Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Environics - Initial Meeting

Sometimes I worry about colleagues that get too caught up in metrics and data. There is a way in which mathematical abstraction can be such a powerful narrative that it actually changes the questions to ask so as to be answerable by what you can measure. In truth, most of what makes church holy is simply not quantifiable in a helpful way. So I'm always cautious about approaches to mission that don't begin with questions before looking at data. The other problem with "big data" is that having too much information can be as detrimental to good decision making as having too little data, as many studies have demonstrated.

(A classic example of this is how Doctors can make a more accurate differential diagnosis between stroke and heart attack if they are only given five pieces of information than if they are given an entire chart's worth of test results.)

In our case, we have some questions in mind. Questions like, "What sort of people are near our church during the day time?" and "What are the most important social values to the people who live within a 5 minute walk of the church?" There are many ways to find out, but one of the best (arguably) is simply to hire a company to do some serious data mining.

The company we have chosen to work with is called Environics Analytics. They are a market research firm that provides data and analysis to support decision making to companies and other groups. I chose them based on the recommendations of two priests whom I trust. They did a lot of work for St. Paul's Bloor Street, and the staff there was thrilled with the results. Since then, Environics has done an extensive, long-term project for the United Church of Canada.

When Catherine, the company rep, came to the church, I was impressed by how thoroughly grounded she was in the culture of church and the sorts of questions we might want. In fact, she is a church-goer herself, so she has an inside perspective from both worlds. She discussed in detail the sorts of products available from her company, and after two hours walked away with a plan. She is writing a proposal that will go in stages, which means that we will have time to digest one chunk of data before we commit to the next piece we wish to investigate.

That's important, because we don't need every piece of data at Environics disposal. It would be overwhelming, and might even lead to a kind of paralysis. Better to have the questions, first, and then seek the answers.

Nor will this be the only tool we will employ to understand the neighbourhood. I definitely want to do some other research. Wandering around with a camera and taking interesting snap shots be a start. So would sitting in one place and making notes about everyone who passes. I'd like to do some traffic and pedestrian counts. I already have a volunteer who has promised to look into some of the nearby coffee shops and see how much they actually charge for coffee, among other things. I don't think we are in direct competition with them, but it is useful to know what they are up to (just like I think it's important to know what other Anglican churches are trying).

So "with the blessing" I'll write more about the experience of using this demographic tool as the process unfolds.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Looking for a Pioneer Minister

Subsequent to my last post.... I am very much looking for a Pioneer Minister/Church Planter type interested in being the on-the-ground point person to manage this space once it is created. Could be ordained or not. Could be Anglican or not. Actually, there is much to like about a non-Anglican, non-ordained person leading a Fresh Expression of this sort. I suppose the perfect candidate might be a combination of Pernell Goodyear and Nadia Bolz-Weber. And you if you don't know who they are, take a look, I'll wait.....

BTW, Pernell has lots of tattoos, too, you just can't seem them under his long sleeved shirt on the Hillside Church website. Before Hillside Pernell was the Pastor of a Café Church run under the auspices of the Salvation Army. His way of describing that experience at the Vital Church Planting Conference a few years ago was influential on my own sense of vision for Café Messiah--however there are lots of other examples of this sort of Fresh Expression I have also encountered in the last six or seven years of really paying attention to Missional Church.
A fresh expression is a form of church for our changing culture established primarily for the benefit of people who are not yet members of any church.
  • It will come into being through principles of listening, service, incarnational mission and making disciples.
  • It will have the potential to become a mature expression of church shaped by the gospel and the enduring marks of the church and for its cultural context.
That definition is a good place to start. note the emphasis of being a benefit to people who are not yet members of any church. It's not just that we cannot assume any kind of previous church experience of theological/biblical literacy; we in fact must orient ourselves to expect the exact opposite. That means tossing much of how we do things out of the window for the sake of going after these wandering sheep.

There are such things as wild sheep, you know. They are notoriously difficult to hunt because they occupy high ground, well defended by the sheer difficulty of approach. What I need is a partner to help me climb those cliffs. In fact, I hope to find someone that can climb higher and faster than I can!

So, I'm developing proposals on multiple fronts. I have some meetings this week, and I'm praying that they will bear rich fruit. I am also putting the word out that I am looking for a pioneer minister with gifts for hospitality and this sort of Fresh Expressions ministry. I can't promise any pay initially, but I'm hoping to create a business model for the space that will generate enough income to pay this person (and, indeed, I think this is quite reasonable considering the low overhead of operating out of a church building that is already paid for, insured, and heated).

If your are reading this in 2013 and you know anybody, or consider yourself to be led by the Spirit in this way, give me a shout out through the usual means: phone/e-mail/twitter/facebook/blog-comments/google+ etc.! I'm not a hard guy to reach!

Sermon: Vestry Sunday 2013

Here is my "Charge to Vestry" from this year's annual meeting of the church. I was excited to talk about my ideas for the future of the parish, but was far sloppier here in my presentation than I had intended. The fact that I hadn't slept the night before at all probably had something to do with that, but still the ideas were there even the articulation was not! Actually, my thinking was that I wasn't really out to carefully argue the point, anyway, but to present the idea and convey my passion for it--and I think I did those things very well.


Monday, February 25, 2013

Annual Vestry: 2013

The Annual Vestry meeting of the church is equivalent to the Annual General Meeting of most Canadian non-profit organizations. The authority for most decisions (including, critically, the budget/expenditures) actually belongs to the gathering of all voting members of the church (known as the "Vestry"). Of course, it would be extremely inconvenient to convene Vestry every week--so they grant the authority to spend money to the Wardens by approving the budget. There is lots of other business to do and discuss, as well, and it is a time for the church to take stock and layout priorities and plans for the next year.

Perhaps these means that this is religion at its most organized, and I know that is unfashionable. But on the other hand it means that our process of governing ourselves, in the Anglican Church, is consultative and participatory. It may be the case that I strongly suggested a direction I think we should head, but if the people don't agree that have an easy way to reign me in! Church's are not dictatorships!

So her is a copy of the Annual Vestry Report. You can see that I make an effort to make it look somewhat attractive and readable by laying it out in InDesign and adding some pictures. If I had more time or a design-gifted volunteer I could have made it even more beautiful, but it's better than 80% of the Vestry Reports I've seen, and that's a start!

Note that I am asking the church to commit to a major project: to develop a Community Centre/Coffee shop/Third Space on the first floor of our church. I believe strongly that creating such a space has the potential to transform our church into a place of heightened relevance to our neighbours. We can a need in this community by providing a safe "third-space" of hospitality. Doing so will, of course, provide a platform for appropriate evangelism. By "appropriate," I mean that it is suited to the particular people in this time and place, and not some other. That will entail a period of listening and observation.

I spoke passionately about this in my sermon. I believe, strongly, and in my gut, that the time has come for us to launch this Fresh Expression of church. I believe that the resources are now available to us, and that the people are available to us. I also believe that I am now the leader now ready to do this work.

Exciting times at Messiah! I'll blog a lot more about my ideas on a day when I'm not supposed to be thinking about my ideas (Mondays are my sabbath).

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Messiah Website Relaunch

The last few weeks have been a time of heightened productivity for me. Lent has always been a good time for me to knock through a bunch of projects, and part of that comes the place it occupies in the church year: things have settled in after the fall (when people come back to more frequent attendance), and the congregation has gotten through Christmas. By the time Lent comes around you, as the Rector or Pastor, know pretty well who you've got and what they are capable of. Also, you see the spring unfolding before you are realize that summer will be here before you know it, and advancing projects then will be difficult.

So.... for a long time I've wanted to re-do my church's website. The original website, while not bad, was "hard-coded" in HTML/CSS. That meant that in order to change the site, someone (me), had to manually edit each page or stylesheet. That wasn't a problem for me, I have Wordpress and know HTML well enough that I could easily make the pages do what I wanted, especially when I used Dreamweaver to do it. However, I quickly found the limitation to this approach: only I could change the site! So much for involving the people, let alone having another staff member do it, let alone delegating the various parts of the site to the people that might be passionate about them.

For several years the solution has been obvious. What I needed was a Content Management System (CMS)--preferably one that was open source and free. I considered Joomla for a time, but then Brian Bukowski (web manager at the Anglican Church of Canada) told me that I should look at Wordpress and I've been hooked ever since. It's dead-easy to install and customize, and there are tons of pre-designed "themes" available at all price points (including free). Modifying such themes is pretty easy, as well, as long you know HTML/CSS and a little PHP.

The problem, I found, was that my church's website was hosted by Bell, and their standard business webhosting package for medium-sized companies doesn't give you a database. In order to get that feature you have to upgrade to an exorbitant package. I asked a sales rep about purchases this service a la cart, and the price was similarly ridiculous given that most webhosting companies (like GoDaddy or iPage) throw that in with even their most basic plans. In general, Bell's webhosting sucks, anyway, with antiquated tools and interfaces. Even their webmail interface is terrible.

So I decided to switch the hosting over to iPage and I'm glad I did. I've used GoDaddy to set up websites in the past, and they are fine and very cheap. But I don't love the politics of their advertizing campaign (too sexist) and I've heard some rumblings around the web about some of their business practices. Ipage, on the other hand, had very good reviews on the web, and is said to be particularly good for non-US customers. I've been pleased with the results so far, and found the set-up to be straightforward. Like GoDaddy, iPage has a feature that allows you to automatically set up a WordPress installation on your site without having to upload the package and execute it manually.

After that I picked a theme. After spending a few hours looking at various themes--many of them developed especially for churches, I went with Epic Church by Organized Themes. Key features for me for this theme (and the others that made the final list) were these:
  • Responsive design: it must display beautifully on any screen (desktops, smart phones, tablets, etc.)
  • Built-in podcasting: it must have a sermon-media management tool
  • E-mail newsletter support: it must have a way for people to subscribe to the parish newsletter
  • Social media integration: it must have a way for people to like or share almost anything
Epic had all of those things, plus a neat little widget for "contact us," an attractive slide-show feature for the homepage, and a few other goodies. Not bad for only $50.

Some other themes I liked:

Once I had the theme installed I had to spend a few hours uploading content. In a few cases I was able to copy and paste some content developed for the old site, but most of the time I simply rewrote the copy to reflect our community's current situation. I have quite an archive of photographs, so I pulled out some new ones for the new site. I had to a little work in Photoshop in a few cases, but not much. Mainly that was just to get the photographs for the "slideshow" into the correct sizes. I created a macro in Photoshop to make batch-process files a snap.

I had to do a bit of troubleshooting to get a few features to work like I wanted, but it all did. So, presto, we have a new church website. I still have some features to implement and, of course, I'll need to add a lot more content. But at least we now have a workable platform. Now I can create separate logins to allow various members of the church to add content. They can even do so using apps on their smart phones!

The old Messiah site

The new Messiah site
You can check out the current site and see how it's coming along. Of course, if you are reading this sometime in the future, than the site will likely have gone through yet another face lift!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Rector's Charge To Vestry: 2012

I never got around to posting last year's charge to Vestry, which is too bad, because I rather liked it. Reading it again took me right back to that very difficult year, 2011. Here it is...


Dear Beloved Parishioners and Friends of COTM,
There is a whole pile of books written for wannabe CEO’s with titles like, “12 Keys to Successful Leadership,” and “Leadership Made Easy.” In my experience, these books generally say everything that anyone with common sense would learn long before they were put in a position of even modest responsibility (or, so we hope). A good example is the sage wisdom that good leaders, “leave the dance floor from time-to-time to get the balcony view.” One imagines an elegant waltz with the orderly swirling beautiful dresses: neat geometric patterns folding and unfolding under a the protective paternal eye. Would that it were so easy!

In truth, my experience is more like a square dance where the band is high on Crystal Meth and the calls are in a heavily accented Burmese dialect no one at the dance can understand. Frenetically we go from one partner to the next, staying with one just long enough to get some kind of synch before being tossed off to the next.

Church land, these days, is full of leaders who not only don’t know the steps of the crazy dance we call “parish leadership,” but can’t even figure out what the time signature is. So most of us (me, my colleagues, our Bishops, too) are simply improvising as best we can–stumbling and lurching as we go. The old ways simply won’t hold: everybody knows the tune is changing.

The wise ones say that new patterns will make themselves known–after all even a mosh pit has boundaries. “Follow the Holy Spirit,” they say, “Look for the Spirit’s work.” “Make a fresh wineskin.”

“How on earth do we do that?”–the question has been preoccupying me for some time.

Maybe we start by trying to stop. Is it possible to carve out some islands of stillness on the swirling dance floor of life? Can we find our centre of gravity and take a breath? Just one breath?

This past year has been incredibly challenging for me. After the heartbreak of the collapse of what had been a wonderful partnership with Eric (our former Minister of Music), I had to go through some wilderness wandering. I had to rediscover and reconstruct what I believe to be true about music and worship in the church. It was not an easy process, but it was a necessary one–for me and for the parish. We quickly discovered that leaflets are good and that leading hymns is hard.

With very limited administrative support, I had figure out what was essential about that, too. Some days the essential thing is unclogging a toilet. Other days it’s ordering cleaning supplies or scheduling space-bookings. At one point I prayed in frustration, “I’d like to get back to being a priest.” In response to that prayer I found myself having to clean up a particularly nasty mess left by a parishioner, which reminded me right quick what God thinks of “being a priest.” “Being a priest” is about creating a safe space for people and teaching them about Jesus, and sometimes that means changing light bulbs and cleaning up messes and filling out paperwork. Get over it.

I found some solace in Theological Interns. Poor Nancy, one time we spent a whole hour talking about how to move in worship. “This is essential,” I told her, “To master worship you have to learn to move like ninja ghost walker tea ceremony priest.” It was wonderful to rediscover the fundamentals!

By the time the summer came I was very nearly burned out. I made the most of my vacation, visiting family in the States, but quickly found my self back in the dance at Messiah. Things didn’t really turn around until the Labour Day weekend.

When I was a kid I spent a lot of time in the woods. I was a country boy who took naps on the chicken shed and was a crackshot with a BB Gun. I spent hours and hours exploring the wheat fields around my childhood home in Kansas, and I think I’ve missed that wildness. So I decided, somewhat abruptly, to take Betsy and Henry on a canoe camping trip. After a great deal of preparation (including weathering the concerned expressions of people who thought we were nuts to take an 18-month-old on a serious camping trip), we strapped a friend’s canoe to our car and headed for the woods. One of the blessings of this fine country is that you can go from a Sunday morning worship service to a remote campsite (by canoe!) before nightfall.

It was amazing. As soon as we settled down into camp for the first night I knew I was tapping into something very deep and essential. A solid of core of mystical juju that had been temporarily obscured by the orbiting dust of fleeting concerns. I breathed easy.

As Henry slept in the tent and Betsy and I enjoyed wine by the fire, we talked about the church and about life and about what is true and essential. Two days later, as we paddled back to the boat ramp, Henry fell asleep on a pile of blankets in the bottom of the canoe. The craft felt light and the air was crisp and cool. Betsy and I settled into a fast, efficient stroke. We arrived so early that we ended up hovering a few hundred metres from shore letting the wind spin us in lazy arcs.

The Buddhists have a saying, “Before Enlightenment we fetch wood and carry water; after Enlightenment we fetch wood and carry water.” When we came back to Toronto there were still leaflets to write and musicians to hire and projects to manage. But it did feel lighter.

The grief for things left undone was just where I had left it. So to was the promise of things to come. There were chairs to arrange and reports to write. Planning. Coaching. Begging. Worrying. Praying. All of it was just where I had left it. But it was all a little different, too.

I have no idea what the steps are to this crazy dance, but I’m not sure it really matters. The point of dancing was never to make pleasing geometric patterns of swirling tulle. The point of dancing is to have fun. It’s about joy and about life.

Jesus didn’t come to this earth to give us a divinely inspired self-help book. Twelve easy steps to being a worthy person. Baloney! No one could live up to that, read the Old Testament if you don’t believe me. He came to give us Life, and that abundantly. Life is messy and clumsy and awkward and sometimes painful. There are “hellos” and “good-byes” and stinky messes. There is also beauty and truth and love and peace.

God is love. And we, God’s Church, are in the business of sharing that love. There is no other worthy criteria for success. Everything else–budgets and staffing and programmes and even worship–serves that mission. It is the essential thing.

So go ahead and dance your crazy dance. Flail your arms around like a spasmodic white boy at the Junior Prom. “Dance, dance, or we are all lost,” says the poet. Dance your grief away. Shake off your doubt with a shuffle and find your groove. Don’t just walk out of your deserts of temptation–dance out of them.

If you can’t find your step, give me your hand and I’ll pull you along. But for God’s sake, don’t sit out. Don’t hide behind the punch bowl and miss out, because God is playing our psalm!

1 Hallelujah! Praise God in his holy temple; praise him in the firmament of his power.
2 Praise him for his mighty acts;
praise him for his excellent greatness.
3 Praise him with the blast of the ram’s-horn;
praise him with lyre and harp.
4 Praise him with timbrel and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe.
5 Praise him with resounding cymbals;
praise him with loud-clanging cymbals.
6 Let everything that has breath *
praise the Lord. Hallelujah!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Dragonfly Racing: 2012 QCYC Open

This was a crazy, fun day of sailboat racing on Lake Ontario. The occasion was the Queen City Yacht Club's annual Open Regatta. We are racing "Dragonfly"--an Erikson 30-2. The winds were 25 knots and gusting higher, and we were working hard that day. I was the tactician, which is why you sometimes hear me in the video discussing the relative position of other boats ("they don't have overlap") or marks ("2 boat-lengths to the mark").

Notice a little boat (called a "Dragon") at 1:32? That boat sank not long after I took this video. The two guys on board were easily rescued by a powerboat belonging the race committee. It was an intense day, for sure!


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sermon: Amy and Justin's wedding

I love preaching (and Presiding, for that matter) at weddings. I was quite happy when our friends Justin and Amy asked me to do theirs last summer. Several of the people in attendance have known me for a long time through Betsy (Amy is a fellow PhD student), but had never seen me do my professional thing. One of Betsy's professors, who happens to be an observant Jew, was particularly surprised and impressed.

Justin just finished his Ph.D. in computer science specializing in the search problem, so the "hook" for this sermon seemed pretty obvious to me as soon as I started writing. The Onion article was the prefect way into that. A fun sermon to give, for sure!


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Robbie Burns Dinner: 2013

Tim Harry, who the unofficial Diocesan Videographer and my partner in crime for bringing the Diocese into the Digital Media age, put together this little advertizement for this year's Robbie Burns Dinner at Church of The Messiah. These Dinners are held in honor of the Scottish poet Robbie Burns and celebrate Scottish culture and tradition. Really, for me, it's just a good reason to have a fun party. Because we have a Celtic Dance studio that rents space from the church, they provide most of the muscle to organize and run the event. This was the second time we've done it, and it was amazing to see how much easier it was.

Yes, we did serve haggis. The food (including the haggis) was amazing thanks to our friends at Vittorio's (who provided the catering). We've had a long relationship with that restaurant and use them to cater church events whenever we can.

Many thanks go to Meghan Bold, by the way, who did the brunt of making this dinner happy. She's a champ! Check out her Dance Studio here.


Monday, February 18, 2013

An Interview with Bishops George Elliott and Patrick Yu

In preparation for the 2012 Clergy Conference of the Anglican Diocese of Toronto, Bishops Patrick Yu and George Elliott sat down to discuss the future of the church and the kind of leadership clerics are required to exercise in it. I shot and edited this video. I'm pleased with most of it, except perhaps that little pause in the beginning. Getting the timing just right can sometimes be tricky when editing!


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sermon: Epiphany 4 2013 - Bruce Smith

Despite the fact that Bruce Smith and I know a lot of people in common and he has a historic connection to my church, we had never met until just before this year's Vital Church Planting Conference: Toronto. Bruce was once an Associate of Church of The Messiah, and later became the Director of Church Army, Canada. Now they are known as Threshold Ministries.

Bruce contacted me just before VCP and asked whether we could have a coffee. It was an epic conversation of the sort where two people recognize and respect pretty quickly where the other is coming from. I could tell immediately that Bruce is a deeply prayerful man and an effective minister of the Gospel. So, naturally, when I saw him at the VCP Conference that Friday I invited him to preach the following Sunday!

Here is his sermon from that day, February 3 (Epiphany 4), 2013.