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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Why Trinity Failed

Why Trinity Failed
by RWC

1. For seven years since 2002 the parish had no program for church growth.
2. For seven years the Diocese leaders and Vestry members looked inward and not outward.
3. For seven years Trinity had no social service or social action program.

During my years as rector of Trinity, 1981-2001, we just skimmed by financially. The Diocese even forgave us $20,000.00 in assessment arrears in the early nineties. Many bequests came to us, which we spent on regular expenses and for some earthquake repair. There was little money in reserve.

The Diocese insisted the parish look inward and go through a process of self-examination and reflection before calling a new rector almost two year after I retired. Discernment is the current buzzword for that introspective activity. That is fine for parishes with a firm financial base and a solid core membership of five hundred communicants. Trinity had neither the money or core membership to spend two years before finding a new rector.

The Bishop made it clear that Rob Droste could not succeed me as rector before the self-examination procedure had taken place. Swing had let other associate rectors or interims succeed a retired rector. Rob would have brought continuity, pastoral care and church growth experice to the parish. But no, the parish was commanded to introspect.

The first interim at Trinity was a disaster. She made abrupt changes to the liturgy without proper education of the membership, was dismissive of clergy volunteers who had served for years and alienated a number of members and friends of Trinity.

Armand Kreft, who loved Trinity and wanted to become rector, was twice passed over by the search committee and vestry of Trinity. Armand had a deep commitment to church growth, had a track record of success at Holy Innocents’ in San Francisco and as associate rector in Palm Springs. The Bishop and Executive officer of the Diocese strongly recommended Armand to be considered for becoming rector of Trinity. While he had been seminarian at Trinity some people decided they did not like him and they blocked his even receiving an interview toward election as rector of Trinity. He was the best candidate I know of to enable a ministry of membership growth, which Trinity so badly needed. New members bring in more money.

The Executive Officer of the Diocese, I am told, discouraged candidates interested in Trinity by saying the building needed a lot of expensive repair. Vestry calls to the said Officer of the Diocese were not returned and few candidates were put forward to the Trinity Search Committee for consideration. Diocesan leaders looked inward to building structure rather than outward to assist in bringing in leadership.

Richard Vettel-Becker happened on the scene and was elected rector and approved by the Bishop. He too was a disaster. He had virtually no parish experience, none in a city. He had been a hospital chaplain for twenty years. He had not attended an Episcopal Seminary, except for three summer months at The General Theological Seminary in New York City. His wife refused to move to San Francisco for professional reasons. She was a tenured professor in Montana. RVB traveled back and forth to Montana to be his wife, tried to develop an arts program, had no church growth or financial experience and was a poor preacher. He was gone in a year. The Vestry again looked inward to discern what kind of rector they wanted.

Then there was another long time with the wonderful David Forbes as interim. David was a good pastor, preacher and organizer of the vestry and congregation. He had neither experience in church growth nor how to be in contact with the unchurched and so nothing was done much in that important area of parish life. He helped in healing the wounds caused by the unhappiness caused by RVB.

After another year or so the vestry called James Tramel as the new rector. Tramel had recently been released from twenty years in prison for abetting a murder when he was a teen. He had never been a member of an Episcopal Church, was tutored in prison by students from CDSP and supported by Bishop Swing to be confirmed, ordained deacon and priest while he was in jail. As Swing was leaving and Andrus was coming in, Trinity’s vestry’s request to approve Tramel as rector was granted by Andrus who hardly knew Tramel.

Since he had no parish experience, he alienated two members the first week he was on the job in a pastoral matter that any experienced Episcopal layman or priest could have worked out. He got rid of me by telling me I could come to church at Trinity but could no longer preach or celebrate Eucharist. I blasted him publicly for treating me in such a disrespectful and hurtful manner. Tramel had no idea how to attract new people to Trinity and reach out to the unchurched. After a year as rector Tramel had inappropriate sex with a person who came to him for counseling. He was summarily dismissed by Bishop Andrus.

I told vestry members that I would be interested in coming back as a short-term interim rector. I thought we could restart a church growth policy. I never heard back from anyone about my offer.

During this time little money was coming in and few new members were added to the communicant list and old members were dying and drifting away.

Bishop Otis Charles as elected interim rector. He was an experienced priest, Bishop, pastor and administrator. He also had little parish experience in an urban parish and no recent experience in church growth tactics. He continued to minister to the existing dwindling congregation and vestry, brought in some interesting preachers and help the congregation face realistically where they were and what was happening to them.

I feel sad that Trinity was not able to continue as a vibrant peace and justice parish, a church growth oriented parish and one that was financially marginally sound. There is plenty of fault to go around. We are a nice-nice church and no one wants to take resposibilty for failure. The two diocesan bishops, the executive officers, the vestry, and two self deluded rectors failed to keep the church of Jesus Christ and evangelism (church growth) the focus of the church. Swing fell to rigid adherence to rules on how to get a rector. Vestry failed to push past the diocesan monolith, failed to seek out and find rectors with experience in growth. The clergy failed the parish by allowing themselves to be rector whilst so ill equipped. Talk about egomania. I hold them all responsible for the downfall of Trinity.

Here is Otis’ letter on the present status of Trinity.

The financial chaos we are in as a nation has engulfed

The first signs appeared with the near crash of AIG during
our Every Member Canvas. We fell $30,000 short of our
minimum goal. In the ensuing months members have lost jobs
and are unable to maintain pledges made in good faith. In
February Meals on Wheels informed us that shortage of
funds requires that at the end of June they shut down the
daily lunch program here at Trinity. As a result, we are
currently $50,000 in arrears to the diocese for payroll

Trinity's future has been at the center of our
attention as a congregation for the past nine months. Many
of you have participated in the on-going meetings of the
congregation. Your participation and input has helped shape
the mind of the Vestry. On Saturday the Vestry met to
address how to move forward.

In a truly Spirit filled day-long session two over-arching
decisions were made:

The first and most painful was the decision to eliminate
all paid positions, with the exception of the Sexton,
effective June 30th.

This means that my time with you as Interim Rector will
end, Robert Gurney's long and fruitful tenure as
Organist and Director of Music will end, and there will no
longer be section leaders in the choir. Brother Karekin
resigned his position as Parish Administrator the end of
February. Part of the challenge and the exhilaration is
learning to function in an all volunteer, lay directed

The second over-arching decision addressed preparing to
Turn the Corner from Then to Now.

The Vestry approved the following resolutions by

As stewards of the parish, the Vestry resolves to approve
the proposed 2010 budgets, "holding the corner"
and "starting from scratch".

The intention as Trinity moves forward is to divide the
operation into two parts: Holding the Corner and Starting
from Scratch.

The Vestry understands that the congregation has inherited
a magnificent and historic facility for which they are
stewards. A separate budget and oversight is being created
to exercise this stewardship in a responsible and faithful
manner. We are calling this Holding the Corner. All
rental fees will be directed to maintenance of the plant.

The Vestry also understands that God has called this
congregation together. God has chosen us. Starting from
Scratch reflects the other half of our stewardship:
nurturing, developing and growing the congregation. For
this there will be a Congregational Development Committee.

These plans for the shaping of congregational life after
June 30th are presently being fleshed out by the Vestry.
They will be presented to the congregation at the 11 a.m.
Eucharist March 22nd. Your input will be solicited. The
Vestry will take this under advisement. Adaptations to the
plan may result requiring further input from the
congregation. On the other hand, you may find them a
useable road map for the immediate future.

Turning the Corner from THEN to NOW is full of sadness for
the loss of old and familiar and beautiful ways of being.
Coming as it does during Lent we can honestly say we are
participating in our Lord's Passion. At the same time
we are Easter people. Those who were at last Sunday's
meeting could feel the sense of excitement among members of
the Vestry in leading the church once again as front
runners discovering how to be church in this rapidly
changing world.

Ive begun speaking of the time after June 30th as
Trinity 5 ? the fifth iteration of Trinity,

In faith,



Anonymous Fred Fenton said...

What a mess! I grieve over such inept leadership from all concerned.

George Regas broke all the rules of the current search process and proved how clumsy and inadequate are the Church's ways of doing things.

George headed the effort to find his own successor. There was a gap of only a few weeks between George's last Sunday, after a long and amazingly successful rectorship, and the arrival of his successor, Ed Bacon. Ed has been great, leading a church battle against Proposition 8 and appearing recently on Oprah's show.

10:44 AM  
Anonymous Fred Fenton said...

Maybe it's time to start thinking about what can be done to save Trinity. Perhaps a retired priest will be willing to be a non-stipendiary interim receiving only his or her expenses while serving. Failing that, a member of the congregation might be chosen to be a "local priest," one who is ordained to serve that congregation only. There needs to be a familiar face up at the altar and at the door, not one supply priest after another.

On the way to recovery, I recommend the first full-time person hired after a priest be a certified and experienced volunteer trainer. Such a person could cover nearly every job needing to be done with competent volunteers. Recruiting, training, scheduling, supervising, and rewarding volunteers would be that person's job description. This is an experiment long overdue in the Episcopal Church. The story would be reported nationally.

I heard this proposed for churches when Jerry Brown was governor. He gave the keynote address at a national volunteer trainers convention in San Diego. I attended a breakout group on "churches." There the idea was voiced as a healthy alternative for so many paid staff positions in churches. The speaker said, "The first person hired after the minister should be a full-time volunteer trainer."

Episcopal churches are failing all over the country. It is my prayer that Trinity will demonstrate a path to renewal for congregations everywhere.

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