Beginning Discernment, July 2016

This letter was sent to the parish in July of 2016. 

I am writing to let you know that I as your Rector and your Vestry, with the approval of the Finance Committee, have signed a contract with the Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF) to begin a discernment process towards a possible capital campaign to repair, update, and improve some aspects of our buildings and grounds. ECF is an independent, lay-led nonprofit that helps Episcopal congregations, dioceses, and faith communities with leadership training and financial resource development. We anticipate beginning that discernment work with our ECF consultant, Crystal Plummer, sometime this fall.

Discernment is one of those churchy words. I think what we mean by it, fundamentally, is a process of exploration, conversation, wondering, and eventually decision-making, in which we expect God to be a conversation partner. We’re asking questions and looking into possibilities and developing ideas, and we’re also looking and listening and being open to the nudges and holy moments that are the Holy Spirit’s way of lighting our path.

In the context of a capital campaign, discernment means a structured, but flexible, process for determining which of many needs and possibilities are God’s hope for our community at this time. After researching four capital campaign consulting firms and interviewing two, we chose to work with ECF in large part because they are so intentional about the discernment phase. In their materials, they state, “Raising funds begins with listening to what God is calling your ministry to accomplish….  Discernment helps you identify your needs, involve [the whole body] in the prayerful consideration of those needs, and communicate a collective vision for your [shared] ministry.”

What that means is that we don’t have answers yet to the two biggest questions people are likely to have: What are we going to do? And, Are we ready? Coming to clear, shared answers to those questions is exactly what the discernment process is for. We’ll know we’re finished with the discernment phase, and ready to move into the capital campaign proper, when we all know what the vision is, what the projects are, and why we’re doing this. And if we don’t arrive at clarity about those things, then we may discern that it’s not the right moment to move ahead.

Your Vestry and Finance Committee have been discussing this for many months now, and we believe the moment is right for this initial step. In terms of the needs, we’ve got some stuff that’s just worn out or isn’t serving us well. The parking lot needs repaving, not just patching; the chairs and floor in the church are shabby; the kitchen is starting to fall apart; and so on. None of them are huge issues in themselves, and they may not be the most exciting parts of the campaign, as it eventually takes shape. But those things that need something more than a routine fix have been piling up towards a critical mass, and they are telling us that it’s time to give our facilities some attention.

In terms of the parish community, the oikos (household) of faith:  there’s a lot of good energy at St. Dunstan’s right now. We’ve rebuilt after some tough times. We have both new members and long-time members who really care about this place and are ready to be part of visioning and investing in its future. We’ve got great leadership in place all around the parish. And the process of a capital campaign, if we do it right – which is our plan – is a very positive process of naming together what we hope for here, and taking steps to live into it together.

I’m excited about the opportunity to begin that work here – and nervous too. It’s new for all of us – I’ve never been part of a capital campaign, and St. Dunstan’s, though funds have been raised for building needs in the past, has never had a full-scale campaign of this sort. We will all be learning as we go. And there will be moments of stress and struggle, when visions or priorities differ. Your Vestry is already talking about how we hope to handle those moments, as a community of care and mutual respect, and will share some ideas with the congregation in the weeks ahead. So, yes, I’m nervous. But I also feel the wind of the Spirit blowing us in this direction. I’ve been thinking and praying about this for three years now, and I feel deep joy that we’re finally standing at this threshold together.

I ask your prayers for me, for your Vestry and Finance Committee, for the people who will be called forward as a leadership body for this work of discernment, and for our whole parish, in this season of curiosity and hope.


6205 University Ave., Madison WI

St. Dunstan's Episcopal Church