When I and 35 families started West Shore Church, we were intent on reaching people who would never go to church if it was what they thought it was...preachy, formal, unrealistic, out of touch...It didn't take us long to get to 175 on a Sunday. But we had our challenges along the way and went down or up from there. We stopped having communion on Sunday because we were serious about attracting seekers and unbelievers. If we had real unbelievers in the congregation (and we did), we didn't want to have to say, "excuse us while the family has a private meal. Just talk amongst yourselves." We also eventually had coffee tables and sofas and easy chairs in he "sanctuary", I stopped wearing a clergy collar, and I would arrive in a short sleeve shirt, jeans and flip-flops and would sit and "rap" about life and God after the band played really good and really loud rock and roll music.
We were still an official Episcopal mission, had the blessing of the bishop, and did a significant work in the lives of many people. All in all, we baptized many adults and even confirmed 135 people whom I would bet my life would never have done that if we hadn't taken the approach that we had. It was hard to convince many of my colleagues, though, who felt threatened and that we were thumbing our noses at the time-honored liturgy of the church. I always said the same thing: "We are ONE. You stay anchored firmly where you are. We will stay connected to you and drift over here to catch some fish that the church has never fished for before. But we are depending on you to stay anchored and connected." They usually understood that analogy and relaxed. But it was a challenge.
After 10 years of this, and during a change of bishops, some financial challenges, and the loss of key collegial support, West Shore Church was closed by the Diocese. I never felt so alone. The Diocese was not interested to have the names of the 135 confirmed souls I offered them (whose confirmation and baptismal records remain in boxes in my attic to this day). I never renounced my Orders, but I did leave active ministry for awhile, trying to make a go of it with my clock repair business. I attended St. James Church and helped out there, preaching once in a while and singing in the choir. Most of my colleagues didn't realize that I am a classically trained musician and that I am a contemplative at heart, adoring the ancient paths of the historic church. They assumed, I'm assuming, that because I had a non-liturgical rock and roll church, that this was my preferred worship style and my default take on ecclesology. I don't think they believed me when I said we were doing church this way because of a specific call for a specific cross-section of people, seeing ourselves connected with and one with the Diocese. We had the opportunity to do a new thing, and we took it. No regrets. But we WERE misunderstood.
As I told my congregation on our last day (during which we baptized 2 babies, 3 adolescents and 3 recovering drug addicts): "I'm sure the diciples scratched their heads at the foot of the cross, saying to themselves that the crucifixion was the biggest mistake they had ever witnessed. But it turned out to be the most profound blessing of the cosmos. This may look to you like a big mistake...and it IS, but God knows what He is doing. Watch what He makes of this."
More specifically about St. George's later. But let me end this segment by saying that when I came back to regular ministry at St. George's, I came back to the Episcopal Church, with all her liturgy and her unity and her history and her hierarchy and her love (a VERY open and loving people at St. George's in Summerville---just like Bennettsville), and re-embraced the "ancient paths" and the saints' wisdom and the contemplative life and the catholic faith with a deep, deep love. I had been in the wilderness for over 10 years. I truly appreciated, perhaps more than most, what a treasure the church is...and what a home she is for the soul.
So I learned through my West Shore experience that the church, for all her flaws, is the Body of Christ, the bride of Christ...and is much to be desired, all her faults notwithstanding.
Next...St. Benedict and humility, stability and hospitality.