The Rivendell Plan

The Rivendell Plan for ministry in small, struggling, and/or underserved congregations

Freeing the Church to be the Church

Should the Episcopal Church continue to have a presence in small-town America? In the inner city? In remote, rural, isolated areas? Can we? What does this branch of the Church have to offer?

For Christians in the liturgical tradition, the Eucharist is at the heart of our life in Christ. The Episcopal Church holds that the Eucharist is the principal and normative act of Christian worship on Sundays and other major Feasts. Yet many congregations are unable to offer it weekly, due both to a shortage of priests willing and able to serve in smaller towns and rural areas, and the cost of maintaining them when they can be found.

If we truly believe that “all the members of the body, though many”–rich and poor, urban, suburban, and rural, large and small–“are one body” in Christ, shouldn’t there be a way for all to gather at the Table? Doesn’t our Lord Jesus Christ extend the hospitality of God to everyone?

Rivendell wants to expand the Church’s ability to provide skilled, well-educated, energetic and devoted priestly leadership, particularly in less affluent, struggling churches, through the work of Community priests and lay Companions who are called both to this ministry and to religious community, with the simplicity of life, profound commitment, and mutual loving support which make it feasible.

The potential of this model for freeing the Church to be the Church has already proven to be tremendous–and we’ve just begun to explore the possibilities.

St. Alban’s appeared to be dying when Mother Cathy, a Rivendell priest resident at the Motherhouse, was assigned to be its Vicar. The small congregation was heavily indebted. Unable to provide even a half-time clergy stipend, the mission agreed to pay a modest stipend of a few hundred dollars a month to the Community. A few years later, St. Alban’s is energetic, growing, exuberant, and optimistic. The congregation has greatly reduced its indebtedness while giving generously to outreach, and the building is so bursting at the seams with creative new outreach ministries that expansion is anticipated–all without a single “pledge drive.”

Bickering and complaining are virtually nonexistent, and mutual love and active care are evident. Cathy loves her work and her parishioners, and says she wouldn’t trade places for anything. All this is made possible by the practical and spiritual support of the small residential community of which Cathy is part.

This model has since been implemented successfully in two other congregations in the region. Now, Rivendell wants to offer this form of ministry more widely, envisioning other community houses with a few clergy and lay persons, living simply, sustained in a common life of prayer, and able to serve small congregations in the area–opting to share in creating a visible, palpable sign of the Kingdom of God rather than pursuing possessions, power and prestige. We’re recruiting people who would like to be part of this challenging and joyous work.

If this appeals to you, we’d like to talk with you. We’re looking for experienced clergy who now want another chance at the ministry and holiness of life they once dreamed of, new clergy and aspirants for ordained ministry who want a real way to choose radical faithfulness over “career advancement,” lay people who would like to help create a new (though ancient) form of religious life for the 21st century.

We welcome inquiries, and would be happy to talk with

  • Lay persons, clergy, and those wanting to prepare for ordination, who feel they may be called to this life and ministry
  • Clergy and bishops, Commissions on Ministry, spiritual directors, campus ministers, and others involved in discernment, who may encounter people who might have this kind of vocation
  • Bishops and mission strategists who think this model might be of service in their dioceses
  • People who would like to be involved in or offer support for the Community’s work