CASE STUDY: Christ Church Alameda, Diocese of California

1700 Santa Clara Avenue
Alameda, California 94501
Tel. (510) 523-7200

Homepage: http://christchurchalameda.org/

Contacts:

The Rev Kathy Crary, Rector

The Rev Anne Jensen, Interim Rector

Jean Brennan, Co-chair

Jim Keltner, Co-chair

Background

The year and one-half call process at Christ Church Alameda ended with the selection of the Rev Kathy Crary to be Rector in November 2010.  Rev. Crary previously served as the Interim Rector at St. James Episcopal Church in Fremont, California. CEC’s previous Rector, Reverend Edward Thompson (Ted), decided to pursue a Master’s degree in peace and reconciliation in Washington, D.C. When Father Ted shared his plans, the Vestry stepped in to lead us during this transition. CEC spent the next six weeks devoted to our goodbye – and making certain that we as a congregation were sending Father Ted and his family to Washington, D.C. with our love and gratitude. The Vestry appointed an Interim Rector, Reverend Anne Jensen, and began the process of developing a search committee for the very important task of finding a new parish priest for CEC.

Discernment Process

In developing our parish profile, our discernment included four all-parish forums, a parish survey, and one-on-one meetings with three other important stakeholders in the parish: our youth, our paid staff members, and our unpaid clergy. This self-study effort spanned a five-month period. This profile also represented research, questioning, reflection and prayer. It tells of our history, our past experience, our present life and our hopes for our new Rector.

In a CEC parish survey most of the responding parishioners have increased or maintained their current level of involvement in the church in the previous two years. We are satisfied or very satisfied with our relationship with God, our spiritual growth and our community. We continue to attend Christ Church because of friendships, fellowship, a faith community for our children, and the Episcopal denomination. Morale is high and there is a sense of excitement for the future.

What We Seek in a New Rector

We sought a spiritual leader who will love and care for our community. Based on our shared values and acknowledged challenges, CEC sought a spiritual leader with proven experience in a comparably sized Episcopal parish. We wanted as rector someone who feels a continued calling to serve as a parish priest. We sought an individual of deep faith and personal integrity and wanted our Rector to be knowledgeable about the tenets of our Christian faith, our church’s history, and our current Episcopal liturgical and religious practice. We wanted our new Rector to be a clear communicator who is able to explain these matters in everyday terms and make the Gospel relevant to our daily lives. We sought a compelling speaker who is able to inspire and motivate us through sermons. We asked for sermons that are scripture-based and thought-provoking, and which challenge us to personally apply Christian standards to our lives regardless of our individual political beliefs.

We wanted a priest who has the pastoral experience to counsel us as individuals and to lead us as a congregation in the task of defining a clear common vision. We seek a Rector with demonstrated leadership in—and for—a parish that is welcoming of all people. We seek someone who can nurture a community which is diverse in age, cultural background, economic resources, sexual orientation, and political viewpoint. Our new Rector should be open to multiple points of view and have the ability to understand and collaborate with all stakeholders, both within and outside our congregation.

Our Rector needs to be a sound administrator with proven delegation skills. We wanted the Rector be able to guide and encourage the staff, and inspire, renew and grow our lay leadership. We desired a leadership style that encourages open discussion, that empowers the staff, lay leaders, and congregation to share in decision-making, and that ensures transparent communication. We sought a leader with flexibility and the grace to smoothly change gears and adapt to change as needed.

Christ Church has a firm commitment to its growing Children & Youth program and wanted a Rector who has worked closely with such programs. We seek someone who enjoys and is comfortable with young people and their active participation in all facets of church life. Christ Church also wants to continue its ecumenical development and involvement with the Alameda community and beyond. We are in discernment with nearby Oakland parishes in regard to area ministry and look forward to guidance from our new rector in this matter.

We looked for a Rector who is accessible, approachable, and a good listener. We want someone who has a good sense of humor. We want someone who will actively join in our parish events and programs and will be with us in mind, body and spirit. We hope our new rector will be tolerant of well-intended criticism and understands that no one can please everyone all the time. We look for a rector who feels at ease with people of all ages and wants to share our lives. We look for someone who can serve as a role model for all parishioners, young and old.

And we look for the attribute that is the key to bringing all this together: humility. From this most basic (and most difficult) trait will flow many of the other traits needed to lead a spiritual community. From humility will flow the message our community wants to hear from the rector – “I am not in charge. God is. All is well. Rejoice.”

Parish History

Our parish has a long history of serving Alameda and its surrounding communities. CEC opened its doors for worship in 1871 – and today we remain an active and strong parish serving over 360 communicants, including 100 children and youth. We are members of the Episcopal Diocese of California and the Alameda Deanery.

We at CEC are a welcoming and diverse community: in age, cultural background, economic resources, sexual orientation and political viewpoint. We are a strong community of faith; we have a deep commitment to caring for God’s creation, and for the community of CEC and beyond our parish. We enjoy the fellowship of spending time together: to laugh, to play and to pray. This is the heart of who we are. Fellowship brings us together in our faith, and strengthens our ties to one another and to our relationship with God.

Christ Church is an historic organization, predating the city of Alameda. The first Episcopal services were held in a private home in 1869 by the Rector of the Church of the Advent in Oakland (now St. James’). By 1870 lay-led services were being held regularly in the ―village’’ (Alameda). Christ Church parish was organized and entered into union with the Diocese of California at the 1871 Diocesan Convention. In 1872 the Parish was incorporated, with the Reverend Sidney Wilbur becoming the first of our 19 rectors. The Church has had four rectors who later served as bishops: the Reverends H.H. Shires, Sumner Walters, A. Porter and G. Richard Millard.

Who We Are at Christ Church Alameda

We – the people – are the church. Christ Church is a welcoming community with many intergenerational bonds, a source of family and fun. We embrace our children and youth and they are an integral part of our parish. We see ourselves as strong and tenacious, yet flexible.

The people of CEC prize our reputation and image as a warm, welcoming body. We feel that we are an intergenerational community of friends who are accepting of all people. We strive to continue to extend our circle of Christian fellowship.

We are a Eucharist-centered parish which provides the spiritual grounding for our programs and outreach efforts. While many of these activities involve devotion to doing God’s work, our approach is celebratory, light-hearted and fun. We believe that joy, laughter and doing good works bind us together as a community.

We are there for each other in times of trouble. Although we are not ethnically diverse, we have a diversity of experience and are accepting and tolerant of others with different backgrounds, social, and political beliefs. We value independent thinking and the ability to make our own decisions.

The majority of parishioners have joined Christ Church in the past 15 years. Our size and make-up place us between pastoral and program size churches. In our last report to the diocese, we had 360 communicants in good standing. The average Sunday attendance between the two services is 170 people. Easter Sunday attendance was 370 in 2009. Over 100 children are enrolled in our Church School.

Challenges We Face

The primary challenge we see facing Christ Church is creating a clearly articulated vision and a strategic implementation plan for our future. As a congregation, we have looked at where our parish is in terms of our organizational life cycle. We found that our parish is robust and mature. Although we are proud of our many successful programs and activities, these are not coordinated and directed toward a set of common agreed-upon goals. We need creative leadership in addressing this issue and renewing a clear direction for our church.

A related challenge is that we hover in size between being a pastoral and a program church. Because the congregation does not have a shared vision for our future, there is uncertainty whether we should (again) apply our energies to growing into a program-centered church.

One of the most frequently expressed concerns within the parish is financial. For several years, in a concerted attempt to grow programs by adding an Associate Rector, Christ Church operated at a deficit. During that time we were able to conduct a successful capital campaign, which resulted in acquiring and renovating a rectory, in renovating the parish hall, and in making other improvements to the campus. However we were not able to successfully grow a continuing pledge base to support the larger staff. We have now returned to being a one-priest parish and to operating within a balanced budget based on less than-full-time staff positions. Although the parish survey indicates that our parish family could support a larger pledge base, we have yet to discover the key to making that base a continuing reality. Christ Church also faces challenges in staffing its programs. We are concerned about sustaining and growing our volunteer base and recruiting additional lay leaders to reinvigorate our programs and avoid potential burn-out.

Our goals for the 2010 stewardship campaign were threefold: 1) to involve all parishioners in the practice and spiritual discipline of pledging money; 2) to reach $300,000 in pledged dollars to sustain and, as possible, increase the ministries we shepherd; and 3) to increase the number of people offering their talents through Christ Church’s ministry teams as a practice of good stewardship. At the Annual Meeting in late January, it was announced that we had exceeded our goal with pledges totaling $315,000. We received 110 pledges, including 12 from new parishioners totaling $26,000.

Our 2009 budget was $416,410, of which we ultimately received $396,973. Expenses in 2009 totaled $393,627, resulting in a surplus of $3,346 due to the absence of our rector for two months. Thanks to a successful stewardship campaign, we began 2010 with a balanced budget of $426,722. However, with 80% of our funds going to fixed costs (salaries, benefits, and Diocesan assessment), there is limited discretionary funding available to support our ministries, facilities, and outreach.

We have a vibrant and energized childrens program, yet we lack comparable adult spiritual formation programs. We are concerned about nurturing our adult education programs to strengthen our parishioner’s faith lives beyond what they glean from weekly worship services.

While we are blessed with many talented musicians, we are challenged to meet the demands of weekly practice required for a strong choral music program. We would like to fully staff our choir and other music ministries such as childrens choirs and bell choir.

Christ Church and several Oakland parishes are responding together to the diocesan call to area ministry. A series of meetings is in progress during which parishes share their ministries in various fields, to best determine how they might support each other and achieve a greater effect by working together. We look forward to guidance from our new rector in defining how Christ Church will best participate in area ministry and in implementing this new program area.

Finally, communications remain an issue. There is a desire to increase transparency in communications among commissions, the Vestry, and the parish as a whole. While we strive to share knowledge about parish events via our website, weekly emails, and a monthly newsletter, we are concerned that these communication channels are not effectively reaching everyone, especially newcomers.

Lessons from Christ Church Alameda

A key to the successful conclusion of the CEC search process was taking the time to be true to itself.  Listening to the faith journey aspirations of its members to do the mission work of the church renewed its spirit and set the stage for an expectant future with the new rector.  Naming the challenges the parish faced made them more manageable by getting the parish focused on creating and sustaining the critical mass of participation to make it happen and praying for the resources and follow through to make it happen.  Another key lesson is that the issues faced by CEC are many of the same faced today at St. Timothy’s even though the parishes are different sizes, different stages of growth.  Change is always a difficult thing, but knowing that God is with us and guiding us each step of the way strengthens our faith.

The discernment process at Christ Church was careful and deliberate and the new rector, Rev. Kathy Crary, has been on both sides as an Interim Rector at St James and now the new rector at CEC. The discernment process included preparation of the parish profile, survey and town hall meetings to frame the challenges the parish faces.  THE SEARCH COMMITTEE’S PREP WORK TAKES TIME AND PATIENCE EVEN THOUGH THE CONGREGATION WANTS TO GO FASTER.  Another lesson seems to be that the congregation needs time to be open to the leadership of the new Rector to lead them forward to face those challenges. Rush the search process and the chances of making a mistake grow exponentially. That seems to be one of the most important lessons for the Search Committee—the job of the search committee is not just finding a new rector but preparing the vestry and congregation to be ready to welcome that new person with a clear consensus about the aspiration and needs facing the parish as a roadmap for the future.

Prepared by Gary Hunt for Discernable Futures, December 2010

NOTE:  This case study is a work in progress and subject to change.  I reached out to talk with Rev. Clary, the new Rector and Jim Keltner, the co-chair of the selection committee but will not be able to talk with them until after the first of the year.  Once I do talk with them I will revise this case study to incorporate their views and their implications for the lessons for St. Timothy’s selection process.

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