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Working Together Stories: Evelyn Underhill and building regional relationships

Working Together Stories
Nina Nicholson & Allison Davis

In this video, members of the Evelyn Underhill Regional Ministry Network describe how the six congregations are intentionally building regional relationships which are leading to new collaborations. (Time: 6:51.)

Video editing: Nina Nicholson
Audio editing: Allison Davis

Video Transcript

The Rev. Paula Toland, St. Stephen's, Millburn: Following the flood on September 1, 2021, Hurricane Ida, in which two of our parishes were hit significantly. St. George's in Maplewood, and then - they had some damage to a section of their building, and we here at St. Stephen's had about $350,000 worth the damage. And we were out of the nave for five weeks - and we were able to worship actually at Christ Church in Short Hills. The following Thursday, Grant, the other clergy person affected, and I got a phone call saying we're going to have an Evelyn Underhill district meeting in the park across from Grace, Madison. And we arrive to our colleagues having this sumptuous feast of cheese and crackers and chocolate and wine and, and soda and just a way to be together.

The Rev. Grant Mansfield, St. George's, Maplewood: And that was just such a holy moment of support, because she and I just showed up so exhausted and tired from the whole experience. That was the core, right - we started to trust one another because we're sharing our lives.

Paula: I don't know that without an assigned region, it would have happened like that.

Grant: So for our region, our collaboration actually started by just getting to know one another. Soon after Bishop Hughes invited all the different regions to start gathering together as clergy to support one another, that's what we started doing. So we would gather each month, and it wasn't necessarily to talk about all the different programs and things we were doing, it was really about: How are you doing? And how can we support one another. So for us the collaboration really started by just getting to know one another.

Where the collaborations started coming in, was the Advent of 2021. And I was researching Advent devotionals. And I came across one that was centered on the writings of Evelyn Underhill, the patron saint for our region. And it just struck me, we need to use this as a region. This is new, we're getting to know one another, we're all tired anyway - why don't we come together and do this collectively to save ourselves some time and energy but also to build that relationship.

And everyone jumped on board. And that was really the start of it. And then each subsequent collaboration from that, it kind of just came up spontaneously and naturally from the group because we really enjoyed doing that Advent devotional together and the collaboration piece. I think we really saw the fruits of what it looks like to share our energies together rather than trying to repeat them separately on our own.

Our minister of music, Megan Coiley, has developed a really good relationship with the minister of music over at Calvary, Evan Cogswell. And just out of that relationship, that's what gave birth to these beautiful concert series that the our choirs have been able to do - things that even at the height of our financial strength we couldn't do separately, and particularly now when we're going through the pandemic, we were able to just pull together and do something beautiful and magnificent together.

[Choir performance of Saint-Saëns Oratorio de Noël]

Dr. Evan Cogswell, Calvary, Summit: So that was the first one and everyone loved it so much, they were asking when are we doing this again? So we started discussing plans for future ones, so we did the Rheinberger Stabat Mater last March, I believe, and then just this past November, we did the Duruflé Requiem.

Several of my choir members as soon as we started rehearsals, the joint rehearsals, they came up to me and said, oh, it's so nice to sing in a large chorus again, and not just like 8, 10 people, and have that community building experience of 20 or 25 people together making music.

Paula: Most recently we had an Epiphany party, which was a whole lot of fun.

Grant: We were thinking, hey, if we get 25 people, like it's gonna be great. We had at least 50 people there. And it was just phenomenal. I mean, people just came together and they wanted to eat and they wanted to get to know one another. And it wasn't like a heavy lift, but it was a beautiful way to celebrate the feast day outside of liturgical setting that still honored that tradition within us. So we were very pleasantly surprised by it. And I think that's why we're excited to see how we can build upon it for next year.

I think the relationship building was extremely important. And I think that's why it's worked for our region, because the clergy spent the time getting to know one another. And now we're moving into a phase of how do we get the laity and the lay leadership to start getting to know one another. Starting with the relationship is extremely important. And in how we shift from relationship to jumping into ministry, it just takes one person. It takes one person to come up with an idea, and another person would be like, hey, yeah, that's cool - let's give it a shot. Not knowing how it will turn out, you have to be willing to let it fall flat on its face. But at least in our experience in the Evelyn Underhill region, that's really how it came about. So if there's anything that I can encourage anyone in our diocese, whether you're ordained or not ordained, it's that focus on relationship building, and then don't be afraid to be creative and just putting an idea out there. And don't put expectations on it. Just go for it faithfully, and celebrate what happens, take the learnings and then try again. Because it's working for us and even in the messiness, it's just been this sacred, holy experience that is bringing new life and resurrection into all of our parishes in the Evelyn Underhill region.

Paula: We didn't see this as an assignment from our bishop. We saw this more as an invitation from our bishop to be reminded of, of who we are and who we are together. And that has made the world of difference.