Engaging Ministry: Practices of Prayer, Worship, and Community

An educational-experiential series for clergy and laypeople.

This two-part series consists of:

According to the Episcopal Church’s Fast FACTs Trends (2007-2011) and Congregations Overview (2014), parishes that are growing have several characteristics in common. They are described as “spiritually vital and alive” and reflect what the report writers call “entrainment,” or a kind of “collective effervescence.” They also tend to describe their worship as “vibrant and engaging” or “joyful.”

How do clergy and lay leaders create such communities?

In this two-part educational and experiential series we'll explore two aspects of congregational vitality: cultivating practices that invite Christ’s indwelling presence in both ordained leaders and in communities, and processes for creating dynamic and transformative worship that stirs the senses and opens the heart. Participants will leave refreshed, inspired, and prepared with tools and resources for engaging ministry.

The Heart of Ministry: Deepening Practice, Deepening Community (Part 1)

Facilitated by the Rev. Stuart Higginbotham, rector of Grace Episcopal Church, Gainesville, GA

In a time when it seems daily surveys demonstrate the decline of the institutional church, it may feel a bit foreboding to look toward a vocation in parish ministry. In a culture that frames existence in a consumer-driven posture, it is frustrating to discern the Spirit's call on our lives while resisting the gravity that seems to pull us into an obsession with programs. How can we remain rooted in an awareness of God's desire for our lives so that our vocations flow from the deep well of Christ's indwelling presence? How do we cultivate a greater awareness of the Spirit of Christ rather than react out of anxiety and fear?

The rich heritage of the Christian contemplative tradition offers a space in which all those sharing in parish ministry—both lay and ordained—can anchor their common prayer and compassion in an awareness of God's transforming presence. Indeed, the contemplative lineage of our practice of faith can offer a space of hope and imagination that is so desperately needed today. As Tilden Edwards once said, "It is no small thing to trust in the living presence of the Spirit." While this is the heart of our vocation in parish ministry, our souls may easily feel squeezed into the confines of contemporary expectations of what "success" and "accomplishment" look like.

Drawing on a dozen years as a parish priest and his co-edited book, Contemplation and Community: A Gathering of Fresh Voices for a Living Tradition, Fr. Stuart will offer insights from his own experience in ministry as well as from the ongoing global conversations in the wider, global network of Christian contemplative scholars and practitioners.

This workshop and conversation will draw on key points from past and present teachers, and will concentrate heavily on our present thoughts and questions. In particular, we will explore the Welcoming Practice, a key piece of Centering Prayer, as a way to demonstrate how our own practice of prayer can—and should—nurture our leadership within congregations. In this way, we will seek to combine insights from both books and our bodies as we wonder what trust and consent to the Spirit of Christ looks like in our day and time.

Participants will:

  • Reflect upon their own experience in various ministry contexts to identify pressures, hopes, concerns, and dreams;
  • Gain an understanding of how grounding themselves and their faith communities in a contemplative posture can nurture a prayerful response to the challenges faced by the institutional church today;
  • Explore how they might cultivate practices of prayer that can both encourage and challenge them as they listen more deeply to the Spirit’s indwelling presence.

Entering the Mystery: Planning Non-Traditional Worship (Part 2)

Facilitated by Kate Eaton, president and founder of Mishkhah.

In the 21st century, church attendance is down across all denominations. Many people are juggling competing priorities on Sunday mornings, from soccer practice, breakfast together with the family, a stroll in the park, outdoor recreational sports, and other activities. The draw that existed in years past to attend church has shifted. Diana Butler Bass has said, “The first decade of the 21st century could rightly be called the great religious recession.”

No less a person than Pope Francis has encouraged the church “not to lose sight of this important goal: to help the liturgical assembly and the people of God to perceive and participate, with all the senses, physical and spiritual, in the mystery of God.

Part two of Engaging Ministry begins with a public worship service in All Saints’ Chapel in Sewanee created by Kate and Mishkhah that reveals the mystery of Christ by stirring the senses and opening the heart. Through careful integration of music, images, textures, found objects, light, movement and prayer, we will be invited to rediscover the landscape of our souls as we encounter the Holy.

The following day, Kate will lead workshop participants through a four-phase process of Discovery, Preparation, Launch, and Sustain that enables a small group to create and carry out dynamic and transformative worship on an on-going basis.

When Jesus gave the bread and wine to his followers, he was offering them the very essence of himself, his body and his blood. He encouraged them to remember him when they broke bread together. Embedded in this ritual is a sensory act that is both physical and spiritual. Mishkhah invites all who come to this same experience that embraces body and soul to find rest, to breathe deeply, allowing the spoken word, the music, the light and the shadows to wash over them. Here there is freedom to move in any direction one feels drawn.

Mishkhah is grounded in the beauty and wonder of the tradition, sacraments and architecture of Anglicanism. Kate brings her experience in directing the arts and music for the first 20 seasons of The Wilderness, a Sunday-night service at Saint John’s Cathedral in Denver, CO. Since 2007, The Wilderness has drawn hundreds of new worshipers and regularly gathers a congregation of 100+. It is now one of the longest standing experimental worship services in The Episcopal Church.

Come experience Mishkhah’s four-phase process for creating dynamic and transformative worship on an on-going basis that is life giving for a group of people responsible for carrying out the service week to week.

Participants will:

  • Become familiar with, and able to use, a proven process that helps them and their worship-planning group generate ideas creatively;
  • Experience and reflect on what is generated creatively to encourage the selection of ideas that invite congregations to step inside the stories, history and messages of faith;
  • Understand the logistics involved in bringing generated ideas to life in a live worship environment through hands-on creation of worship elements;
  • Share their experience of participating in the four-phase process and begin imagining how they could use this in their own congregations.

Workshop Facilitators

The Rev. Dr. Stuart Higginbotham

At Grace Episcopal Church, in Gainesville, Georgia, Fr. Stuart Higginbotham serves as rector of the 1,000 member parish and pre-school, working with the vestry, ministry committees, and staff colleagues in prayer, discernment, worship, and community life. Within the broader ministry team, Fr. Stuart has a keen interest in spiritual formation and prayer, membership and newcomers, and the worship and liturgical life of the community. He grounds his ministry at Grace in the Christian contemplative lineage. In August 2017, he was part of the initial gathering of The New Contemplatives Exchange, a global network of young contemplative scholars and practitioners convened by Thomas Keating (Contemplative Outreach), Richard Rohr (The Center for Action and Contemplation), Tilden Edwards (The Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation), and Laurence Freeman (The World Community for Christian Meditation) at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, CO. Fr. Stuart, an alumnus of Sewanee’s School of Theology, is co-editor of Contemplation and Community: A Gathering of Fresh Voices for a Living Tradition (Crossroad Publishing, September 2019). This work is a compilation of eleven chapters from participants in the Snowmass gathering that focuses on key aspects of contemplative practice in our current global environment.

Kate Eaton

Kate Eaton has deep family roots in The Episcopal Church. Her extensive travel has led her to bring her passion for people, music and culture from all over the world to her work in creating worship to stir the senses and open the heart. Through careful integration of music, images, textures, found objects, light, movement and prayer into our worship experiences, we are invited to rediscover the landscape of our souls as we encounter the Holy. In 2001, Kate recorded her first CD, Return to Me, for I Have Loved You with an Everlasting Love, and in 2009 she released ARISE, New Music for Worship, a blend of hymns and original compositions. In 2015, she released King of Love which includes 12 hymns she has arranged with a world music sound. In Colorado, Kate was part of the founding group that developed a new Sunday evening worship service called The Wilderness. She then shared the energy and creativity of The Wilderness with participants in the 2009 convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado. She founded Mishkhah in 2010 to help churches, seminaries, organizations, and individuals infuse their own worship environments with the energy and creativity that invite people into rest, beauty, peace, wonder, and a renewed relationship with God. Kate has helped several congregations create and launch their own weekly evening liturgies that invite a new population of people into The Episcopal Church. 

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