Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Another One Leaves the Church

A sad day for the Church of Our Saviour as we read this letter from the Stringers:

"Dear Fr. Foss, Fr. Dunbar, Vestry Members, and Church Friends,

It is with a heavy heart that I am writing to you on the matter of our family’s decision to no longer attend and financially support Church of Our Saviour as of March 1, 2008. My hope is that my explanation coupled with our family’s decision may be a catalyst for some ‘ultimate good’ for COOS. So I ask for your patience and I thank you for your time to read and discern this email.

Kati and I were raised as cradle Episcopalians – baptized, confirmed and married in the Episcopal Church – and our children follow in this heritage. Though we have chosen to reinvest in a church of another denomination, we do not intend to exchange our Episcopal ‘roots’ for another. Therefore as a matter of church business, we will not be transferring our membership, but becoming inactive on the COOS roll. We are Episcopalians and will always be regardless of the “church” we attend.

Our decision to leave boils down to several related factors which I believe are “brutal facts” that the Clergy and Vestry must face in order to “right the ship”:

Lack of leadership and direction from the Clergy
Lack of development in the youth program
Lack of retention of young families and their financial support

After years of involvement with the youth, various committees and even Kati serving on the Vestry for a year, we have come to the conclusion that our family’s immediate needs for spiritual development can’t be put off while COOS continues to focus on its languishing financial doldrums. It appears that COOS’s Clergy is caught in a vicious cycle that “the parish isn’t paying for the services they get now” (commented to me several times) and therefore the answer is first more money and then more “services”. For our family just the opposite is reality, money follows services. The response to the annual budget shortfall and subsequent call for a short-term financial fix, became the “straw” that broke our families desire to further invest our time, talent and treasure.

The spiritual “product” of COOS isn’t adequate or acceptable for young families like ours. Beyond the Sunday Liturgy, there is little offered to minister to the needs of young families. In our own experience, Kati and I have offered numerous ideas and a willingness to start programs like Alpha, Financial Peace and others, all of which were meet with lackluster clergy support. In our opinion, too much of the leadership and development of the church is forced upon the Vestry and congregation and not enough from the Clergy as “spiritual leaders” – the shepherds of the flock.

What brings in young families initially is their primary focus, their children. The youth programs of the church bring them in and then young family programs keep them (and their money). After a year of service, Mary Cat’s primarily focus isn’t on building a youth program; the very reason the parish supported her hiring. People notice and lose hope that these programs will come to fruition. This is what we have concluded. The litany of other young families that have left is long and alarming and only underscores this reality. The Clergy, not the Vestry, must reprioritize Mary Cat’s direction and give her the latitude to build a true Youth Program. Anything short will produce the same results we have today.

Finally, much to the chagrin of the Clergy, the leadership of the church must come from the head of the church, not the vestry, and not the congregation. The leadership of the church (not unlike any company, organization or group) must provide the vision, the direction and energy. I believe when people are given a vision or a goal they can believe in, they will follow. As examples, look at the accomplishments over the past few years: Faith Alive, the Year of Renewal, the Youth Mission Trip, hiring of Mary Cat, and the Restoration Project. All these great accomplishments came with vision, direction and energy and they were successful beyond what we expected. COOS must be operated in the same way to realize its potential. It can’t be a church of “_the next fund raiser_.”

After the congregational meeting last month, I went through my own discernment to run for Vestry. Through this process, I considered whether we needed new leadership in our Clergy. After many discussions and prayerful consideration, I do not believe new leadership is the answer, but realization of leadership. Charlie, you have an opportunity to lead the congregation through your retirement and transition COOS to a new rector on your timetable—be that 5 years or 10. If the tough decisions are made, and a vision of the future comes from you, your flock will follow. For me, my compulsion to be an agent of change would have taken time away from my own spiritual needs, my family and my business. Ultimately, I choose these things over COOS and Kati and I came to the conclusion that we needed to find a place that reached our children and supported our struggles as parents, husband and wife and the people we want to be. We are saddened that we could not find those things at COOS and we hope and pray to stay in contact with the friends we have made.

Thank you.


David Copp Stringer"

Used with permission, UP


  1. Anonymous10:54 AM

    I notice that it says that the Stringers are leaving as of March 2007. A year ago.

    So . . . is this a year old letter?



  2. OOps, no it is a 2008 letter, I will edit that, thanks oh eagle eyed one.

  3. Anonymous9:37 AM

    I disagree - not a sad day at all for COOS. With their attitude - lots of bad vibes here - they should find an organization that caters to their specific aspirations.

  4. Are attitudes preformed or can they be reformed as a the result of our life in a Christian community? Is the lost sheep looking for greener pastures because it thinks it's shepherd is leading it away from the promised land? Poor sheep, it has lost confidence in it's shepherds.

  5. So, the sheep are losing confidence in the shepherds? No surprise there. As the empty mitres at 815 continue to spew forth apostasy, is it any wonder that some choose to leave rather than to stand and fight? It's a lot easier to go find a new pasture than to duke it out with an errant shepherd.

  6. Anonymous7:05 PM

    Is it not that the lost sheep must want to be found by it's shepherd? Or should it leave at the first sign of trouble and blame it on it's fellow sheep?

  7. I am going to be seeing sheep in my sleep tonight. If the sheep does not recognize the shepherd as such then the sheep that is hungry for some person to help shepherd it to the Truth will seek that place or person. It is a scary lonelythought to leave the fold. We should keep the Lord as our shepherd and we shall lack nothing.

  8. Anonymous10:27 AM

    Their attitude was loving and heartsick.

    "Good riddance" is an appalling thing to say about a family that, with seemingly little anger or malice, expresses its sorrow at leaving a parish where it did not find help for the entire family, that is, the children.

  9. Anonymous1:10 PM

    "Little anger or malice?" "Loving and heartsick?" You didn't read the same letter I did. There is no doubt in my mind that the Stringers wrote that letter to hurt as many people as possible - as implied in the text - they were motivated by not getting their own way and not being allowed to tell the clergy how to do their jobs.

    Charlie, Bobby, Al, Mary Cat and the Vestry are doing a wonderful job of navigating the church through this transition. Bobby's sermons are delightfully instructional - Charlie's sermons are designed to make you think as are Mary Cat's. If you don't come away from a sermon with something to think about then what is the point? If you want warm and fuzzy every Sunday - get a puppy!

    Charlie has been working countless hours to keep COOS together through the multiple secretarial changes and financial issues. Mary Cat has the youth program up and running where there really was none before. There is progress everywhere - good healthy progress and this is due to the tireless efforts of the Clergy and Vestry. They have thankless jobs and people should start thanking them for doing as much as they do - and doing it very well.

    COOS does not offer a First Baptist style youth program and if that is what you want for your children.... go to First Baptist. COOS does not offer the same worship style as many less formal churches - if that is what you want - find the church that will nourish you soul. Don't bash where you came from.

    In parting - if you want something changed, stick around and work at it. If you want a strong youth program for your kids, get out there and volunteer, work with Mary Cat, get your kids to the activities, help plan more - put in the time with the program and your kids. (you will notice that the parents with the best behaved and happiest children are the ones that spend the most time with their children!) If you want to hurt people emotionally and spiritually - write the kind of letter the Stringers did and make sure it is published!

  10. Anonymous2:26 PM


  11. The letter is informative and bravely spoken. It is hard to leave. You should approach criticism from a more positive viewpoint. I have spoken to other families who have left who chose to not let the parish know their reasons why. You wake up and notice, "Oh my, where are the So and Sos?" And someone whispers, "Oh didn't you hear, they left because of xyz..." If the So and Sos had chosen to put their feelings down in print, needless rumors would be avoided and perhaps some perceived or needed Truths could be examined. If others had been so bold, perhaps this latest loss could have been averted.

  12. Anonymous3:45 PM

    I will ask that we -- members of the community at COOS -- speak of these matters in person, in the open and accountable space of the church, and that we listen to each other with patience and acceptance.

    My heart tells me that anonymous debate over the internet can only spawn suspicion in the parish hall. I hope that we can instead use our time to build a greater trust.

    I know, and care about, more than one person who posts here, as well as those whose names have been mentioned. Can we do this in the gentler space of the face to face?


    Robert Kendrick aka Cheese Doodle

  13. Anonymous11:18 PM

    RE: "In parting - if you want something changed, stick around and work at it."

    Wow -- to say that about a family like the Stringers, who worked extraordinarily hard and were devoted to COOS for so many years -- that's pretty low.

    I can understand the rector or supporters of the rector perhaps feeling defensive. After all, a faithful, hard working family has left the church -- and not really left the Episcopal church [as they made clear] but simply moved to a non-Episcopal church, since they still are Episcopalians in their hearts. That's a pretty tough pill to swallow, since it's clear that their issues are with a specific parish's leadership and not the denomination as a whole.

    But defensiveness in response to gentle challenge -- even positive and hopeful challenge -- is not the way to go here.

    If the parish leadership cannot respond to such a mild letter . . . well, then one can see why the parish is where it is right now. It appears that some of the leadership would just really *rather not know* than feel the pain of mild criticism.

  14. Anonymous10:08 PM

    A non-religious comment, or correction:

    Its shepherds (not it's shepherds; it's = it is).

  15. I never could get the hang of that, comma splices got me too, and don't forget those dangling participles.