Portfolio Questions and Responses

Describe a moment in your worshipping community's recent ministry which you recognize as one of success and fulfillment.

In 2020, St. John’s succeeded in fulfilling spiritual needs by immediately creating and mobilizing a volunteer tech team, led by essential personnel socially distanced in the sanctuary, to live-stream services. Our digital presence was consistent and reliable, providing our community vital connection to church when we could not gather physically. We incorporated congregation readings and a digital Youth Christmas Pageant. We progressively upgraded production and equipment and recruited new team members, including parish youth. When our music minister had to be away for several weeks, we held an 8-hour recording session preparing music to broadcast in his absence. The tech team remains in place today to live-stream services and post recordings online for later viewing. This ministry reaches shut-ins, former members in distant states, and digital ‘visitors’ who began attending services in person based solely on their experience online. We plan to continue expanding our tech capabilities through this ministry. Born of unprecedented necessity, our tech ministry reveals our emotional and physical endurance, spiritual dedication, and inventive problem-solving abilities.

How are you preparing yourselves for the Church of the future?

Regarding preparing the church for the future, the approach is multi-faceted. First, the parish has always held that God’s House is sacred. We show our commitment to maintaining and improving the physical plant through continued maintenance and work on the premises. This is not just when something needs repair, because proactive projects are commonplace at St. John’s. The Campaign for the Future renovated the sanctuary, entirely remodeled the Victorian house, repaired our stained-glass windows, maintained the building we lease to the Next Step Day Room, and prepared to update the kitchen in the main building. During the pandemic when in person worship was prohibited, we actively put together a robust online/streaming ministry to allow all to worship remotely and, going forward, when they are unable to attend. This has extended to other areas such as funerals. Finally, we reach out to non-members and the unchurched by hosting several outside events in our sanctuary, to include choral concerts and an opera presented by the University of AR Fort Smith. In short, we attempt to take good care of our own and invite others to join our community in a safe and attractive atmosphere.

Please provide words describing the gifts and skills essential to the future leaders of your worshipping community.

compassionate, empowering, listener, leader

Describe your liturgical style and practice for all types of worship services provided by your community.

St. John’s liturgical style is highly influenced by its long history from the turn of the previous century. The parish is grounded in Prayer Book worship. Parishioners find great comfort in the consistency of the liturgy. A spoken Rite I Eucharist is celebrated at 8:00 on Sunday mornings and a choral Rite II service follows at 10:30. We have been incorporating resources from Enriching our Worship, especially in the Prayers of the People. Weekday Morning Prayer and other services from the Book of Common Prayer have been instigated periodically with some success. Music is very important to the parish and the 10:30 service and the choir of parishioners (assisted by student interns and guest musicians) is led and accompanied by the professional musician on St. John’s staff.

How do you practice incorporating others in ministry?

St. John’s has a dedicated volunteer coordinator that ensures parishioners are present in our services as lectors, acolytes, Eucharistic visitor, Eucharistic ministers, and altar guild participants. The St. John’s choir incorporates music students from the University AR Fort Smith to join their joyous voices on Sunday mornings. Other local musicians have enhanced the musical ministry at St. John’s by playing their cherished instruments at the 10:30 service. St. John’s participates in the city wide multi-denominational Wednesday Lenten services by opening our beautiful church to others in the Fort Smith community. St. John’s EFM group invites non-parishioners to participate in this program of theological education. We have just launched a summer book study group that helps participants discover and nurture their call to Christian service. This group opens its arms to anyone who has participated in EFM in the past. Ever present boxes in the Parish Hall are receptacles for parishioners to share their love by giving much needed items to The Next Step Day Room, Cards for Others, Backpack Program, and the Community Rescue Mission.

As a worshipping community, how do you care for your spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being?

St. John’s nourishes our worshipping community through well-established programming and an energetic culture of specific and responsive ministries that deepen us spiritually, expand us emotionally, and nurture us physically. We strengthen our spirituality through priest-led Sunday school classes, eucharistic minister training, liturgical calendar intergenerational events, and the largest EFM group in the state. We emotionally support our worshipping community through annual back-to-school blessings, pet blessings, a widow’s ministry, and deacon-led parish discussions. Long-standing groups that build emotional bonds include Saints Alive, Daughters of the King, Vino League, and Girls Night Out. Led by our Sextant and Junior Warden, we nurture physical well-being by caring for our spaces and surrounding area with community clean-up days, grounds keeping committee, and a biweekly neighborhood clean walk group. We also care for our bodies through vestry safeguard training and parish yoga.

How do you engage in pastoral care for those beyond your worshipping community?

St. John’s has a long history of loving and serving the surrounding community. The congregation opens its arms and cares for its undernourished and underinsured neighbors. St. John’s has provided shelter for the Good Samaritan Clinic for a dollar a month. The Good Samaritan Clinic has provided medical care to the uninsured since 2003. The Sack Lunch Program was born out of the doors of St. John’s. It is now a multi-denominational volunteer program that serves 1200 lunches a week to those who are food insecure. Casseroles For Life offers parishioners the chance to share their cooking talents with The Next Step Day Room. One parishioner’s ministry of donated books on a table morphed into a library of “Buck A Book” that now supplies free books to public libraries, adult education centers, nursing homes, and Next Step Literacy Council. The congregation shows its love for the poor by giving gifts from the Angel Tree to local school children at Christmas. And despite the closed doors that many homeless people faced during COVID, St John’s opened its parking lots to care for them when all other doors were shut to them.

Describe your worshipping community's involvement in either the wider Church or geographical region.

St. John’s represents dedicated service and engagement with our downtown, greater area communities, and the Diocese of Arkansas. Saint John’s joins and coordinates with other downtown churches and public and private agencies in “Neighbors on the Block” working through Crawford-Sebastian Community Development Council to improve the lives of low-income individuals and families and the communities in which they live, so that a greater level of self- sufficient living can be achieved. We partner with Community Rescue Mission to help the unhoused populations in our region. We have opened our facilities to host community wide events like Mind Stretchers Lecture Series, Ozark Bronze Bell Choir, UAFS Opera, LGBTQ group, and AA group. As part of the Northwest Convocation and the Diocese, we have clergy and lay leaders serving on Standing Committee, Camp Mitchell Board, participants and mentor of the Iona Collaborative, ECW and EFM coordinator. Our youth attend Diocesan Youth mission trips and youth event weekends and volunteer at Camp Mitchell. At the National level, we have sent delegates to the National Convention, EYE, Forma, ECCC; and, we have a DOK chapter.

Tell about a ministry that your worshipping community has initiated in the past five years. Who can be contacted about this?

St. John’s partnered with our neighbor, Next Step Homeless Services, to continue providing services to the unhoused while maintaining social distancing, while some shelters were closed, and while others were housing clients positive with COVID. NSHS, with our help, were the only ones open for services to the unsheltered population at the time. We allowed two porta potties with hand washing stations to be placed on the church parking lot for several months while NSHS provided staff and services outdoors during summer and fall 2020. We allowed NSHS to use our tables and chairs and to set up water hydration stations on the parking lot for 3-4 months. We allowed large tents to be placed on our parking lot for shade. Those rented tents remained on the lot for about seven days a week for six weeks. Some unhoused neighbors slept under them when no staff was available. The church helped clean up each morning until the rental company removed the tents when some damage was done to them. We provided NSHS with masks and hand sanitizer during the pandemic. Church volunteers continued to provide prepared hot food monthly throughout the pandemic. Email David Sims, stjohnfs@stjohnfs.org

What is your practice of stewardship and how does it shape the life of your worshipping community?

Stewardship has historically been broad based throughout the congregation. We have enjoyed wide support for pledging through the years. A confirmation of this was in the recent church survey where more than 90% of the respondents stated they regularly support the church financially. We have seen a decrease in pledging units and pledged dollars beginning just before COVID. To be frank, this is somewhat a function of a mature parish. We nonetheless historically get a good portion of unpledged contributions. It’s worthnoting that all the recent projects/capital improvements have been funded either by cash reserves of special campaigns or grants. All this was done without taking on any debt. Stewardship also comes from the time, talent, and service of our members. Whether working on internally focused projects or participating in outreach (see Sack Lunch program), the involvement and “giving” by our members comes in many ways. One hallmark of our stewardship is the amount of participation by so many in a wide variety of areas.

What is your worshipping community's experience of conflict? And how have you addressed it?

St. John’s solves acute conflicts through open communication and teamwork. We also live with persistent difficulties that have no solution. The unhoused in our neighborhood often use our grounds or come in for food; some of us want to open the doors wider, and some of us want to meet their needs offsite. We have invited unhoused people in for refreshments at times and asked them to leave our grounds when they have not respected the property at other times. Plans for an Oxford House failed because of our proximity to unhoused individuals with drugs; worship paused while an unhoused woman chose to light the Christ candle in the middle of service; unhoused individuals repeatedly damaged our retaining wall. The competing demands of offering grace to the poor on our doorstep and practicing responsible stewardship of our facilities and the security of our worshipping community are hard to balance and lead to recurring disagreements. We respect one another’s desire to do good, and we look to leaders who can help us keep our ongoing conversation about relating to the unhoused both practical and loving.

What is your experience leading/addressing change in the church? When has it gone poorly? And what did you learn?

St. John’s experienced a change when its much-anticipated Oxford House ministry failed to come to fruition. Since receiving a Victorian house as a gift, we had ongoing discussions about its use, weighing the costs of taxes and maintenance against the potential benefits of using the property for outreach. We resolved to use the property as an Oxford House and secured external funding for the necessary renovations. Every ministry group contributed its unique gifts to this endeavor, including an interior decorating project by the ECW. After dedicating much time, talent, and treasure to this ministry, we endured a disappointing blow when the Oxford House organization changed its plans about using our property. While the circumstances of the change were outside of our control, our community grieved the loss of this ministry. We have since redirected our resources to support other needs and reopened discussions about how to use this property. Reflecting upon the work that went into this project, we have learned that the St. John’s community is unified in its desire to serve, eager to work together, and resilient in the face of challenges.