Renewal at St. Paul's: Spiritual and Financial

Diocesan Press Service. April 23, 1975 [75149]

Bob G. Slosser, Washington Bureau of The New York Times

(2nd of two stories)

DARIEN, Conn. -- For the pragmatist, spiritual renewal in a parish can make life so much easier, albeit busy, according to members of a congregation now in the midst of one of the most unlikely, dramatic and well-known renewals in the Episcopal Church.

The parish is St. Paul's in Darien, a rich seacoast town of high-living, highly educated "today people " closely keyed to the influences of New York City one hour away. The pragmatic side of that parish's recent history shows nearly a 100 per cent increase in church attendance in three years coupled with a 136 per cent increase in giving.

How did it happen? Edward Leaton, chairman of the church's stewardship commission, quickly traces the pragmatic gains straight back to the spiritual change. "Under the teaching of Terry, we discovered II Corinthians 8:3-5," he said, quoting: "' For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints -- and this, not as we expected, but first they gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. ' "

By "Terry " he referred to the Rev. Everett L. Fullam, who came to St. Paul's as rector less than three years ago. "When Father Fullam arrived," Mr. Leaton explained, "we were preparing for our annual every-member canvass. And after a short time he explained that he had some reservations about this. With the vestry's concurrence, he undertook teaching from the pulpit on giving to the Lord and got us to praying about it. Finally we got the people to make their pledges solely on the basis of what they felt they should give, without a canvass, and pledging went up 40 per cent that year. "

The following year, he continued, the stewardship commission, after a unanimous vote by the vestry, agreed to give up both the canvass and the signed pledges, calling for a "covenant with God " on what was set aside as Covenant Sunday. A 24- hour prayer vigil before that Sunday was instituted and the following day the pledges, unsigned and known only "by the individual and God," showed a 51 per cent increase. The amount given that year actually exceeded the pledges considerably.

Last fall, the increase under the same plan was 45 per cent.

As explained by Father Fullam, "we don't want the people to think that they can in any way bribe God or curry his favor by giving money. In fact, we tell them that if they have not given their lives to the Lord Jesus Christ, they should not give one cent to the church. We fully mean this. We are concerned only about their relationship with God. He will take care of the rest. "

What has this meant? It has meant an increase in Sunday services from two to three to four, with corresponding increases in staff, choirs, Sunday schools and the like, to the point where St. Paul's, while waiting for direction from God as to whether to build new facilities or move, has been conducting services in the 1, 200-seat high school auditorium. It has meant an increase from 100 to 350 or more at midweek Bible studies. It has meant regular Bible studies and prayer meetings for businessmen in New York and Stamford, Conn., near their work locations. It has meant a weekly Bible study at the local high school led by church youth. It has meant an ever-increasing outreach to other parishes throughout New England that are searching for renewal. It has meant the establishment of a fund at a local bank through which families suffering in the current economic recession can receive help when they need it.

A poll of many of the communicants produced agreement that, although the St. Paul's renewal is without question spiritual, they fully expect Christ, whom they unanimously proclaim as "head of the church," to meet their practical, everyday needs, too. "Along with the Holy Spirit," said Father Fullam, "the Lord has given us a good touch of common sense, too."