Vestry Update to the Parish, June 28, 2017

June 28, 2017

Dear St. Mary’s Parishioner(s):

Many of us undoubtedly welcome the different rhythm that summer brings to our lives, with the promise of long days, vacations, and, hopefully, a slower pace. The rhythm changes at St. Mary’s as well, as we switch to the summer service schedule and give our Sunday school teachers a well-deserved break. Likewise, our regular coffee angels take a respite, and lemonade is offered during fellowship time after the 10:00 a.m. service. The choir is less formal with an open invitation to anyone who would like to join on a given Sunday.

While the rhythm has changed, a good deal of ministry is still going on. This summer, in particular, we have quite a bit happening.

  • As the Rev. Amy Slater settles in (after jumping in with both feet!), we are excited to add a third clergy member. The Rev. Chris Cole has accepted the call to serve at St. Mary’s, with an expected start date of early to mid-August.
  • Our summer book sale July 8 and 9—run by the Hale and Hahn families with help from youth—is a fundraiser for Arlington Pediatric Center and a draw for the larger community.
  • Our summer Ice Cream Social will be on July 20. This year, the Committee on Youth and our Neighbor Relations Workgroup have invited Old Dominion neighbors to join us.
  • We are organizing a St. Mary’s Day at the Ball Park on Saturday, August 12, to see the Giants versus the Nationals. Tickets are $20 per individual. Sign up in Paca Hall; email with questions.
  • And on St. Mary’s Day, August 13, we hope to have a joint service with Iglesia Santa Maria, a mostly Bolivian parish in Falls Church that St. Mary’s helped to support years ago. More recently we have been exploring avenues of deeper relationship based on worship and social justice interests.

Your Vestry also is working to forward the vision of the Beacon Committee, in particular around sustainability.

As you know, the Beacon Committee recommendations have shaped much of the recent work of the Vestry. Previous Senior Warden Jane Jacobsen wrote a letter at the end of December 2016 updating you on the parish’s response to those recommendations. Many of those efforts around staffing, financial health, stewardship, and our physical plant continue apace.

I wanted to update you on a particular decision of the Vestry, which came out of many months of discussion and discernment. The sense of the Vestry is that St. Mary’s will need a rectory at some point in the not-so-distant future. This is common practice for many Episcopal parishes: they own a rectory that is made available to a rector upon hiring. It seems particularly important in this part of the country. We simply would not be able to attract qualified candidates (when the time comes) without offering housing, given how steep home prices and the cost of living are here. With rates creeping up and housing prices steadily increasing, we don’t believe waiting too long makes sense.

To that end, the Vestry approved the formation of a small committee, headed by recently retired Junior Warden Dave Fletcher (working closely with Jane Shafran), to look for housing and to act if an opportunity presents itself.

The Vestry has empowered the committee to work from a set of parameters of what a rectory should have (proximity to the church, the number of bedrooms, open layout etc.), but otherwise has given the committee flexibility to be nimble and responsive. For example, the committee could look at a ready-to-move-into house, or perhaps one that needed renovations or an eventual addition. The house could be rented out in the meantime to keep a flow of revenue.

Earlier this year, the Vestry directed the Finance Committee to make liquid the funds from the sale of the house to our former priest associate, Anne Turner, so that we would have those funds ($850,000) available to put toward a rectory. Those funds would be used as a down payment. The Vestry agreed to work with the Finance Committee to find the best way to finance the balance between the purchase price and the down payment. We have set an upper limit on a purchase price of $1.35 million, hoping to find a suitable property for less but realistically addressing this market.

Please know these decisions were made after robust discussion over a number of meetings and months.

Indeed, the groundwork was laid a few years ago with the sale of the associate’s house. The Vestry strongly believes that giving the committee flexibility, with some basic parameters, increases our options and could even present us with a number of opportunities.

We fully expect there are parishioners who might want to sell their homes to the church, with possible lease-back while they near retirement or relocation. This raises the possibility that we could consider more than one property if associate housing and a rectory were possible to finance. The issue of parish vitality and sustainability going forward is uppermost in the Vestry’s thinking.

All sorts of options should be on the table. Hence, it is important to the Vestry that Dave Fletcher and his committee have the flexibility they need to explore and act on them. With that, I would like to thank Dave and Jane for giving of their time and talent to lead this very important ministry. We are blessed as a parish to have such faithful leaders. If you know of or have a property worth exploring, please email the information to

Rest assured, we are not pushing Father Merrow out the door. To the contrary. It is hard to imagine St. Mary’s without him. But long-term planning, which includes succession planning, is totally appropriate and critical. Businesses do this kind of planning all the time; healthy parishes do as well. Indeed, Father Merrow has encouraged this sort of planning.

Of course, much has been written about the difficulties of planning. To paraphrase one of my favorite poets, Robert Burns: the best-laid schemes of mice and men aft go awry. Or to quote Woody Allen, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”

I certainly don’t think those quotes argue against planning. They just serve as a reminder that we need to be open to adjusting and adapting. Most importantly, we need to be open to the Holy Spirit. And, we have to be willing at times to step out in faith.



Kate Muth
Senior Warden