His very first Sunday sermon at St. Bart’s was, in a word, lonely. In a space designed to accommodate 1,300 worshipers, there were perhaps 200. Extinction not only seemed a real possibility; in a sad way it seemed to make sense, even to him. “I didn’t want to be known for being the rector of a fancy landmark and nothing more.” Mr. Tully came to the instant revelation that if reinvention was in the cards, putting new people in the pews was paramount. “A theology of radical welcome was what we needed,” he says. “Because there is no parish here in the traditional sense of a residential neighborhood, we had to become a destination church. We are loose around the edges, but solid at the core. This is a thinking person’s church.”
Now that he has grown the numbers and has a good corp of people, he has started to raise the money to repair the facilities--that will take about $100 Million. His first phase is only $30 Million, but still inconceivable by the standards of most Canadian Anglican churches. And yet he's already well on his way.
One of the comments that my Canadian colleagues always make when discussing St. Bart's is something like, "Americans aren't afraid to ask for money." And I think they may be pointing to one difference between American and Canadian Church culture, but at the heart of it I think a more profound difference is evident: American churches are more entrepreneurial in character. "Radical" initiatives of the type that made St. Bart's successful are simply more common and better accepted in the ECUSA than the ACC.
This pattern is shifting. There is a lot of talk in ministry circles about being being more entrepreneurial. That means taking risks and being creative and spending resources without a guaranteed return. I know of only a few churches in this diocese that seem to be doing that (I'd rather not name them here). And it also requires a very new kind of pastoral leader:
Only an outside-the-steeple thinker whose idea of a religious experience is donning cycling Spandex for a full-throttle 12-mile bike ride through Central Park at daybreak could be unfazed about raising $30 million — in phase one — in the current fiscal climate. So far, his parish has come up with $15 million; corporate donations, led by a $1 million gift from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, have yielded just over $2 million. Progress.
This is not your grandfather's parish priest--nor am I. Pastoral leadership that is capable of this kind of transformation requires a certain amount of edgy gumption. I'm sure that means that people like Billy Tully are weak in other areas. And I'm sure there are lots of faithful disciples out there who won't gain much from his leadership--but he sure has done a remarkable thing at St. Bart's.
I think it's a mistake when looking at examples of good clerical leadership to focus too much on what was done or even how it was done. The more fruitful question to ask is about the character of someone like Billy Tully. What sort of person is he? How does he live? What does he care about. Where does he spend his time? And so forth. Alas, a short profile in the New York Times won't help me much in this regard.
Another church that gets talked about a lot is St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco. I see that they are hosting a conference on leadership in late January. I'm tempted to go--it seems right where I am. As usual, though, much will depend on the timing of things.