From the Dean’s Desk: Outreach at Saint Mark’s
The Very Reverend Paul Lebens-Englund
When it comes to Outreach at Saint Mark’s (aka ‘direct service ministry’), there's definitely change in the air: We're getting out of the ‘ownership’ business and into the ‘partnership’ business. What does this mean?

Does it mean Saint Mark’s has lost its soul? Of course not.

Does it mean we’re no longer interested in tending to concrete human needs? Of course not.

Does it mean we’re no longer planning to help those in need in the future? Of course not.

But what it does mean is that we're moving out of the driver's seat and into the passenger seat—handing the wheel back over to those community agencies best organized and equipped to provide direct service, while at the same time continuing to take seriously our responsibility as a good passenger: bringing plenty of gas money, snacks, and positive energy for the long road ahead.

This sounds like really hard work. Why is it necessary?

Well, as you know intimately, Saint Mark’s has a long and rich history of tending to the concrete needs of its most vulnerable neighbors. Saint Mark’s has prided itself on its capacity to discern and respond to those needs creatively and compassionately. And Saint Mark’s proudly wears this heart on its sleeve, as evidenced by the prominent place given to the redevelopment and growth of Outreach Ministries within the parish profile documents used in the most recent Dean search, which led to my calling to serve among you.

Like most faith communities, Saint Mark’s excels at the discernment and development of new outreach initiatives, responding to the presenting realities of the day. And, like most faith communities, Saint Mark’s also struggles with the review and termination of out-dated and outmoded outreach initiatives. So, finally, and again, like most faith communities, we often find ourselves either addressing issues that no longer exist or addressing them in a way that is no longer effective or sustainable. This can lead to low volunteer recruitment, high volunteer turn-over, increased cost for decreased impact, tension, stress, anger, and ultimate burn-out. None of these is good for a faith community, nor for the larger community in which we live and serve.

Because this pattern is so predictable across variously sized and located faith communities, several years ago your Diocese (The Episcopal Church in Minnesota) ventured to change the narrative around ‘Outreach Ministries’ for the Diocese and every faith community within it. Two fundamental underpinnings of the new narrative are worth noting.

First, God’s mission to heal a hurting and broken world is already happening in the world around us, usually through organizations whose primary competency is to serve the concrete needs of our most vulnerable neighbors. And, second, because it is generally not the Church’s primary competency to serve these concrete needs, we most effectively fulfill our purpose to serve those needs through partnerships with organizations for whom it is a primary competency. That is to say, in a nutshell, we cannot fulfill our vocation to serve the most vulnerable among us when we do so in isolation from the wisdom and gifts of our community partners. Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, we have become isolated from the larger community and from the larger conversation regarding high-impact direct service, support, and advocacy.

The time has come to right the ship, and I've asked our Outreach leadership to play an active part in this important and timely work. And because this work will take all their time and attention for the final quarter of 2016, we're asking that both Warm Space and Monday Night Suppers take a sabbatical from direct service beginning in October. We would also ask Sunday Night Supper and our Sack Lunch Ministry to do likewise, but because they're each connected to other partner organizations, a sabbatical is much more complicated. That said, leaders from each of our four direct service ministries (SNS, MNS, Warm Space, and Sack Lunches) will be asked to participate fully in the fourth quarter's learning, discussion, and discernment—all of which will lead to renewed vision and recommitted strategy for Saint Mark’s Outreach Ministries beginning in 2017.

This is important and godly change—heavy lifting for the common good—all of which is aimed at a more vital and sustainable future for Saint Mark’s, a more strategic and effective approach to the massive needs of our community, and a deeper and broader commitment to those with whom and for whom we serve.

For your on-going prayers and support, thank you!

For your readiness to engage the work, bless you!