One Congregation’s Experience of The Way of St. Paul
An Interview with The Rev. Greg Bezilla, Rector of Holy Trinity Parish in South River
Fr. Greg, why did you and your congregation join the Way of St. Paul (WoSP) 1.0?
The Way of St. Paul got my attention as a new rector coming into a church that was seeking renewal of its life and its relationship to the wider community.
How did Holy Trinity benefit from participation?
Changed Lives. People’s lives have been changed. One young woman had such a life-altering experience, maturing greatly as a leader, and found herself so invested, that after the process was completed she sensed a call to serve on the vestry.
A Culture of Innovation. For the congregation, WoSP created a space for experimentation, innovation, and creativity for trying new things, taking risks, dealing with the inevitable disappointments of things not working out as we wished for, and to keep going.
Helpful new Ways of Thinking. We are thinking in new ways when it comes to facing new opportunities. Because we are seeking through WoSP to change mindsets and cultures and things that are very hard to put our finger on, it is so very helpful to have this diocesan resource beyond the parish that creates a network of accountability. We are now more aware that that we as church/vestry need to be learning organization that adapts to the emerging challenges in our post-Christian reality. WoSP also models a deeper, richer, experience of what it means to be church, and what an advantage and joy it is to be Episcopalian.
Partnership with Other Parishes. In our region, the initiative placed us side by side with teams from other congregations. We got away from competitiveness between congregations, and rather than envying successes or feeling as if we didn’t measure up, we supported each other and made relationships with those on other WoSP teams.
New Tools for a New Era. The Way of St. Paul has put tools in our toolbox. We can better identify resources, primarily relationships, which we can draw on. When we go into event planning, we understand more and more that it’s not through administration but through relationship that we grow spiritually. Good experiences like Burger Church—a discipleship initiative which we developed through the WoSP process—reshape our mindset in approaching other projects.
What resistance did you encounter?
We didn’t have any outright hostility. However, change is slow, and we are trying to reform the culture and mindset of the church. There was much hanging back – a wait and see with two cheers instead of three attitude. This sort of change requires replication of effort, over an extended period, progressively trying and trying again and reapplying and repeating and verbalizing and explaining and teaching. That’s because this process of following Jesus’ lead is new to us.
It is hard to step outside out established mindset. Many are trying to preserve the institution of the church as we have received it and the structures we are seeking to transform are well entrenched. Challenges to anything that might seem like the church that they joined or activities in which they put energy, will always be met with resistance.
Many people measure the success of the church by the ability to have a menu of items and fill out menu of volunteer slots and have a certain attendance, and that doesn’t work anymore. Growth needs to be about the renewal of our discipleship in Jesus, and the new places to which he leads us.
Why did you decide to become a coach for the round of WoSP that’s starting in September?
I had such a positive experience of the program, and see its potential. I’m willing to invest in it because the Office of Congregational Development has listened to and learned from the experience of those who participated in WosP 1.0, and a great deal of thoughtfulness and critical thinking has gone into redesigning the program. As a coach, I will continue my own learning and that will help me influence the good seeds that have been planted in my own setting. The experience of coaching will feed me, and the skill sets I learn will benefit me and my own congregation.
Bottom line: What should congregations considering The Way of St. Paul know?
The Way of St. Paul is a pathway, it is an initiative, a way for congregations who might be feeling stuck to get unstuck and begin to renew their discipleship. My experience is that people will be changed by this process, and that I would advise any congregation considering the way of St Paul to invest in this process not because it will bring more people, more programs, more dollars in the collection plate, but because it will change people in the parish.
It will change the lives of those who serve in the WoSP teams and they will become that little leaven in the dough. They will become those pioneers who find the path for others to walk with them. And you will find that if a church sticks with this process, new leaders will emerge. We are seeking to be disciples who are learning from Jesus being trained through our experience of following Jesus, how we could effectively joyfully serve God’s mission in a way that is sustainable to all.