The Time They Began to Live Again

May 07, 2014

Bishop’s staff supports Emmanuel LaGrange in transition

About a year ago, the Rev. LaRae Rutenbar and the people of Emmanuel Episcopal Church had a champagne problem. Their parish in LaGrange, a suburb of Chicago, had an influx of families with young children.

They quickly discovered that their beautiful 1920s vintage building, complete with hard wood pews, was not as welcoming as it might be to active young children. After one too many tumbles and bruises, the congregation decided to create a “soft space” for little ones.

The next step was figuring out how to create the space safely and with respect for the sentiments of people reluctant to change the place where they worship. “I was new to the diocese,” said Rutenbar. “So I went to the website to find out who does this kind of work and came up with Vicki Garvey.” Garvey is the associate for lifelong Christian formation in the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago.

“She came out and worked with the formation committee, and now we have an area with a rug and soft toys for children to use during worship,” Rutenbar said. “It’s helped parents be more comfortable and I think children pay more attention to the service because the soft space is in an area that lets them see the front of the church.”

Creating the soft space was Rutenbar’s introduction to the help and expertise that the bishop’s staff can provide to congregations, and she has continued to rely on it throughout her period as interim rector at Emmanuel.

“This diocese has no idea what value they have in the bishop’s staff,” said Rutenbar, who specializes in interim ministry and has worked in dioceses across the Episcopal Church. “Everyone I talk with around the church is trying to get a job in the Diocese of Chicago, and the support that the diocese provides to congregations is a big reason why.”

Rutenbar and the Emmanuel vestry relied on Dent Davidson, the bishop’s associate for arts and liturgy, for help and support in their search for a music director who could help diversify the congregation’s music. They also worked with Courtney Reid, director of administration, and the Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, director of networking, to bring clarity to personnel and compensation processes. Earlier this year, Scott Stoner, director of the Nicholas Center, led a vestry retreat using Living Compass wellness resources.

“And I’ve lost count of how many time [the Rev.] Jim Steen has been out here,” she says. Steen is director of ministries for the diocese. “He is one of the best transition ministers I’ve ever seen.”

For Rutenbar, the pivotal moment for Emmanuel, which is healing after a difficult separation from its last rector, came when Bishop Jeff Lee, Steen and the rest of the bishop’s staff came to La Grange for what she calls “Holy Conversations.”

“I wanted to help people talk about what had happened so they could let the trauma rest and begin a new chapter,” she said. “But I needed small group leaders from outside the congregation to do it.”

In response to Rutenbar’s request, the bishop and his staff came en masse to La Grange for an evening last spring, facilitated small group discussions, and led a healing service. “Bishop Lee answered questions so openly that people really felt trust,” she said. “Then the staff led a healing service and the bishop laid hands on everyone who came forward and prayed with them for healing.”

Rutenbar credits that evening with helping the congregation be able to move forward in its search process, which she expects to conclude this summer.

“People were just really moved,” she says. “That was the time they began to live again.”

To support the work of the bishop’s staff in congregations across the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, please give to the Bishop’s Appeal.