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Fresh Start for Congregations

“Creating trust usually means finding out what it is we have in common as well as what separates us and makes us different.”

bell hooks

Just as the Clergy Fresh Start program was revamped and updated in September 2020, we’ve refreshed Congregational Fresh Start. Over the past 10 years, we found that two modules were popular and most effective in congregational settings:


  1. History-sharing
  2. Welcoming a new priest (role clarity)

History-sharing module

We recommend that every parish that welcomes a new clerical leader participate in history-sharing.

Purpose of this module

To build trust as parishioners share their stories, the story of their parish as they experience it; and hear their new priest-in-charge or incumbent’s story. Understanding who folks are and where they come from may build or deepen trust, and challenge or loosen up unspoken assumptions and expectations.

Theological understanding

Remembering that we are part of God’s story unites us as people of faith. So much of our foundational scriptures are histories, parables and stories. We are told to remember God’s story: Do this in memory of me  (Luke 22:10). And to retell that story to our kids: Tell your children and your grandchildren about the day you stood in the presence of the Lord your God at Mount Sinai, when he said to me, ‘Assemble the people. I want them to hear what I have to say, so that they will learn to obey me as long as they live and so that they will teach their children to do the same.’ (Deuteronomy 4:9-10).

This workshop asks parishioners to share their stories about their church by grouping folks by the incumbency in which they joined the congregations. As we tell our stories to each other, clerics are invited to understand their new culture more deeply. Newcomers and the longest-lived attendees have the best stories. Themes emerge – joy, hard work, fund-raising success, heart ache and resilience. Your new priest is invited to respond to your parish’s story and notice the themes that will guide you into a future built on trust.

Welcoming a new priest - role clarity module

This module is optional but useful when launching a new cleric’s ministry in your parish.

Purpose of this module

To help participants understand the role expectations, both formal and informal, placed on them by their congregation and to assess the impact of the congregation’s culture and history on these expectations.

Theological understanding

A priest’s ministry relates to the role(s) the congregation thinks that leader should assume. Throughout Scripture, people face role expectations of others that may or may not be aligned with their expectations of themselves.

Moses argued with God that he was not the one to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Esther initially refused Mordecai’s plea to intercede with Xerxes. Even Jesus checks out other’s expectations when he asks, “Who do people say that I am?”

Most biblical scholars would assert that Jesus was a disappointment to many of his followers because he failed to be the traditional notion of “messiah” they wanted him to be. Yet Jesus was crucified by the Roman authorities in large measure because this messianic “role” had been attributed to him and as such, he was a threat. Jesus assumed many other roles: Son of Man, Good Shepherd, forgiver of sins, rabbi/teacher, Lamb of God, healer. For some roles he was praised and beloved; for others, he was faulted and despised.

Congregational leaders are similarly praised and criticized for the roles they play and the roles they fail to play. Understanding one’s role in a community is essential for effective leadership and ministry.

This module will look at those underlying, unspoken assumptions we make about each other in our professional and volunteer roles in our parish. Again, this is a trust-building exercise that will help your new leader make a fresh and productive start in your parish.

COVID-19 note

Both modules work best as an in-person workshop on a Saturday or in a Sunday morning worship context. Just like you, our department has moved much of our in-person programming and consulting to an online platform. We’re working out the kinks, and we’re committed to delivering these fun and important modules virtually, to parishes that want to give it a go.

For more information, contact Elizabeth McCaffrey, the Volunteer Resources Consultant, at or 416-363-6021 (1-800-668-8932) ext. 226.

To get the ball rolling, new clerics or churchwardens should contact Elizabeth, who will assign a pair of local-to-you volunteer Fresh Start facilitators. Often this team will include at least one of your Parish Selection Committee coaches. Your bishop may recommend that you do one or both modules. There is no cost to you.