From “Mission” to “Parish”
Our St. Mary’s vestry (leadership body of the church) recently met on Wednesday, June 18th. At that meeting the vestry was joined by Parish Finance Committee Chair Brian Hoffman. Along with our Parish Treasurer Mike Sterk, Brian wanted to talk with the vestry about making a decision to not apply for diocesan aide in the year 2015. Along with Brian’s and Mike’s comments was a document created by Stewardship Committee Chair and recent Treasurer Carl Eschweiler. Carl’s document pointed out the amazing growth our parish has seen over these past ten years in virtually every category that can be measured: membership, number of members pledging (making a financial commitment) to the parish, overall stewardship, outreach, and more. His document also told a story of support from the Diocese of Milwaukee. Over the past ten years, we’ve received in annual aid from the Diocese over $200,000. This is direct aid to our operating budget and does not include the help we’ve received in building our new church.
As a parish that receives diocesan aid we are designated a “mission”. This means that we are dependent on the Diocese and as a result of that relationship of dependence we have certain responsibilities to diocesan staff in terms of reporting, getting our budget approved, setting and reporting on a variety of benchmarks, having the bishop’s input on Fr. Scott’s compensation, etc. St. Mary’s is a “mission” and this means that Bishop Miller is actually our Rector, or Pastor of the congregation. Fr. Scott, in this system, is a “vicar”. A vicar is one who represents another. Fr. Scott serves at St. Mary’s as the bishop’s vicar.
As our parish has grown, we’ve taken some pretty amazing leaps of faith. When Fr. Scott was called to be our parish priest in 2003, we had one service on Sunday morning and an average attendance of around 45. Over time, we’ve grown to add a wide variety of ministries and outreach opportunities, seeking to be a spiritual home for anyone who is searching for a place to belong. As a result of outgrowing our beautiful small church, in the year 2008, during the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression, we felt the call to build a church! We have had two full-fledged capital campaigns and a recent “celebration” campaign and as result we will be paying off our entire building debt on the fifth anniversary of the dedication of the new church.
Now we come to another leap of faith. Our parish leadership, in a unanimous decision by your vestry, has decided that it is time to cease being a “mission” and to grow into the greater independence and responsibilities that come with the status of “parish”. We are stepping out in faith trusting that God, who has begun some much growth and life and vitality among us will continue to bless us as we offer thanks to the Diocese for the years of support and accept that we are called to a time of parish maturity and self-support.
The bishop is enthusiastic about this transition. He wants to hold up St. Mary’s as the first example of a parish that has received diocesan aid and then grown to a point where that aid is no longer necessary. What we have here is unique and worth celebrating. Our transition from “mission” to “parish” will most likely take place at the diocesan convention this fall. More information about this will be forthcoming.
If we no longer need a “vicar” when we are a are a full-fledged parish, then what happens? Your vestry will be faced with the responsibility to elect a rector. They can elect Fr. Scott to this position if they choose and if Fr. Scott accepts and if this arrangement has the bishop’s blessing. At this point, this is looking like it will come to pass after we achieve “parish” status in the fall. To our parish members, there will be little if any noticeable changes in the way we live as a worshiping community of faith. However, the change is a significant one that will call for our parish leadership and all our members to continue to support and be part of the mission, ministry and life of St. Mary’s.