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Monday, November 09, 2009

Professional Standards Round II: An Impossible Vocation

I am deeply grateful for all the comments and suggestions left about the first "Test Drive" of Professional Standards. I am especially grateful for Louie Crew's comments about being a "Professional Christian" and all of the implications of that conversation.

I now have a second draft with new categories and a longer introduction which tries to explain some of the content.  Much of that is due to the conversations we've had about what it means to be a Christian Leader employed by the church.

For example, I have removed the word "Professional" and I'm now talking about what it means to be a "Servant Leader" - lay or ordained - with some standards for how that is lived out in Christian community.

I don't know if this can be 'standardized' across the church.  I suspect the categories will hold but the content would have to be generalized into some questions which would be answered by a particular Servant Leader in a particular ministry setting.

The genesis of this little project of mine came about because I was really just trying to do a better job of preparing for the annual Mutual Ministry Review - with myself and my staff - but this has turned into a wonderful conversation across the church (and not just TEC) about our expectations about the work of parochial ministry.

Which is precisely why I chose this picture of Jesus to illustrate the blog post.

Not only is Jesus walking on water, a miraculous enough feat, He is walking on the water in the midst of a storm.

Oh, and not only that, He's helping Peter.

Saving him from drowning.

As He walks on water.

In the middle of a storm.

Yup.  That just about sums up the "impossible vocation" of parish ministry for me. 

This particular work is far from being done. I look forward to your comments and responses.


Prepared for the Wardens and Vestry of The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham, NJ by the Rev’d Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor as a framework for discussion about the mutual ministry of servant leadership, the role of the rector and the standards she maintains for herself as a servant leader in community.


For the past year or so, I've been working individually as well as with my parochial supervisor, my spiritual director and with a clergy colleague group on establishing some professional standards for our practice as clergy.

The conversation arose out of doing some case studies of problem situations in our congregations. It became clear to us that most folk in the pew - indeed, on our Vestries or those serving as Wardens - do not understand the role of the clergy as Servant Leaders in their communities of faith.

Truth be told, it's mostly our fault. The role of clergy in a congregation has been shifting for some time now, and many of us have kept up the role in the script of "Priest-as-Father-Knows-Best." We know our lines quite well and we do our best to play our part.

For many, many generations, rectors have been a combination of CFO, CEO, COO, and, oh yes, pastor. That has a certain appeal to a certain type of person - from those who take on this impossible vocation as part of the notion of 'Suffering Servant / Slave for Christ' to hard-core 'People Pleasers', to those clergy who are acting out their role of 'Family Rescuer' or 'Hero' which they played in their own families of origin.

If you are everyone's everything, it not only places your persona (instead of the person of Jesus) at the center of community (great for your faltering ego), it is also a set up for a consumer-based religion to continue the downward spiral into an empty, ultimately soul-depleting piety - as opposed to one that empowers all the baptized (including the pastor) to do the work of ministry and work out their own salvation in community.

The ego of the pastor may be stroked, but it's also a set up for the pastor to have a stroke - or heart attack, or stress-related illness. Oh, we've talked a good line about "the ministry of all the baptized," but when that theology hits the ideology of corporate America, it can sound and look and feel to some, on a very pragmatic level, that clergy are just lazy back-sliders. Additionally, the expectations and standards of the corporate world often stand at odds with those of a faith-based, Christ-centered community.

A Servant Leader, however, will have a healthy relationship with the family system known as church - that of being the Rabbi and Priest, the one who teaches, inspires, serves, empowers, challenges, disturbs and leads by effective example.

You know. Like Jesus did. Being a part of and yet set apart for a special work of ministry. Being the "W/holy other" who is, still, an integral member of the community.

So, how to do this? We explored many ways but the one we thought most effective was to come up with “Ministry Standards for Servant Leadership” that we would work from for a year, refine them, and then share them with our Wardens and Vestry - not so much as a tool of 'performance evaluation', but more as a way to teach the leadership of our congregations the role of the clergy.

The Process

First, we identified five main areas of work in a parochial setting: Pastor, Priest, Prophet, Steward and Rule of Life. This, in fact, is the ministry of all the baptized. The priest, however, is set apart, ordained, and authorized for certain roles and tasks in the name of the institutional church.

Next, we developed a list of our own gifts and graces for ministry, examined our leadership style with regards to management of staff and personal time, and our individual sense of the particulars of our vocational call to this community, in this unique location, with the distinctive gifts and challenges at this time in the historical lifecycle of the congregation.

We then examined our own values – what is important to us, what we are passionate about, what gives us joy and hope, what we are willing to live for, what we might be able to walk away from, and what we might be willing to die for.

We also looked at what actually comprises the work of our ministry – the day-to-day tasks of parochial life – and determined how it is we wanted to accomplish those tasks and the standards we wanted to maintain for ourselves.

Now we were ready to develop our own Standards of Servant Leadership and Ministry. We were amazed at the difference in our Standards as well as some of the similarities. For example, one of the members in our group is a scholar of Scripture with real gifts for teaching who serves a community of highly educated people in a college town. S/he thought it very important to teach, on a yearly cycle, Hebrew Scripture, the Gospels, the Epistles and the Apocrypha.

The group groaned in response! We couldn’t imagine ourselves doing that – either having that ability or interest. No matter. That was not our standard. It was the standard of that particular priest and the interests of that particular congregation.

The Mission of the Diocese and the Mission of the Church

Servant Leadership is not done in a vacuum. It is done in community. In the Episcopal Church, we believe and try to live what we profess weekly in the Nicene Creed – that we are ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic church’. We are interconnected with each other – parish, diocese, national church, and the worldwide Anglican Communion.St. Paul’s church has a mission statement which reads:  
We of St. Paul's, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, will help each other know and claim Jesus Christ as friend and Savior.
Through Word, prayer and action, we will uphold and nurture our parish family, our communities and all of God's creation.
In the past few years, we have taken this statement and, after careful assessment of our common lives of faith in small focus groups, we have developed a logo: a ‘dancing’ cruciform tree with a limb growing through “The Episcopal Church of St. Paul,” complete with a succinct mission ‘tag’:
Come. Grow. Celebrate.
The Episcopal Diocese of Newark has recently adopted a new mission statement and we have ordered our common lives of faith around this mission. It reads:
Equipping congregations...
Empowering people...
Engaging the world...
...with the hope and justice of Jesus.
As I have reflected on the five identified areas of Servant Leadership, I discovered that, in fact, these are also vehicles for living out the mission of both the congregation as well as the diocese.

These are:
PASTOR: (Diocesan: Equipping the people of God. Parochial: Come.)

PRIEST: (Diocesan: Empowering the people of God.)
Education: (Parochial: Grow)
Liturgy: (Parochial: Celebrate)
PROPHET: (Diocesan: Engaging the world. Parochial: Grow.)

STEWARD: (Serving the people of God – okay, it’s not a diocesan or parochial mission)

RULE OF LIFE: Self Care / Wellness
Please allow me to repeat:  These categories apply not only to the ordained, but to ALL the baptized.

You will note that, next to each category of Servant Leadership and before the discussion of my Standards of Servant Leadership, I have assigned a part of the parochial or diocesan mission statement which I thought was best captured in that area.

A Few Words About Servant Ministry

Bishop Bennett Simms, the retired bishop of Atlanta, started the Institute for Servant Leadership in Hendersonville, North Carolina. His book Servanthood: Leadership for the Third Millennium is still an important and often used resource.

Servant Leadership is an ancient concept, one that can be traced back to the 4th Century. The ancient Chinese leader Lao-Tzu also wrote about it in the Tao Te Ching:
The highest type of ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware. Next comes one whom they love and praise. Next comes one whom they fear. Next comes one whom they despise and defy. When you are lacking in faith, others will be unfaithful to you. The Sage is self-effacing and scanty of words. When his task is accomplished and things have been completed, All the people say, ‘We ourselves have achieved it!’
Servant Leadership strives to follow the model of Jesus. These words from Holy Scripture frame an understanding of this particular theology of ministry and leadership:
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28; also Mark 10:42-45)
These are the qualities of Servant Leadership as defined by Simms:
+ Engage in a spiritual journey rooted in a worshiping community and a personal spiritual practice.

+ Enhance the power and freedom of others.

+ Value all people, with special compassion for the least privileged in the human family.

+ Work for justice and peace in the world through the practice of non-violence.

+ Celebrate with gratitude the sacredness, abundance and interconnectedness of all creation.

+ Embrace a simplicity of life that honors work and the willingness to be held accountable, while leaving time for rest and play.

+ Recognize the gifts of each person, and seek discernment through dialogue as the context for all decision making.

+ Call others to be Servant Leaders.
Through prayer and careful discernment in community, I have become persuaded that I am - and have been -  called to Servant Leadership in Christian community.  Now it

One final note

This is the end product of study, prayer and discernment about the vocation of a specific priest in a particular congregation in a certain diocese at a certain point in time who is trying to faithfully live out her unique vocation. There may be ways to adapt this to other priests and other congregations in other dioceses. That is for them to decide.

These are standards I try to live on a daily basis and hold myself accountable for, checking in with my network of professional, spiritual and vocational support and guidance. Some days, I do better than others. Some days are smooth sailing. Some days, the whirlwind of parochial ministry can bring unforeseen emergencies that may include elements of the human drama that can range from a tragic accident, a sudden death, an unforeseen illness, or an incidence of domestic violence.

The day may also present a leaking roof, a hot water heater that dies, a Xerox machine on the fritz or a citation from the Fire Department for a faulty Fire Exit light. Any one or combination of these things can throw a perfectly planned day on the path where all good intentions reportedly lead. Sometimes I manage these days with grace and style, and sometimes, well, sometimes, frankly, I do not. I am a sheep of God’s fold, a lamb of God’s flock, and a sinner of God’s redeeming. Which is all to say, I am very human.

This document also does not articulate the enormous emotional and psychic energy it takes to manage the unconscious field of communication within a family system of congregational life. Because I am a pastor, I try to be fully present to the people I am called to serve. That does not come without emotional or psychic cost.

This is the reason I have included the elements of my own Rule of Life. Taking time for self-care is critically important – a responsibility equal to any of the standards I have established for myself as Servant Leader.

Long ago I learned that there is a Rule in the Cosmos: You cannot give away what you don’t have. When I care for myself, I am better able to care for other. My relationships with my family and friends and the God I know in Christ Jesus feed and sustain me to care for the souls God has called me to serve. I am and forever will be a grateful debtor for their love, support, tender care and occasionally, when necessary, brutal honesty.

(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton
Copyright November, 2009
No part of this may be reproduced without authorization of the Author

The Standards for Servant Leadership

PASTOR: (Diocesan: Equipping the people of God. Parochial: Come.)

+ Handwritten thank you notes in response to any contribution - monetary or otherwise - to the church. For stewardship pledges, that means a note signed by the committee chair and/or rector.

+ Acknowledging and praying for, within the context of community liturgy, major milestone events: birthdays, anniversaries, and special accomplishments.

+ A brief pastoral letter, along with community announcements and copies of the previous Sunday's sermon, sent weekly to all those who are fragile elderly or confined to home, hospital or extended care facility.

+ An annual, public acknowledgment of and expression of gratitude for those who serve or lead the various ministries of the church: choir, acolytes, Eucharistic ministers, church school teachers, Vestry, Wardens, etc.

+ An annual, public acknowledgment of and expression of gratitude for the service of the paid church staff.

+ Visit each member of the congregation who is hospitalized within 24-48 hours of hospitalization.

+ Provide for communion or visit at home once a month by Eucharistic Visitors and at least annually at Christmas and/or Easter by the rector.

+ Provide daily (or more) care for parishioner and family members who are on Hospice care, providing for the Vigil of Prayer as the time of death approaches.

+ Visit and bless all newborn babies within 24-48 hours of birth. Check in weekly on the new family, referring to Parish nurse for assessment as appropriate.

+ Visit all new members or potential new members of the church, preceded by a personal letter of welcome.

+ Meet within a week of a request from any member of the congregation for a pastoral conversation.

+ Provide three sessions of pastoral assessment and counseling and, if necessary, referral to an appropriate community service: individual, marriage or family therapy, pastoral counseling, spiritual direction, rehab, detox and/or 12-step program, etc.

+ Provide no more than six sessions of pre-marital counseling / education and liturgy preparation for those who are engaged to be married.

+ Same day / immediate response to serious accident, unexpected hospitalization, death in the family.

+ Return all phone call messages within 24 hours, if at all possible.

+ Spiritual leadership of Vestry meetings in consultation with the Wardens and following a prepared agenda

+ Attendance at parish fellowship events and coffee hour - with emphasis on the role of pastor and trying not to conduct church business during these social times.

+ Host dinners at Rectory or residence for principal leadership groups, such as:
Altar Guild
Lay Readers, Lectors, EMs/EVs
parish volunteers
Area clergy
Other groups.
PRIEST: (Diocesan: Empowering the people of God.)

Education: (Parochial: Grow)

+ Sermons which deepen the congregation's understanding of the texts appointed for the day and also help them link the message of the gospel to their daily life. Sermons ought to challenge and comfort, as appropriate depending on the pastoral assessment of the congregation as it relates to the particular topic.

+ Occasional sermons designed for children and young adults, either in the principle service or a service primarily for children and young adults.

+ At least one preparatory meeting with each family (including sponsors) with a candidate for baptism on a day other than the day of the baptism to: review the liturgy; discuss the meaning of the various renunciations, affirmations and vows.

+ Provide adult education - through Advent and Lenten Seasons, Adult Forums, and one or two major community events annually (e.g. Evolution, Creationism and Intelligent Design; Race, Religion & Politics).

+ Provide, through the Rector's discretionary fund, financial support (help with rent, medications, food, etc.) to members of the congregation and wider community.

+ Encourage participation in an EFM group. Initiate, support and help provide a parish-based EFM group, led by the laity of the church.

+ Participate in the Confirmation Class with the Youth Missioner, with the goal of community building, calling forth servant leadership among the confirmands, as well as a working knowledge of the scriptures, church history, the prayer book and liturgy, Christian ethics, and the development of a group “Creed”; and participate in a mission trip as well as several community service projects.

+ Provide for annual refresher/training of Eucharistic Ministers and Visitors and Lectors, as well as basic orientation/training for new EM's or EV's - including those young people who have been newly confirmed who wish to participate in this ministry of the church.

+ Guide and support a program of Christian Education of young people on Sunday mornings and/or other times in consultation with parents and young people themselves.

+ Provide for an Instructed Eucharist in small groups and/or in the Sunday morning service as needed and appropriate.

+ Meet with all families who are new to the church from other denominations to provide them with a sense of the ethos, theos and (yes) pathos of The Episcopal Church.

Liturgy: (Parochial: Celebrate)

+ Sunday morning service:
Prepare a written order of service
Conduct liturgy in accordance with the provisions of the national and Diocesan canons and the vows of ordination.
Preach on the lessons appointed by an approved lectionary
Begin on time.
+ Leadership of the Pastoral Offices in the Prayer Book as appropriate

+ Offering of worship at times other than only Sunday morning, including a regularly scheduled weekday interval (Wednesday morning 7 AM), or principal feast days.

+ Make provision for the public reading of the Daily Office (e.g. Evening Prayer every Tuesday and Thursday).

+ Train lay people to take liturgical leadership roles as provide for by the Prayer Book and the Canons.

+ Provide, in consultation with the staff and lay leadership of the congregation, musical leadership and education.

+ Design liturgical services for baptism, weddings and funerals that are personal, warm, participatory and reflective of the sacramental life of the person or persons.

+ Work closely with Altar Guild, Flower Arrangers, Acolytes, Torchbearers, Crucifer, Lectors, Eucharistic ministers, Choir, and all who participate in the liturgical leadership of the Eucharistic Leadership of the church so that the services of the church are coordinated to be dignified yet warm and personal, inspiring and comforting, with a cohesive and relevant message.

PROPHET: (Diocesan: Engaging the world. Parochial: Grow.)

+ Active membership / leadership in the community of local clergy in the diocese and among those of other denominations in the immediate area (Chatham Interfaith Council).

+ Active participation in at least one Diocesan committee or ministry

+ Active participation in at least one National Episcopal Church committee or ministry.

+ Serve on the board of at least one community organization that fulfills my personal sense of mission.

+ Work with justice / social service / community faith based organizations to fulfill the Commission of Jesus in Matthew 25.

+ Lead the people I serve to a unique sense of mission – individually as well as corporately. “If St. Paul’s closed tomorrow, what unique thing would the Episcopal Church and the community of Chatham miss most?” “When asked about St. Paul’s, what would you like to hear people say – ‘Oh, that’s the church that ______’”

+ Through sermons and Adult Education programs, call the people of God to engage the problems of the world and be vehicles of God’s love and hope.

+ Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable (as Jesus did).

STEWARD: (Serving the people of God)

+ Hire, supervise and care of staff members.

+ Weekly staff meetings to assess, evaluate and plan program.

+ Annual mutual ministry review with each staff member.

+ Coordinate with Parish Administrator to insure that all records are accurately maintained
Parochial Report
Annual Report to congregation
Parish Register
Register of all baptisms, confirmations, weddings, and funerals
Certificates of all baptisms, confirmations, weddings and burials
Certificates for all licensed parochial ministers and leaders
Review / renew certificates of insurance – church as well as those who use our space.
Review financial audit.
Supervise Memorial Garden/Columbarium
Space utilization and maintenance of buildings and grounds
+ Coordinate with Parish Treasurer/Coordinator of Finances, the supervision of
Parochial Report
Monthly and Annual Vestry / Parish report
RULE OF LIFE: Self Care / Wellness

+ On-going development and refinement of a Rule of Life which includes:
Quality family time
Observance of full weekly Sabbath
Annual physical exam
Monthly spiritual direction
Regular pastoral care/therapy
Monthly parochial supervision
Monthly clergy colleague group
Regular, daily prayer / meditation
Exercise 3-5 times per week for one hour
A daily session of creative writing
A daily session of recreational reading
A daily session of professional reading
Sunday Eucharist with at least one weekly observance of Eucharist
Strive to tithe or maintain tithe as a spiritual discipline
Regular continuing education
Cultivate healthy, collegial relationship with the bishop, clergy and laity
Observance of an annual spiritual retreat
Plan for sabbatical once every five to seven years
Empower all the baptized for the work of Servant Leadership and Ministry
Cultivate the values of gratitude, generosity and excellence; intelligence, creativity and fun in all labor, and strive for justice, peace and mercy and all aspects of my life.
Participate in regular mutual ministry reviews.


Kirkepiscatoid said...

Hey, Elizabeth...2nd drafts are supposed to be shorter, or did you miss that memo? LOL

I continue to be amazed in a positive way by this document. Yes, it's not one size fits all, but what I can tell publicly in a small parish, isolation and "wellness" can become real issues, and small parishes can have their own "family histories" of a string of "crazy priests." So what small parishes may tolerate becomes rather shocking, simply from fear of not going through the repeated rejection/abandonment of a search process. I'll e-mail more later.

Saint Pat said...

This is terrific stuff. You tackled all the key elements of an "impossible vocation."

How do you find time to do everything you do AND follow a rule of life?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

It's like this, St. Pat: If I didn't follow a Rule of Life, I couldn't do all the other things.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Got it, Kirke. Saints we ain't.

Becky Beall-Moore said...

What an amazing discussion. I am sorry to have missed the window to comment before your Round II post, but wanted to chime in, as suggested by a fellow layperson here in Colorado.

Regular continuing education is mentioned, but it is not defined to the degree that much of the rest of the document outlines. How much and what type should be obtained each year? With the exponential rate of change in today's society, how would a servant minister keep abreast of the needs of the community? There is more to "hunger" than food, shelter, mosquito nets, access to education, healthcare and other facets of traditional missionary work. This traditional work serves real needs and should not be minimized. What about this other "hunger"? How does one learn about the continually changing needs and culture of the local community? In theory, deacons are called to bring the needs of the world to the church. It seems to me that all lay and ordained people have that responsibility to engage in the world. Regular contact with other local clergy can help with this endeavor but there are probably other sources of information needed to address this topic.

I am not sure how any of the above would be included in your document. I so appreciate your efforts to further the conversation on what it means to be a leader in today's church. I wholeheartedly agree with previous comments that the work you outlined should fall to the entire parish, and not just the rector, no matter the size of the parish. I would be happy to discuss the idea of exponential change and other related topics offline, if you desire.