“We’re better together”

Congregations Collaborate for Holy Week

Holy Week preparation has a reputation for fraying the nerves of even the most non-anxious congregational leaders. But this year, that frenetic energy seems distant for leaders of four parishes who have committed to sharing the liturgical load. St. Gregory’s in Deerfield, St. Elisabeth’s in Glencoe, Trinity in Highland Park, and St. Lawrence in Libertyville will take turns hosting Tenebrae, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Vigil services.

“I am so relaxed going into Holy Week,” the Rev. Anne B Jolly, St. Gregory’s rector, says. “It’s much more spiritual for me this year than it has been in a long time because I’m not so stressed about it. I’m not preaching ten sermons in seven days. I’m so excited to be in other people’s ‘houses,’ and to see how they do worship. This is going to be amazing.”

Clergy are not the only parish leaders feeling a weight off their shoulders. “Collaborating with our friends has taken that stress level down,” Susie Brock, St. Lawrence’s parish administrator, says. “My workload was divided by four. We are hosting Maundy Thursday. So, the other services … I get to be a parishioner and hold their bulletins in my hands.

“It has linked us together creating a partnership. I now know my colleagues in neighboring towns. And if I have questions or need help, I know my fellow [parish administrators] will be there for me. I bet they would even print my bulletins if needed.”

The Holy Week planning is just the latest development in an ongoing collaboration among the four churches. “I pulled several clergy together, and we had a conversation about potential collaboration as congregations, and looking at what that might be and what it might feel like,” says Jolly, who also serves as president of the diocesan Standing Committee. “None of our congregations is on the verge of closing. This came from the desire to explore different ways of doing church in the world, and we realized none of us had the energy or resources to do that if we had to keep doing all the same things we had been doing. So if we could collaborate on the ‘this is how we’ve always done church’ stuff, then we could actually explore new ways of doing church. Why are we all doing the exact same things if we can do it together? We’re better together.”

Collaborative efforts have included housing an Afghan family through Episcopal Migration Ministries, sharing Advent and Lenten devotionals and online services, and sharing Christmas Eve liturgies. “At St. Gregory’s, the motto with our staff is ‘everything but Sunday morning worship, we will do with somebody else,’” Jolly says.

In addition to helping mitigate the workload, collaborating on Holy Week also provides an opportunity to experience more of the breadth of the Episcopal liturgical tradition. “As we know about the Episcopal Church, depending on where you are, it can look a lot different from congregation to congregation,” the Rev. Bryan Cones, Trinity’s priest-in-charge, says. “So this is about coming together in something we share (the liturgies of Holy Week), but also exchanging the different ways we’ve done them.”

The Rev. Adam Spencer, St. Elisabeth’s rector, remembers a particularly meaningful Holy Week during which he and a friend visited different churches with widely varying liturgical styles for each service. “I’m experiencing that feeling again this year in planning Holy Week with our partnership, in the rich spiritual and liturgical diversity of my clergy colleagues and the unique character of each of our parishes,” he says. “I hope that the journey through Holy Week this year is as meaningful for our communities gathered together as it was for me and my friend.”

The clergy of the four congregations meet weekly to talk about ideas and share resources. Next month, with the hard work of Holy Week and celebration of Easter Sunday behind them, they will meet to plan for the year ahead.

“What is most thrilling to me about collaborating as a team of rectors who are trusted colleagues is that we can truly relate to one another as equals,” the Rev. Kristin Saylor, St. Lawrence’s rector, says. “There are no awkward power plays here about who gets to do what; just genuine love and affection. It is a relief and a joy not to have to hold Holy Week alone.”