The people of St. James have spoken

You love the choir.

No, let me take that back. You don’t just love the choir, you LOVE!!!!!! the choir and everything associated with our music program at St. James. You loved Cliff McPhaden, who got our choir started, and now you love Gretchen Timmer, who succeeded Cliff as music director. You love the new music we’ve introduced on Sunday mornings, and you want to see more of the same going forward. The only thing better than our choir would be our choir twice as big.

That’s one thing I heard loud and clear at our Parish Round Table on Sunday. Of all the new things we’ve undertaken in the past year, our increased emphasis on music has been the thing most people have noticed and are happiest about.

We talked about a lot of things at the Round Table, and I invited you all to put in writing three “joys,” two “wishes” and one “fear” regarding St. James. I’ll summarize what I heard you say, and what you chose to put in writing.

Besides the choir, another unqualified success of this past year has been our emphasis on bright, lively, inviting communications. A number of you mentioned how much you enjoy Gleanings from the Wheat Field, and others mentioned our new website.

Another point of great pride is our new relationship with St. Clare’s, the Tuesday evening ministry to the homeless and hungry in Denver’s Baker neighborhood. St. James has taken over the “fifth Tuesday” slot, meaning whenever there are five Tuesdays in a month – as there are in October – we’ll be there to staff the kitchen and dining room and serve dinner to St. Clare’s guests. This is a new ministry for us, and we’ve only gone once, in August. But the people who went called it a life-changing experience, and are committed to going again and again.

And for those who attend, our Sunday evening Dinner Church has become a much-loved time of fellowship, sharing and fun.

Another highlight for multiple people was the Inquirers’ class this spring, a 10-week class that culminated in 10 people being confirmed, received or renewing their baptismal vows. I’m happy to say we’ll be offering that class again next year, and yes, Mike Koechner will be coming back to co-lead it. Mike ranks only slightly behind the choir in popularity!

People also loved the St. James Day festivities, our ethnic dining group, our all-inclusive bulletins, our chapel, the Blessing of the Animals, our pastoral response to the Las Vegas shootings, the Thanksgiving service and feast, our coffee mugs, our deacon, our parish administrator, and the impressive efforts of our junior warden to restore everything damaged in the May hailstorm.

Folks were reluctant to identify too many things they do not like, and it’s hard to know whether that’s because everything’s really hunky-dory or you’re just too polite to complain. But I did hear some consternation over the rubric suggesting that worshipers stand during prayer. I think we can fix that easily enough by just removing that rubric altogether. If you prefer to kneel during prayer, by all means, do so. If kneeling is difficult and you prefer a sort of half-kneeling, half-sitting posture – I think scooch is the verb we’re looking for, though it’s not in the Prayer Book – please do so. And if you want to keep on standing, that’s fine too.

There’s also some dismay about the Prayers of the People on Rite II Sundays. We’ve been writing our own, but some folks miss the standardized language, miss hearing the same words week after week. We can return to one of the forms in the Prayer Book. We’ll try this for awhile, and see how it feels.

As far as wishes for the coming year, seems like most folks really do want the choir to continue to expand. This is my goal too! We’re searching for enough funding to make that happen, and are hoping we get a grant to help with the costs.

Others want to see us continue to expand our outreach to vulnerable populations, especially the homeless, children, and the LGBT community. You would like to see us interact more with other congregations, and maybe establish a relationship with a sister congregation in another country.

Finally, most folks fervently want to see St. James grow, and several believe that to do that, we need to move exclusively to Rite II, rather than alternating between Rite I and Rite II. That, or we need to go back to two services, because Rite I at our principle service is seen as off-putting to newcomers.

As far as fears go, we are pretty much of one mind: We can’t bear to see disharmony lead to people leaving St. James. We’ve had a bellyful of people leaving in the past because they could not simply agree to disagree, and we want that to end. We also fear that our lack of finances don’t just limit our prospects for growth, we are actually on a trajectory that will ultimately be unsustainable.

So these are the conversations we’ll be having in the coming year. We’ll need to look long at hard at fund-raising and stewardship, at where we want to invest our resources and where we do not. We’ll need to talk about more ways to reach out to our community and bring in new members, including potential changes to our service. And we need to have these conversations in ways that are respectful and grounded in the love we bear for one another.

Many thanks to all who took the time to attend the Round Table, to speak out and to make your feelings known. It is a gift to be part of such a community as this, and I pray that God continues to bless St. James.