This page is an effort to be as transparent as possible around the thinking and process that has unfolded over the last several months with some additional context from the past 18 months. Much of what is shared here was also communicated at our Sunday Family Meeting on March 26, 2023 and some of what was shared on Sunday has been expanded below as it offers more context for the way that things have unfolded.
You can find the recording of the March 26 family meeting below.
We understand that the information we’re providing will not answer all the questions you might be holding. Some of you will appreciate the level of detail and context to some of the questions below, while for others, the details might feel insufficient to help ease the pain you are experiencing. We all process grief differently and grief is not linear. Our hope is that we can move through this together in love and mutuality while also recognizing that each individual will be working through the stages of grief within the context of their own life and perspective. We hope the details here are helpful as you come into conversation in the upcoming months.
In the end, the most helpful thing for all of us will be presence to one another, conversation, and opportunities to pray and worship together. We will be making these opportunities available in homes throughout April and May and pastors and leaders are available to meet with groups or individuals to help process what is happening.
Eighteen months ago we were doing the work of trying to figure out how to come out of COVID. As a church that was just 3.5 years old when COVID-19 sent us into lockdown, we did our best to navigate the normal questions that churches were facing (should we require masks? When should we gather? How many people should we let in a room together? How do we care for people during this time?) as well as the additional questions about *where* we should meet. Church plants of our size have historically relied on local school auditoriums given that they are empty on the weekend. But, in this season, schools were not an option as additional bodies in a school during weekends put extra strain on the schools navigating COVID-19. We were not able to gather in any local schools because most local schools were still on lockdown and with each new variant we knew that being in a local school meant that our gathering on a Sunday would be 100% in the hands of school administrators. This didn't feel like a viable option.
We eventually found the wedding venue at 400 W Rich and negotiated a hefty discount to be in that space twice a month while meeting at Wild Goose Creative one time a month. This was not optimal but allowed us to regather. We ordered sound equipment in August of 2021 and given the shipping container backlog on the west coast, our equipment was delayed more than three months. We still gathered for worship and teaching and reached out to people with whom we lost track during Covid. At the same time, the Omicron variant began to surge (December 2021 through March 2022). I think this muted our relaunch in some significant ways.
When we rented the space at 400 we knew that it would only be available to us for about 6 months. They were unwilling to rent to us at discounted rates in the summer months because their primary income stream is weddings and renting to us at a reduced rate on a Sunday meant that they would likely need to say no to a potential wedding booking.
In March of 2022 Hannah and Jared both took a 50% pay cut in compensation from the Abbey. Heather’s hours were reduced as well.
Rachel has always worked very part-time and her work with the kids has been one of the most consistent things in our community. I (Jared) made a decision to keep her monthly stipend the same as it had been. Rachel has consistently worked above and beyond what she is compensated for.
Noah and Naomi Turrigiano have also received a small stipend for their work of overseeing worship (beginning in January 2022).
In the summer months of 2022, we pivoted our focus to keep people engaged in the community by meeting on occasion at the Scioto Audubon and offering a number of options as part of our Summer School of Formation. This allowed for people to engage in 6-8 week learning modules in smaller groups. We had a great group go through a course in Formational Healing (led by Hannah Estabrook and Rachel General) while others went through a three-month journey through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius (led by trained Spiritual Directors and members of the Order of the Common Life, Sister Heather and Sister Jenn). We also offered an introduction to the Discernment of Spirits (led by Sister Heather) and a Sanctuary Night Apprenticeship (led by Hannah).
I (Jared) took a two-month mini-sabbatical to rest (July/August 2022). We knew that another relaunch would require a big lift from the whole team and I had been working through a very challenging season in my own personal life (October 2021- April 2022).
We also spent the summer preparing for a September 2022 relaunch. Heather led us in a facility search within a two-mile radius of 400 West Rich. We looked at older churches in the neighborhood, the event space at Scioto Audubon, and some space at Columbus College of Art and Design. We even considered meeting on a Sunday afternoon at the new Vineyard Grandview campus location. It was the consensus of the team that even though I was feeling like we needed to turn our shoulders toward the whole city — we renamed from Franklinton Abbey to The Abbey at the end of 2021 to mark this slight shift— we wanted to stay rooted in the neighborhood of Franklinton.
We reached back out to Dodge Rec Center. They had previously told us that they did not have the staffing capacity to staff a Sunday morning. Heather worked to negotiate a discounted rate while Jared offered an idea that would allow three people within the Abbey community to be hired by the City of Columbus and employed by Dodge Rec Center so that one of these three members could be a second person on the Dodge Rec Center Staff. Three people raised their hands to volunteer for these roles (Angie Ring, Heath Ring, and Heather Kristine).
We purchased a used cargo van for $6000 to hold all our sound equipment and Sunday morning kids ministry materials. We launched at Dodge Recreation Center and spent September and October working out some kinks, developing some new processes, and trying to invite people towards consistent volunteering for set-up, tear-down, and kids ministry. We saw a number of new people showing up and we were working on implementing some plans that Heather developed in collaboration with a team for integrating new and disconnected people deeper into the community.
We re-launched Community Formation Groups once a month.
We also began to see immediately that we were struggling to find consistent volunteers. Most of our volunteer recruitment happened through individual phone calls and emails as we noticed who was showing up consistently on Sunday mornings and who seemed to be in a season of life to be able to contribute in this way. We began to see some weariness emerging in staff and volunteers by the end of the year.
We were also seeing people being deeply engaged in the community. Deepening conversations were emerging in Community Formation Groups, our Sunday gathering felt sweet and full of God’s presence. We were growing our teaching and lectio teams, Angie Ring was gathering people to provide some leadership to prayer ministry, and Noah and Naomi were beginning to grow our worship teams. Our primary pastoral focus for the fall of 2022 was to expand leadership at the Abbey. We gathered a group of about 24 community leaders in September of 2022 to communicate our focus for the next season and ask for support and engagement from these leaders in the upcoming season. So many people stepped up to lead, host, and be present to things that needed to be done.
We also began a process of bringing greater clarity to our organizational structure. Tori McGraw-Rowe began helping us think through writing a governance constitution that reflected our desire to be an elder-led church. We formed a temporary “provisional board” whose primary role would be to confirm and adopt the constitution and ensure that the process that unfolded in writing the constitution would take into account multiple voices and perspectives. This provisional board would then be dissolved while a new formal board would be installed. Within this new constitution, we would work to create criteria for the selection of elders and begin an elder-training process sometime in the Summer of 2023. Tori’s work was instrumental in helping to push this process forward. She worked in Q4 of 2022 to invite members to join a constitution working group that was set to begin working on writing the constitution in the first half of 2023.
Her time has been all volunteer.
At the beginning of 2023, we had a series of meetings where we began to feel a little more concerned about our financial sustainability, the sustainability of our staff and volunteers, and some concern with what felt like low capacity in many of the people in our community. We had a number of conversations about what it might look like to invite people to a greater level of commitment in this season in the life of our church. We also we’re very mindful of so many things happening in the lives of people in our community (illness, major life transitions, health issues, death of loved ones, etc.).
We have always wanted to be a church where people could feel like they were not being asked to burn out for the sake of building a church.
This question has been the primary question that we (Jared and Hannah) have held over the past 6 months. How do we invite people into greater commitment when we know so many people are in need of care?
We scheduled March 26th for a family meeting to get really transparent about how we were seeing things and what our thinking has been. It was our hope that at this meeting we would communicate the realities of our financial strain, the small signs of weariness that we were beginning to see among ourselves and our teams, and the real possibility that unless things changed pretty quickly, we couldn’t imagine another year of operating in this way.
Hannah and Jared both have been meeting with leadership coaches since mid-2022 and these are some of the questions we’ve been bringing into these coaching calls.
Just before the beginning of Lent 2023, we were informed by Dodge Recreation Center that due to a policy change with the City of Columbus, our rental rate would double beginning in April of 2023. We immediately began working on all the connections we had with the City of Columbus to see if we could get an exception. Hannah Estabrook and Heather Mohrman were on point with many of these conversations and Rebecca Brown also helped get us in touch with a member of City Council. In each conversation we had we were told that there was essentially no way around the new policy. This was confirmed by our contact at Dodge Recreation Center. The new price would be $600/Sunday gathering effective in April.
For most of the month, we felt fairly confident that the situation at Dodge would resolve itself. And, we also began looking into other locations. We connected again with 400 W. Rich St., and we circled back to some connections with the Diocese of Columbus regarding the property they own at 55 S. Grubb st., among other options that we knew would simply be out of our budget. Given our extensive search in the summer of 2022, we knew that the possibility of finding another space within our budget was fairly limited.
We considered going down to two Sundays a month at Dodge and pivoting yet again to twice-monthly All-Church Gatherings.
There were a lot of moving pieces at work leading up to February 2023 and some very time-sensitive decisions at work from February 23rd (when we found out about the potential loss of our space) and March 26th (our upcoming family meeting and our last contracted date to be at Dodge Rec Center).
While doing some of the work of looking deeper into our relationship with Dodge Rec Center what also began to unfold was a deeper awareness on my part of how much pressure the three members of our community were under who had signed up to be employees of Dodge Rec in order for us to gain access on a Sunday morning. As I got clearer about the toll that this role was taking on some of the individuals who had volunteered for this, I realized that even if we could go down to twice a month at Dodge the risk of burning people out in this staffing /partnership role with Dodge was too high for me to feel like I could push us further into partnership with Dodge Rec. It did not feel within my values as a leader to continue to push us deeper into this space given the increased financial cost and the ongoing cost to volunteers and staff.
I (Jared) spoke with Hannah about this and we both agreed that moving forward with Dodge Rec. Center was not an option. There were some other factors at work in this decision, but all the factors we took into consideration were centered on what would be most loving for the people involved and what would be most aligned with our value of caring and pastoring the people in our congregation as our primary concern ABOVE the work of "keeping the momentum" in our Sunday gathering.
The first decision that we made early during the week of March 13th was the decision not to keep pushing on Dodge Rec Center as a viable option for our Sunday gatherings. We announced this decision at our Sunday gathering on March 19th.
Once this decision was made we were now faced with the question: "What next?"
I (Jared) circled back to the conversation and possibilities about meeting in a new location. I spent a day in prayer and conversation with a few leaders in our church trying to discern what God's invitation to us in this moment was. I needed to get clear about what I was able to do as a leader at this moment. What was in my control and what was out of my control? What were our options? I tried a few more places for Sunday gathering locations, I considered a Sunday evening gathering, and even considered whether I had vision for transitioning our community to a house-church model.
Over the next few days what became clear for me was that I did not feel the grace to keep pushing our community towards a Sunday gathering in a new location. What also became clear to me was that I do not presently have the vision, capacity, or imagination to lead a network of house churches or community groups. I do not believe we have the leadership structure as a church to make this transition.
In this process, I spoke with leaders within and outside the Abbey community. While the Abbey does not have formal elders, there has been a "short-list" of leaders that would have likely been invited into consideration of becoming an elder in this next season at the Abbey (more on this below). I began to share with these leaders the possibility of not relaunching our Sunday services.
I invited input from some leaders within our community both about the situation unfolding and about whether there was anything that they could see that perhaps I could not see.
After prayer, spiritual direction, and consultation with friends and regional leaders within the Vineyard, it was clear to me that we do not have the financial resources, leadership structures, or people to relaunch Sunday gatherings at the Abbey.
This was a very hard conclusion to come to. But as I shared my own thinking with Hannah, Rachel, and Jaime, we felt in agreement that this seemed to be the best course of action.
The primary motivation for this decision is rooted in the care of people in the Abbey, including our leaders. Continuing to push us toward "building" in a moment where questions of sustainability are very much at the forefront is not aligned with our value of honoring the limits of our bodies, soul, mind, and strength.
I shared this decision with a number of leaders inviting them to speak into the decision, to name what they could see, and to push back on anything that felt misaligned.
We began to develop a plan for communication and determined that the best option before us was to use the already scheduled family meeting to share this news. At the time, the option of adding even another few weeks at Dodge Rec Center was not available to us. This made the decision and process feel really fast (which I did not like), but in the moment, it felt like the best way forward (more on this below).
Over the months of April and May our plan is to open up a few homes for gathering for prayer, conversation, and perhaps some worship (as available).
We will update the community with the dates and locations for these gatherings in our newsletter the week of April 10th. Our regularly scheduled Community Formation Groups will still be meeting on April 16th.
Our greatest desire is that we can continue to be present to one another in the community during this time. In addition to creating space for processing grief and gaining greater clarity, we want to help each person think about their relationship to the people within this faith community as well as their relationship to the broader church. While we are hopeful that some expression aligned with the Abbey's values could emerge in the future in partnership with other institutions, there is nothing yet on the horizon in the near-term future. Our hope is to help people transition into another existing local church in our community or help people imagine ways of being connected together with the Scriptures, prayer, and formation at the center.
We will be working toward a celebration service sometime towards the end of May or early June. We'll keep you updated as soon as we have more information.
There are two primary things that I (Jared) can presently see that I wish could have been different in this process.
I have been teaching individual and group discernment for the past ten years. One of the things that I've talked a lot about is how often discernment is a slow process. And, what I've also taught is that discernment and decision-making are not the same thing. The process of discernment that helped us reach a decision in these last weeks began more than six months ago when we began to discuss the sustainability of this church community. I have personally been sitting with this question since February of 2022 and began speaking this out loud in conversation with Hannah starting in August of 2022. We agreed then that the question of sustainability was real, but we felt invited to give it one more push. Sometimes God begins the work of discernment long before a decision needs to be made. And some decisions are time-sensitive even when we wish we could take longer.
I wish that the situation with Dodge Rec Center hadn't compressed the decision into a 4-week window. I think this is probably the thing that feels most disorienting for people.
Our hope was to lay out the facts and open up the process to the wider community at our March 26th family meeting. Given that we did not feel we could continue to use the gathering space, we made the hard decision to move more quickly than I would have wanted for the simple fact that we did not know whether we would be able to have another time to gather everyone together. This could have played out differently while the outcome remain the same. I do recognize that a slower process could have been more helpful to some.
I wish we had our governance structures in place sooner. We were working on formalizing our structures in 2019 and lost some momentum on this project due to some pastoral transition. We went into COVID (March 2020) with a Discernment Council fairly intact. But this advisory group did not make it through the turbulence of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Many people on the Discernment Council moved or moved on. I reached out to Vineyard USA Area Leaders and Regional Leaders in the summer of 2022 indicating that all our structures for governance were needing to be rebuilt. I wanted the leaders to whom I am accountable to be aware that we were operating without the kind of governance in place that I wanted. I communicated to our Regional Leader (Joel Seymour) a plan to get these structures in place within the next year. We were waiting to see who was still around to begin the rebuilding process. As soon as we were able to identify some leaders with some capacity to begin pushing on this, we went to work. Tori has stepped up with a great degree of skill and has exercised her gifts in this area. She has done an excellent job working on this project in the limited volunteer hours that she has had.
Church governance is important. I have never wanted to replicate a CEO model of church leadership. And while we've been able to practice discernment as a team and have leaned into shared leadership, the formal structures for decisions around staffing, compensation, financial sustainability, and care for leaders have not been in place since before COVID. The past year would have been so much easier had these structures been in place. I'm not sure that it could have been different. But I'm saddened by the impact that the lack of these structures has had on this community.
As mentioned in our pastoral letter we remain hopeful that something could emerge in our city that builds on the work of the Abbey these past seven years. I (Jared) remain committed to exploring ways to bring together the contemplative, charismatic, and sacramental traditions of the church for the formation of people in the way of Jesus. I'm going to continue to build teams, partnerships, alliances, and imagination to help people notice and nurture the work of God in their lives, in the lives of others, and in the world around them.
We are at the very beginning stage of conversation with other local leaders about the possibilities of centering contemplative Christian practices alongside a deep commitment to the Scriptures and the deep healing work available in the love of God.
We will keep you posted if anything comes of these conversations.