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Search The Fig Tree's stories of people who make a difference:

Words of church’s long-term plan come off pages into its life

by Kaye Hult

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church’s congregational survey and five-year congregational development strategic plan are already coming off paper as the Coeur d’Alene congregation has enhanced a family worship service, increased participation and found new ways to serve the community.

Their five goals for enlivening the congregation are typical: enhance spiritual development, increase weekly attendance, build up to a $300,000 budget, have a visible presence in Coeur d’Alene and improve the building for congregational and community use.

Georgianne Jessen and Dave Parkinson
Georgianne Jessen and Dave Parkinson share organizing skills.

In the survey, they found that 71 percent of members were 65 years or older; 95 percent, 56 or older, and 66 percent were women.

“We decided to focus on active, vital adults 55 and older, and their families and friends,” said Dave Parkinson, who moved to Coeur d’Alene in 2008 and began attending St. Luke’s.

“I saw it as a congregation of vital people with gray hair,” he said. “I asked the rector, Fr. Pat Bell, how we would be viable in five to 10 years given the composition of our congregation.”

Fr. Pat had been thinking the same thing.  Aware that Dave, a cradle Episcopalian, had been a leader in 10 congregations since his 20s and that he had experience in various aspects of church leadership, Fr. Pat and he began creating the program.

Dave brought organizing skills from starting and operating two businesses.  He started a consulting engineering firm in San Diego  in 1972 and sold it 15 years later.  He later bought three branch lines of major freight railroads, which he sold in 2002 to a company consolidating small railroad lines.

Members first resisted volunteering for the development committee, said Dave, so Georgianne Jessen joined the committee as “taskmaster” and recruiter.

Because there is a major time commitment, those recruited had to commit to stay for five years, and they have.

Like Dave, Georgianne’s goal is to see an organization succeed. 

She began as a nurse in the burn unit of an Oklahoma hospital.  Her organizational skills led to more responsibilities until she became the first woman executive of a hospital in Tulsa, then CEO of Providence Health Systems in Southern California.

“I am goal-motivated, vocal and directed,” said Georgianne, “I love to see people grow and succeed, so when I walk away, I leave a going concern.”

The development committee created a marketing task force to sell the project to the congregation and a communications committee to keep the congregation and community informed.

Now two-and-a-half years into the process, Dave said, “We are ahead on our goals.  We constantly ask:  Are we increasing attendance?  Are we meeting the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of our congregation?”

Many newcomers are visiting the church, and “the church is more energized and more welcoming than before,” he said.

“If there’s a project to be done, we do it with the understanding that any committee dissolves once the project is completed,” he said.

Fr. Pat and Dave attended two intensive one-week sessions at the College for Congregational Development, offered by the Diocese of Olympia, one in 2010 and another in 2011. 

As a planning consultant, they hired the Rev. Vann Anderson, a retired Methodist minister from Kansas.  He came to Coeur d’Alene three times in 2011 and helped them develop a strategic plan that respects the many interests and groups in the parish. 

According to their plan, they will “gather, transform and send members into the world to practice their faith and discipleship as servants for Christ,” and they will be guided by “prayer, respect, hospitality and service.”

The congregation set and voted on objectives for each goal.  That became the church’s five-year plan, which began in 2012.  Every member and group in St. Luke’s is invited to participate.  The development committee continually evaluates progress.

Dave said their mission is: “to build and grow a mature congregation full of vitality, well being and spiritual growth, and to attract the intellectually curious who seek understanding about life’s ultimate meaning and purpose.”

As part of their goal for spiritual development, St Luke’s has sought to expand a service, called The Well, at 9:15 a.m., Sundays in the Parish Hall.  Regular services are at 5:30 p.m., Saturdays, and at 8 a.m. and 10:30 p.m., Sundays.

The creator of The Well, Glenda Empsall, is in training at St. Luke’s to be a deacon.  She will be ordained at the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane’s Convention Oct. 17 to 19 in Walla Walla. 

The Well is a relaxed service, for families with small children.  About 20 now attend.

Overall attendance has also grown. Now 130 to 150 people attend worship each weekend.

As part of the goal to improve visibility in the community with outreach and service, the Rev. Jane Feerer, a priest at St. Luke’s who moved to Coeur d’Alene in 2010 after retiring in Chicago, has created a raised-bed community garden beside the church. 

It is open to the neighborhood, and neighbors are helping.  Participants agree to give 10 percent of their harvest to Second Harvest to share at area food banks.

The church joined with Hospice of North Idaho to offer “Conversations on Death.”  The first time, in October 2013, about 90 attended, and the second time, about 75 came.

The church development committee also evaluates the impact of each program on the community:

The church hosts the Family Promise of North Idaho Day Center and offers space for Alcoholics Anonymous groups. 

Members participate in Adopt-a-Highway and pick up trash on a section of I-90 twice a year. 

The men’s group offers community dinners. 

The church holds a Blue Christmas service during Advent.

Its Prayer Shawl Ministry touches lives within the congregation and beyond the church doors.

The congregation’s outreach and social justice ministries include Blankets for Change, Habitat for Humanity, KIVA (glonal microfinance) Loans, Reverse Offering, St. Luke’s Blood Bank Account, St. Luke’s Jubilee Ministry, St. Vincent de Paul and Trinity Group Homes.

Pastoral care programs include Eucharistic visitors, healing ministry, Omega Guild, pastoral visitors, a prayer chain, the Prayer Shawl ministry and Stephen Ministry.

St. Luke’s created a Parish Council that meets quarterly with committee heads, who report on what they are doing to keep communication open.

Recently, Dave gathered a committee of five people to focus on planned giving over the next year. 

This summer, they kicked off their program, asking people to consider, “What is your legacy?”  The church will offer two one-hour estate-planning seminars, led by Marc Wallace, an attorney and church member.  One session is at 10 a.m. and the other at 5 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 28. 

The planned giving project has two goals: to help people create a plan for their estates and to invite some to include a gift to the church in that plan. Funds will be used to maintain the church’s 125-year-old facilities and as seed money for new programs.

Dave and Georgianne have both seen the church grow and change, and become more accepting and inclusive of others.

Another change is that people are more willing to ask individuals with particular skill sets to use them, Dave said. 

When Fr. Pat was ill in the summer, lay leaders kept things going until he returned.

Both Dave and Georgianne believe the congregation has gained focus, and members are more willing to step in to help. 

“We are also looking at needs of our older members and considering programs to benefit them that will also benefit older people in the community,” they said.

“The church is making decisions to ensure the church’s vitality increases in the coming years,” they said.

For information, call 208-664-5533 or visit

Copyright © October 2014 - The Fig Tree