'This is my Jesus,' the stranger said
A Homily Preached at Diocesan House

Focusing on Mission—the Mutual Ministry Review

By Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
10 August 2012

The telephone rang.  It was a senior warden.  “You need to review the performance of our rector.  He doesn’t call on shut-ins, and his sermons aren’t very good.  They’re too long, too.  And you have to tell him.”

Take a long breath, Howard.  You’re in a classic triangle formed by the anxiety of one person dealing with another.  One person’s message for the other is difficult, and you simply by answering the telephone have been brought in to give that message, sparing someone of the discomfort of giving such a message and picking up the pieces.

Over the years, I have noticed that God works and has the opportunity to work when I am minding my own business more or less faithfully.  And here was one of those instances.  God had plenty of opportunity to act and to act in “a still more excellent way,” as Saint Paul wrote to the Corinthians (I Cor. 12:31).

And that still more excellent way is the Mutual Ministry Review.  In good hands, the Mutual Ministry Review (MMR) gives a parish the opportunity to focus on its mission.

In even better hands, the MMR gives a parish the opportunity to sets goals for its ministry and its mission.  The best leaders of parishes use the MMR in exactly these ways and find that their parish functions better, has more clearly defined goals, and has a more clearly understood mission.  Over and over again, I see that parishes who have a mission statement and intentionally accomplish it grow and thrive.  And the MMR can help to bring this about especially when a parish has a mission statement and seems to be stuck in trying to accomplish it.

The basis of the MMR is Samuel P. Magill’s Living into our Ministries, published in 2003 by the Episcopal Church Foundation.  My introduction to it came some years ago when a rector telephoned me and wanted me to facilitate a review for the purpose of setting long-term goals for the mission of the parish.

And over a number of sessions and conversations, we were able together to do that.  The MMR is a structured conversation among the rector, the vestry, and the members of a parish concerning its mission, ministry, functioning, goals, and how those goals may be achieved.

The structured conversation really is “mutual”: each of the three groups reviews the other two.  Here ends the triangulation: no third parties give difficult messages, and each party delivers its own message.  The conversation, also, really concerns “ministry,” or the service or functioning within the parish of each of the three groups.  The conversation, thirdly and finally, really is a “review”: each group expresses its perception of the functioning of the other two.

There are things the structured conversation of the MMR is not.  The conversation does not include, except when unavoidably necessary, obligatory responsibilities under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the national or diocesan canons, diocesan resolutions and policies, the parish’s bylaws, and the clergy’s ordination vows.  The assumption is that these obligations are being accomplished as a matter of course.  Fulfilling these obligations is basic to the healthy functioning of the parish.  If they are not being accomplished, the interplay of rector, vestry, and members can make the necessary corrections.

The conversation of the MMR does address how the rector, vestry, and members function to further the mission, ministry, and goals of the parish.  The conversation assumes, secondly, that the ministry of each of the three groups differs from the other two.  Each group has obligations and ministries that belong to itself exclusively.  Thirdly, the conversation reviews those obligations and ministries as well as the means used by each group to fulfill them.

And so the rector, the vestry, and the members function differently, but they function differently to accomplish the mission they share.  This vision of functioning in a parish compares to the vision of Saint Paul in the Epistle to the Ephesians (4:1-7, 11-12, and 13-16).  Some are rectors, some are vestry, and some are members, but together all serve to accomplish the mission of the parish.

In future articles, I shall address the functions of the rector, the vestry, and the members of parishes.  If you have ideas to share about these functions, I would be happy to hear from you.


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