Santa Rosa, Incarnation, OTM Answers

 1. Describe a moment in your worshiping community’s recent ministry which you recognize as one of success and fulfillment. 

Saturday afternoon, June 6, 2015, over 100 parishioners, each wearing distinctive red “VOLUNTEER” t-shirts, returned home after an exhausting day that began at 5:00am. With each “goodbye,” all shared a smiling moment of pride in a job well done. T sty: Our Stewardship Committee sought to accomplish an annual event to draw the public to our campus, and raise funds for outreach. We organized a bike ride, the “Incarnation 100: A Benefit for Homeless Services” ( Each year, about 200 cyclists from near and far pay a fee to ride 100, 65, 45, or 30 mile routes through beautiful Sonoma County. At ride’s end, they are rewarded with a sumptuous feast. Over the 3 years, $50,000 has been distributed to our 3 outreach ministries: Sunday Open Table, St. Andrew’s Food Program, and The Living Room. Most fulfilling has been how this event draws together over 150 parish volunteers each year, many of whom had once been strangers to those attending different worship times. Considering that this lay-driven event was accomplished during a transition period with our clergy, our resounding and continuing success in this endeavor has been most gratifying.

2. How are you preparing yourselves for the Church of the future? 

Incarnation recognizes and acknowledges the general trend of society’s movement away from the Church. Therefore, we consider it a priority to connect to and engage with the broader community in Sonoma County through our events and outreach programs, which we consider vivid and authentic representations of our values. We cherish visitors and newcomers, and seek to invite and incorporate new members to actively participate in our church. Many retired people are moving into the area to communities like Oakmont, resulting in a significant source of new members. In addition families and young people can contribute their own unique spiritual perspective in development of our church community. We look forward to new opportunities to be involved with others outside the church, to draw in youth, young families, seniors, embrace our diversity, and continue progressing toward the practice of inclusion, fellowship and sharing the message of God’s unconditional love.

3. Please provide words describing the gifts and skills essential to the future leaders of your worshiping community. 

Members of the church have voiced what they think are some of the most important qualities for the next rector of Incarnation: Appreciation and strong support of the music in our worship; guiding development of children and youth programs; compassionate and empathetic pastoral care; preparing and leading worship services; continuing the strong tradition of inspiring sermons; visionary leadership with administrative and managerial skills; conflict resolution; facilitating the setting of goals for our future as a church; ability and commitment to develop and support coordinated lay leadership; vision of and commitment to developing a coordinated program to welcome and integrate newcomers into the parish and its ministries; reading/continuing education; taking regular family/personal time.

4. Describe your liturgical style and practice of all types of worship services provided by your community. 

Incarnation has 3 Sunday services: 8:00 a.m. (Rite I) is contemplative in nature, without music; 9:15 a.m. (Rite II) is more relaxed and family-friendly; 11:15 a.m. (Rite I) is more traditional. At the heart of our worship is the Holy Eucharist and we value a reverential approach. Even in a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere, we tend to have “High Church” leanings: torches, prayer votives, Sanctus bells, vested Eucharistic Ministers, and incense on occasion. We have a rich and meaningful Holy Week that includes a Palm Sunday processional, Tenebrae, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Stations of the Cross, the Great Vigil, and a glorious Easter Sunday. Four mornings a week there is an 8:00 a.m. lay-led Morning Prayer service; and occasional choral Evensong services. Once a month we offer a one-hour Taizé-inspired service of simple chant, with guitar accompaniment, and silent prayer. Both 9:15 and 11:15 services have choirs that sing a variety of traditional and contemporary pieces, including Anglican chant. Both the 1982 Hymnal and WLP are used. A magnificent Casavant organ accompanies our musical offerings. Every year on Good Friday a major requiem with orchestra is performed.

5. How do you practice incorporating others in ministry? 

Fellowship hour, held in Farlander Hall following Sunday services, is a great time to make connections with others and meet new members of the congregation. When we recognize someone who has recently joined our church spending time socializing and connecting with others after church, it’s an opportunity to approach them and ask them if they would be interested in joining a volunteer ministry such as serving food for the homeless, joining the choir, or helping to do some gardening around the grounds on a church work day. We also use the Sunday bulletin, announcements during services, our website, Facebook, weekly newsletters and eblasts to share opportunities to join in our ministry. EfM has been very effective in bringing participants to expanded and deepened commitment to our ministries. Beyond extending a friendly greeting and welcome to newcomers at coffee hour, we endeavor to be more intentional in developing a strategy to invite and incorporate new and existing people into ministry and a sense of belonging, to help people find their way into meaningful activities and relationships.

6. As a worshiping community, how do you care for your spiritual, emotional and physical well-being?

We encourage participation within the church in many forms, whether through simply attending worship or involvement in ministry groups (such as the Altar Guild). Our many offerings include Morning Prayer conducted by lay leaders, book clubs, Bible study groups, seasonal events for adults and children alike (e.g., Lenten series, Advent wreath-making, Día de los Muertos altar decoration, seasonal parties, BBQs, Easter festivities, etc.), spiritual formation studies such as EfM, Numina events for the arts, and various additional programs during Advent and Lent, sessions of silent contemplation, and healing prayer that is offered in the side chapel during worship services. For those with physical limitations, Incarnation’s Pastoral Care Committee assists by transporting members to and from church, providing meals to those with short term needs, and scheduling Eucharistic visits on request.

7. How do you engage in pastoral care for those beyond your worshiping community? 

Our St. Andrew’s Food program serves the Russian River area by distributing over 100 bags of groceries weekly. Sunday Open Table provides a hot breakfast weekly for 75-125 people from the street community. We support the Living Room, founded at Incarnation, which provides shelter, respite and supportive services to homeless women and children during the day when shelters are closed. Heavenly Treasures Thrift Shop offers clothing and household goods to the public and the clients of the Living Room. Heavenly Treasures revenues contribute to most of our other outreach projects. Incarnation 100, a bike ride and after party, is a fund-raiser to support these three Incarnation Outreach programs. Burbank School Volunteers tutor and mentor the predominantly low-income students.

8. Describe your worshiping community’s involvement in either the wider Church or geographical region. 

Incarnation is consistently involved in regional and diocesan activities. Examples include our sponsorship of St. Andrew’s Mission in Monte Rio and former rectors have served as Dean of our deanery. We consistently send a full delegation to our diocesan convention, and at this time Incarnation parishioners are serving on the diocesan board of trustees and as diocesan treasurer. As the second largest parish outside the cathedral, we have a large diocesan apportionment which we faithfully pay. We support CDSP, the Episcopal Relief Fund, and the Bishop’s discretionary fund. We participate in the Interfaith Sustainable Food Collaborative and in the interfaith Seniors in Transition Program. We have also hosted internships for transitional deacons on their way to ordination. We have a vibrant teenage youth group that has participated in diocesan pilgrimages (Pathways). Youth from other local parishes have joined our youth on mission trips and other activities.

9. Tell about a ministry that your worshiping community has initiated in the past five years. 

Our Sunday Open Table ministry feeds Santa Rosa’s neediest people. Every Sunday, our doors open at 6 a.m. and over 100 guests from the street community are welcomed. A hearty and nutritious hot buffet breakfast is served. Bagged lunches, toiletries and clothing items are also offered. This ministry has its roots in the simple act of providing hospitality to a few men who came in from the streets for coffee. When we discovered that no local agencies offered Sunday morning meals, parishioners responded to this need. 30-50 volunteers work regularly to organize and serve the weekly breakfasts. Most are parishioners, several are from the street community. There is an array of tasks that encourage persons of all abilities, schedules, and ages to find a way to participate. Over 75 volunteers have worked in this ministry in the last five years. It has been an effective ministry in attracting new church members. This is a grass-roots ministry, not initiated by vestry or clergy; but rather built up by concerned members who responded to Jesus’s teachings. Fundraised income matches expense. Sunday Open Table’s program and processes are still evolving, and lay leaders being developed.

10. What is your practice of stewardship and how does it shape the life of your worshiping community? 

We understand stewardship to be caring for those things with which God has entrusted us. It includes all that we have and do here—responsibility for buildings and grounds, liturgical supplies, worship services, programs and activities, and one another. We appreciate that we have inherited a church and a parish that have existed for almost 150 years and that we are responsible for taking care of it and growing it for those present and those who will come after us. We are fortunate to have parishioners who are talented and skilled in many areas and who are willing to exercise those talents and skills for the good of the parish. We are grateful to have parishioners who consistently and lovingly pledge and deliver financial support to that end. We place an emphasis on open and intentional expressions of gratitude and encourage proportional giving. In 2015 many individuals stood from the pews during all three services and spoke from the heart about what Incarnation means to them. In 2016 small-group house meetings were held for parishioners to discuss how Incarnation has blessed their lives and their personal giving practices.

11. What is your worshiping community’s experience of conflict? How have you addressed it?

We have had a fair amount of experience with conflict in the past several years. A significant part of our history is that we have had priests leave under difficult circumstances; both the result of conflict and the cause of more conflict in the parish. With many of our conflicts, we respond just as you might imagine that a large, diverse, passionate family that had never done family counseling might. Some people might say, “Least said, soonest mended”; some might say, “We need to talk about this”; some might say, “I don’t know what’s going on here. It must be secret”; and others who thought they knew the “truth” turned out to be like the blind men and the elephant. The upshot of that response is some members leave our parish and some who remain are angry or dispirited. To address conflict we have hired professionals trained in conflict resolution. However, this is an area in which we still need skillful leadership and training for the development of our skills. We have worked hard over the past two years to be a healthy parish, and want our new rector to continue that work with us.

12. What is your experience leading/addressing change in the church? When has it gone well? When has it gone poorly? What did you learn?

A positive change was relocating and reassigning staff office space, resulting in increased visibility and accessibility both for parishioners and the visiting public. The Parish Administrator and Director of Spiritual Formation’s offices had been difficult to find and had little room for visitors. Now their offices are near the main entrance, open and welcoming, hubs of activity, and close to the Rector’s office. The success of this move can be attributed to open dialogue, a better use of physical space, and consideration of all options. Changing the Sunday School schedule without first receiving input from families did not go as well. Sunday School attendance declined and a few families left the church. Eventually the original schedule was restored, but not all families returned. Change at Incarnation can sometimes be difficult and met with opposition if people don’t have enough information or feel their opinions haven’t been heard or considered. It’s essential to create space in which change is not feared, where we are inspired to welcome change through transparency, conversation and consistent messages, delivered often, in many different ways.

© 2013 The Episcopal Diocese of Northern California.

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