The Good Enough Parish

main image

    The great psychoanalysis Bruno Bettelheim wrote a book called ‘The Good Enough Parent,’ in which he tried to banish unrealistic hopes of being the perfect parent, for, when these goals are not met, we end up with something worse. No, the goal should be ‘good enough,’ within the constraints of our situation, our personality, and the child’s, etc. Now if you want constraints, try being a parish or mission priest in May of 2020!  We too ought to banish the hopes of the perfect congregational life, or an experience reflective of the old normal.  But we can aim for a good-enough common life of community, Word, sacrament, outreach, and prayer.  Having worked through liturgical protocols and steps and regions and even a theological rationale for where we find ourselves, I now want to turn to the pressing question for the now emerging season:  how can we find, by God’s grace, an adequate approximation of the good enough parish? And can this adequacy endure for the length of time under which we will continue to be ministering in the Covid era? (I want to acknowledge my debt to the Standing Committee for the formulating of this question).

   Let me put the matter another way. Each of our modes of communication of the faith has some problem. Some will find the laptop off-putting, ditto for in-person worship in masks, while to others the protocols about the communion bread seem too fussy, etc. And each reaction is understandable. At the same time, each has a more positive side: streaming reaches new people, and masked in-person worship shows how much we want to have fellowship in spite of everything, and how seriously we take one another’s welfare, and careful distribution of the bread shows how important an element of our faith is receiving the sacrament.  Each reminds us that ‘good-enough’ is the most appropriate goal. Together these shortcoming tell us that we will need a combination of ‘good enough’ solutions, different and simultaneous angles on our common life.  We will need to develop muscles we don’t often use in pastoral theology. And the very element of difficulty drives us back to the most basic truths which shine out in the midst of the frustrations, and thus show  how much we need these effective signs of God’s grace especially in such an hour. 

        I do not have an set answer to this question of an adequate common life for such a time as this, nor do I believe there is a formula nor a single failsafe solution to the demands of the time.  Nor am I necessarily the best person to generate ideas, since I am not in a parish, though I have been listening intently in various settings as you talk about your challenges. Better that I open a conversation and provide a few inklings of where I suspect the answers may lie. You all are invited into this conversation, and will doubtless help each other here more than I can help you. It goes without saying that our ideas need to cleave to the health guidelines we have developed.

  1. A good season for Richard Foster. How could we teach and encourage spiritual practices in a season in which people are on retreat, whether they like it or not? How might we do this?
  2. Think outside the Church-box. Services outside are fine, and may allow a larger group. (They have their own logistic challenges, but we live for challenges!) 
  3. The day of the small group. Even without Covid, this has been the driving force of a great deal of church growth in our time.  This ministry can be easily advanced in a way which is safe. 
  4. Viva the mixed economy.Obviously in ordinary conditions we ought not to depend too much on the one gathering on Sunday morning, nor on one form of it. So we are looking at a time which is on-line and constrainedly in person, with perhaps multiple forms of each. It is good to convey permission to pray together by means of either or both.
  5. Find the emergent audiences for this moment.We have noted those who have come to (or back to) Church in the new format. We can likewise think of those who suffer from depression in this strange time, or of young adults whose job prospects have plummeted, or of harried parents home with toddlers, etc. We should ask ourselves how these circumstances have reconfigured our potential audiences, and what would reach them especially.
  6. Sacraments of solidarity. Our whole society is going through the same thing. In an otherwise riven society, how can we act in such a way as to be witnesses to this solidarity?  I have been interested in ministries of the hands-on, ‘the least of these…’,Matthew 25 sort, especially with the surprising lines looking for food. A time set apart to pray for front-lines and health care workers would fit here too.  

        Furthermore, with so much suffering related to unemployment and inequality of access to medical care, we should seek out ways to come alongside Churches is south Dallas (or wherever you are), so that this becomes a moment to witness to racial reconciliation, as our Presiding Bishop has summoned us to. This too is a sacrament of our communion as the one Church catholic. (If you are looking for ways to get involved with this, contact the irrepressible Carrie Headington).

  1. What else should be on this list?.... Send me ideas, and I will find ways to disseminate them.



A Pastoral Letter on What’s Next

main image

Good Shepherd Sunday

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Greetings in Christ. Thanks for your participation in the ‘What’s Next’ Clergy Zoom Week.  I have also had a chance to consult with our medical group and the Standing Committee. I have listened to the opinions expressed by all and now set out the path forward in this letter.

  1. General principles. We must be guided by science and data.  We will be cautious, aiming to be behind the descending curve as we were ahead of the ascending one. The virus has no political party, and we aim to make decisions to combat it in a similarly neutral way.  We want to be in sync whenever possible with the authorities and fellow Churches. We have one policy for the diocese. Our real polestar is the tradition of Christian theology and spirituality we have inherited; I have sought to give articulation to this in my reflection called ‘Communion in the Midst of Disaster,’ which I am sending along with this letter.
  2. The elderly and vulnerable. Both epidemiological and governmental sources agree that these groups should remain sheltered in the reopening of society. We therefore earnestly advise that Episcopalians in these groups continue for the foreseeable future to remain at home even as they participate in our common life in alternative ways. We will therefore need to continue to offer online Sunday services throughout to serve those who cannot attend in person.
  3. There is no obligation to do the things permitted on the dates I will mention There is no requirement to celebrate the Eucharist under the strictures we have imposed. Morning Prayer and a Sermon are fully acceptable, as would be a continuation of only live-streamed Eucharist, without a congregation. You must use your judgment to determine the best liturgical practice for your congregation; whatever you decide should be safe, realistic, devout, and sustainable. The priest in charge can make this call. I hope my theological statement gives a context in which all of these decisions can find a ready justification.
  4. Steps and timing. We will reopen services for public participation in steps. --Step A involves a safe way to distribute communion outside of the service itself.

-Step B involves permitting gatherings of up to 10 total.  

-Step C involves permitting gatherings of however many people may be included while all congregants are socially distanced by six feet.[1]  You must figure this out in advance by measuring your church space with tape measure in hand before taking this step!

Test these assumptions:  a pew can include two individuals or one family- you can use every third pew. Please report this maximum. (You must also have a plan for getting people in and out safely).

Government advice at both the federal and local levels has said that two weeks of declining infection rates should precede re-opening (not to mention massive testing!) Different counties are in different statistical situations vis-à-vis this requirement.

All Churches may move to Step A as of Rogation Sunday (May 17).

Churches outside of Dallas, Denton, and Collin Counties may move to Step B as of Rogation Sunday (May 17); let Dean Price, Bishop Smith or me know if you wish to.

We are keeping an eye on how things develop and will notify you in advance before anyone can move on to Step C.

  1. Distributing communion safely. If, according to Step A, you wish to bring communion to shut-ins (and this category will probably now include a larger number of members), it must be done safely. This might happen in a ‘drive in’ manner, or by leaving communion on a porch after making arrangements, or in another way.  But in all cases this should be done in keeping with safety standards (found in 8).  See attachment for our guiding protocol. 
  2. Small groups. In Step B also one can easily imagine a two-track approach that continues with virtual groups while carefully allowing some small groups in person now as well. The important thing will be to plan ahead. Block out where people will sit or stand (perhaps with tape), make sure they are spaced. Reiterate the rules about non-contact, distance, etc. Think about how they will come and go, etc. Evaluate afterwards.

(We are obviously not ready to open our doors to other groups.)

(These same health rules apply whether the meeting is in the church or in a home).

  1. Larger in person gathering (Step C) must have protocols.How to reopen at first will be harder for larger churches. I know that some of our churches are planning to invite members to attend in a schedule, perhaps of last names. (This comment from Bishop Doyle of Texas’ protocol is worth considering:  “Allow for friends and neighbors to be invited and attend the house meetings. In other words, leave room for evangelism and mission to take root.’)

 -Each step toward return will be accompanied by its own restrictions, which may seem jarring. Eucharistic gathering must follow these protocols: a) congregants socially distanced b) in masks c) no tactile Peace, common cup, shaking hands at the door, or coffee hour d) communion from reserved sacrament, priest masked, communicants distanced and with sanitized hands, e) vigorous cleaning before and after each service.  I will leave you free to figure out how to plan within these parameters; you will learn soon who and how many in the congregation actually want to attend. (Obviously have a cache of masks on hand at Church would be important, as well as hand sanitizer if you can).

  -Whether to give communion out or not is a decision you can make. If you decide to do Morning Prayer as you gather, would need to need a), b), parts of c), and e).

  1. Let’s keep it simple. In all three steps, the advice of medical experts is the same: everyone must follow the rules we are accustomed to. Everyone distributing bread, leading, or attending, must wear a mask, have clean hands, and be socially distanced by at least 6 feet.  This is not guidance or advice, this is a pastoral directive:  clergy must observe these health rules, and enforce them for all in attendance.  If someone doesn’t want to wear a mask, they shouldn’t attend in person. Explain that failing to observe these rules puts other members at risk.  (Leaders may carefully remove their masks to be heard while preaching, reading, or celebrating, after which they should put them back on, during all of which they maintain their 6 feet of distance).
  2. Recent research shows that choristers can project the virus further than previously known. Singers should be separated as much as possible; the previously stated rule that each should be 10 feet from one another and all parishioners is a minimum. A single soloist is a good option. 
  • Pre-schools and daycares.There is no change to the policy at this time.
  • I assume that each congregation will work this out for itself in its own context. But the pictures in the media of miles-long lines of cars in South Dallas seeking food are reminiscent of the Great Depression. We are creating a fund to support feeding programs in north Texas, will be contributing on your behalf, and encourage congregations to take part as well.
  • I am continuing my ‘visitations’ by distance through Labor Day. I will send a pre-recorded sermon and greeting, with or without a taped celebration, as the priest wishes, all from my chapel. 

In this season of ministry I want to emphasize teaching, which is after all a core calling of a bishop. Every Monday and Wednesday evening is open! I am ready to lead a youth or adult confirmation class, or do an adult ed session. Pick a topic or I can. Book it with Virginia.

  • Weddings and funerals. The restrictions on funerals with respect to numbers attending and location continue. We can plan to memorial services for a time down the road. Marriages are possible so long as the norms of distance, numbers (10 or fewer) and non-contact (except for the kiss by the couple, who are a biome!) are strictly observed.
  • Formation for new online visitors. We are planning an opportunity to think about and discuss resources to catechize people who have come anew to your church via Facebook or video services. You will hear more about this from Canon Hylden.
  • Visiting hospitals and nursing homes. Several clergy have asked about this. The experts tell me that this is still a way off.
  • Clergy house at Camp All Saints. This will be available in the fall if you would like to get away for a few days. First come first served. A fee for cleaning would be required.
  • Clergy days. We will have a special day in the fall via Zoom to think about mission and evangelism in our present reality. In 2021 we will have an ‘home team’ clergy conference with scholars of our own.  We don’t yet know where or how.
  • This is a continually changing situation. Many experts predict a resurgence at some time, at which point we will need to pull back.

I continue to be grateful for each of your faithful and patient response to the past month and a half, and I continue to pray for you all.



[1]Earlier government documents used the threshold of 50, while the Governor has said 25% capacity. These may in many cases prove fairly close to the capacity you ascertain by measuring.

12345678910 ... 99100

Complete the Race (II Timothy 4:17)

At the end of our vacation we find ourselves in Chicago for its Marathon weekend (the fastest, I have read this morning, perhaps because it is cool and relatively level). Marathons offer many good things. You can see world-class athletes from places like Ethiopia and Kenya. There is a feel of fiesta with signs by family members, getups by some for-fun runners, and food for sale.

But as I looked out my hotel window at 7:30 a.m., I watched the race of competitors who have lost legs or their use. Wheeling vehicles by arm for 26 miles means serious fitness and determination.

Those competitors were to me, this morning, a symbol of the Church too. For each is wounded. The larger family cheers them on. Each by grace has risen up to run the race. Ahead is the goal, the prize, the welcome home. We find the companionship of Jesus the Lord, there, and along the route too.