Report of Northside Associated Ministries
Relationship Committee

Nov. 30, 2005

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contents:

Report

Appendices

            Northside Associated Ministries founding documents

            Survey form

            Survey responses—Charts

            Survey responses—Sample Written Comments


Committee Report

Introduction

The ad hoc Relationship Committee was created by the NAM Board in December 2004. The committee was charged to examine the relationship between Northside Presbyterian and St. Aidan's Episcopal Church—to look at who we are today and who we will be in the future, especially at the issues of mission, advertising, outreach, education, property, and worship. The committee is pleased to report that it is clear from the responses to our work that the ties between our two congregations, and the activities we do together, are important to our members, and that there is much we can do to improve the relationship.

 

The committee analyzed the original Articles of Agreement between the two churches and other legal documents relevant to the relationship formation. Next, committee representatives interviewed each pastor, with a Presbyterian interviewing the Episcopal rector, and an Episcopalian interviewing the Presbyterian pastor. The committee then developed a survey to be distributed and completed by the members of both congregations, to get a representative sample of opinions on this relationship between the two churches. This was needed to determine whether the relationship was viable in its present form and if it was meeting the purposes set forth by the original Articles of Agreement. The survey was distributed (60 members responded, 21 Presbyterians, 37 Episcopalians, and two completely blank surveys) and the data analyzed. The committee also interviewed the two pastors (together) and the lay leaders of both congregations to get their input on the relationship between the two churches. The survey concentrated on four areas—worship, outreach, education, and property, while the interviews also covered personality and polity issues, meetings, and leadership. In addition to the studies that the committee initiated, other events occurred within the congregations, which made it clear that some organizational changes are needed in order for Northside Associated Ministries to have a healthy and workable relationship.

 

In this document we respectfully report to the NAM board summaries of the data that was collected and recommendations for the board on the status of the relationship between the two congregations. The committee felt it was important to base these recommendations on data collected and documents reviewed, and to make the suggestions broad. Individual committees from both congregations may want to use some of the data with specific suggestions for their own work. The following areas were assessed and recommendation made in these areas. They include general relationship, administration, worship, education, outreach, and property.

Background

St. Aidan’s and Northside have been in both a spiritual and material relationship for 35 years, since 1970. The relationship began within a worldwide context of ecumenical efforts over at least three centuries and flourished in the early twentieth century with organized activities such as the first World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh (1910), the first World Congress of Faiths (1933), and the first World Council of Churches in 1948. [1] St. Aidan’s and Northside came together during the time of Protestant interest in unifying various factions of Christianity primarily, and secondarily, with interest in relationship with other faiths. In intervening years, Christian movements have evolved into interests beyond belief systems and polity such as emphasis on respect and understanding and relationship in actions of social justice. These interests are reflected in data collected during the committee’s work and are described below.

Is the NAM relationship important to our members? Yes.

Within the committee’s work it became apparent that the NAM relationship is highly regarded by most members of both churches. Every survey question that directly addresses the relationship was answered in the strongest positive terms, and most of these were among the most strongly held statements in the entire survey.

 

The relationship between the two congregations is clearly important to our members. Only three respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed with that statement, while only five agreed or strongly agreed that “I would like to see complete independence of the two congregations…”

 

There is very little opposition to the idea of a joint service. Only two respondents agreed or strongly agreed that “I would rather not see any joint services” and only four disagreed or strongly disagreed that “some form of joint worship is a desirable thing…”

 

Overall, and looking at each congregation separately, the average responses agreed with each statement relating to joint outreach. The greatest level of agreement came when asked about “increasing our joint outreach in the local community,” to which only five respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed.

 

There is a great deal of support for a joint adult Christian education program—only six respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed that this is very important, and only six agreed or strongly agreed that each congregation should hold their own adult Christian education. No respondent disagreed that children’s Christian education is best offered jointly. This is the most strongly held statement of the survey. And only three respondents agreed or strongly agreed that each congregation should hold children’s Christian education separately. As with the other Christian education segments, a large majority agreed or strongly agreed that a joint youth program is important (only two respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed).

Why is the relationship important?

The survey and interviews identified a variety of reasons why we find our partnership important, ranging from the idealistic to the purely practical.

Ecumenism

Clearly the ecumenical relationship was important at the time NAM was formed. But is it still important? “I think a spirit of ecumenical relationship is important today.” This was among the most strongly held statements in the entire survey (only two disagreed or strongly disagreed). Written comments in the survey support this—“In today’s world of the increased division among Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and other religious traditions, I think [healing denominational divisions, part of articles of agreement] is as important (or maybe even more so) than it was 30 years ago.” “Learning the traditions of another denomination has been helpful and strengthened my faith…”

Survival

A number of comments agreed that “Because of the size of both congregations, the current arrangement is good for economic survival.”

General discussion and recommendations

The unique qualities of two denominations working toward a common goal present some challenges and opportunities. Nurture and sustenance of this relationship is of utmost and timely importance. In this regard, we present to the NAM board our recommendations regarding several functional (or perhaps some would say dysfunctional) areas of our relationship: General relationship, Administration, Worship, Christian education, Outreach, and Property and finance.

General relationship

The first nine questions of the written survey dealt with the relationship of Northside and St. Aidan’s as it stands today. The results of this survey show clearly that the relationship between these two churches is highly regarded and important to all but a small group of members. For many respondents it is the core of our essence. Although the relationship is important to our members, there is much evidence that we don’t know each other as well as we would like—“We are like two ships passing in the night,” “I have the mental image of spouses struggling with their own problems, who are not as supportive of each other as previously,” “The two clergy have different ideas about what is right and proper for church.”

 

Overall, we as a committee were struck with a sense that this relationship has not lived up to its potential and furthermore that the NAM arrangement is currently being overlooked as a strength of both congregations. Our relationship needs to be nurtured if it is to fulfill its central role in our life together.

 

We recommend:

Administration

From our review of the NAM legal documents and our interviews with Clergy and with the Lay Officers of NAM (Clerk of Session and Senior Warden), several themes emerged:

 

We recommend:

Worship

While very few people in our congregations disagree that joint worship is a good thing, there is much less unanimity on the details of the frequency and form of the joint worship. Our joint services should be special, meaningful worship experiences. Through the data gathered within the written surveys, it is apparent that many do not feel that joint worship is meeting its potential. While most people taking the survey indicated satisfaction with the frequency of the joint services, there was widespread support for inclusion of more innovative forms of worship. In written comments, several people mentioned their perceptions that joint services are long and wordy, and sometimes confusing.

 

We recommend:

Christian Education

Adult Christian Education

 

Attendance problems persist within Adult Christian Education, however respondents report a high level of satisfaction with the concept of joint Christian Education, as well as the selection of topics. A lack of participation by Presbyterians has been a problem over the years.

 

We recommend:

 

Youth Christian Education

 

With new programs and other changes it seems that this area is one that needs better communication. Though we do not have many youth within the two churches, we do have solid offerings for children and youth both before and during the 11 a.m. services. In order for members to be more effective evangelists, it is important that all members (not just those with children) be made aware of the NAM offerings in this area.

 

We recommend:

 

Survey questions about the time of children’s Christian education produced significant disagreement between the congregations. Presbyterians tended to favor children’s Christian education concurrent with the service, while Episcopalians tended to favor children’s Christian education prior to the service. Since we now have offerings at both times the committee makes no recommendation on this issue.

Outreach

Survey results show that mission and outreach activities are very important to members of both churches. Funding has been a problem for both churches in the recent past, however a majority of survey participants from both churches indicated that they would like to see increases in outreach funding for local, national and international purposes.

 

We recommend:

Property and Finance

According to the NAM survey, people are generally happy with the use and maintenance of the building. There are a couple of exceptions: a number of both Presbyterians and Episcopalians feel that the division of space between the Presbyterian and Episcopal worship areas is not equitable. Also a slim majority of survey respondents indicated their feelings that the common areas of our building are not maintained in a way that attracts visitors.

 

We recommend:

 

 

 



[1] Bruce Feiler, Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths (Harper, 2004), p. 200.