around setting goals for the future of St. James, and initiating a strategic planning process.

To conclude, we identified three main challenges for the future of St. James:

  1. First, there is a clear desire articulated by members to increase our outreach efforts.  However, we continue to grapple with defining outreach in a predominantly affluent community.  The new Rector should help St. James determine if this missional work means going beyond the boundaries of Montclair, or finding ways to engage our immediate community through spiritual growth and their connection to God.
  2. Second, we have been blessed with a historic, complex and aging property, which will require steadfast diligence and stewardship to maintain.  A capital campaign is clearly in our near future, and will be required to address this challenge. 
  3. Finally, one universal aspiration of the members is to continue to grow the church as a welcoming parish in Montclair.  While the church experienced some decline in membership numbers starting during the Great Recession (2007-2009) and continuing through to 2012, St. James has rebounded and seen steady growth over the past two years.  This growth must continue for the sustainability of our parish. 

Our hope is that the new Rector will help us face and address these challenges in the spirit of Christ.

I want to thank all of you and our Vestry for providing me the opportunity to serve St. James in this capacity.  I have enjoyed getting to know more of you and more about the history of St. James in this process, and found assembling the profile to be energizing and reinvigorating – I hope you did too.  I think we can all be proud of this document and what it says about us as a faith community.  As one long-time member emailed me earlier this week after reading the profile: “We have captured the essence of St. James.” 

If you should have any questions, comments or feedback about the profile, please feel free to approach me or any of the committee members after today’s service, or you can submit written feedback to the parish office by mail or email and it will be forwarded to me for review.