Summer sabbatical: St. Edward’s to explore other ways of worship

June 2016 Posted in Community

mccauleyBy Kristine Thomas

When The Rev. Shana McCauley of St. Edward’s Episcopal Church in Silverton first had an inkling of what she wanted to do to keep the church open, she believed it was a truly crazy idea.

As out-of-the-box her plan was, she knew she had to do something, because doing nothing wasn’t an option.

Every five years, the vicar is supposed to take a sabbatical, McCauley explained, adding she was scheduled to go last year. A myriad of concerns from who would fill in to declining membership and financial questions kept her from going.

“If the vicar is gone, so is everyone else,” she said, with a hearty laugh.

As she entered her sixth year as the vicar at St. Edward’s, she knew she had to address the question of the church’s future. And she knew if she was going to find an answer, she needed quiet time to think, reflect and pray.

Yet, she kept returning to the question who would serve the congregation while she was away.

And that’s when she had what she calls the “crazy idea.”

“My idea is for the entire church to take a sabbatical this summer,” McCauley, 37, said.

And so it shall be.

In the spring, she met with the church’s board members, who approved the idea. Next, she took it to the The Rt. Rev. Michael C. Hanley, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese in Portland, and The Rev. Neysa Ellgren, the Canon to the Ordinary, and both gave their blessing.

St. Edward’s is receiving  financial support from the Portland diocese to relaunch or replant the church.

Starting in June, St. Edward’s will be closed. The congregation will divide into three groups, each attending other churches and places of worship this summer.

In June, they will visit Silver Creek Fellowship, Trinity Lutheran in Silverton and Trinity Lutheran in Mount Angel. In July, they will select three Episcopal churches to visit. In August, the groups will reach out to three different places of worship, such as a mosque or a synagogue.

McCauley said by stepping outside their own church and stepping into the community to see and learn how other faiths and churches worship, the congregation will return in the fall renewed and refreshed with ideas on how to take St. Edward’s forward.

The groups will meet after each worship service, with the leadership hosting discussions about the service. On the fourth Sunday of each month, the congregation will meet together off-site to celebrate the Eucharist, catch up with each other, welcome newcomers and share information about the different places of worship. In August, the parish will take what they have learned and decide on how to move forward. A grand reopening is planned for Sept. 11.

Founded in 1956, St. Edward’s, like so many mainline churches, has declined in membership for the last several years. Describing this period as the “Second Reformation,” McCauley said many churches are searching for answers on how to serve people, especially when many people believe they do not need a church to have faith.

Since about World War II, she said, Sunday morning has gone from a time when people found their sense of identity in church. Now, Sunday morning is busy with athletic tournaments, work or a long list of other things keeping people from attending services.

“If people don’t feel they have to go to church to have faith, what becomes the church’s place in our society?” she asked.

“So the question is, if people don’t feel like they need a church to define their sense of place in the community, then how does the church serve? Who is the church if people don’t feel like they have to be here?”

For McCauley, the church is a place to find glimpses of God.

“We go to church to share the Gospel,” McCauley said. “The more people I met and share the Gospel with, the more glimpses of God I see. Church is a place to meet and talk and learn about God and God’s love.”

With any relationship, it grows and changes over the years. It doesn’t mean that change is easy, McCauley said.

“If given the choice of being uncomfortable or comfortable, we all would chose being comfortable,” she said. “But if we don’t do something different or uncomfortable, we may find ourselves going in a direction we don’t want to be going. This is a chance to look at things differently and decide where we want to go and who we want to be in the future.”

While some religions will evangelize, McCauley said that is not true for Episcopalians.

“We consider ourselves a thinking man’s church. Our motto at St. Edward’s is ‘Come as you are,’” she said. “We are not big on specific rules. We believe in love God, love yourself and love your neighbor as you love yourself. We are an open-minded community walking together toward God.”

McCauley said what is “crazy” about what St. Edward’s congregation is doing is it is the opposite of what makes sense.

“We are telling our congregation to go and learn and see what else is out there,” she said. “What could happen is they go and find something that fits them better.”

While members are grieving about who they used to be, McCauley said members are also excited to decide what’s next for their church.

“We are a searching community and we are figuring out who we are. We do think we have something to offer to this community,” McCauley said. “What is exciting about this sabbatical is we are a community of faith that is actually stepping out in our faith.”

St. Edward’s invites community members to explore faiths with them this summer. To join in, email

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