St. George’s/Church of the Ascension Collaborative Ministry


This page documents the status and progress of the planned shared ministry between the of The Church of the Ascension - Patuxent Parish and St. George's Episcopal Church of Valley Lee. Information regarding our progress will be posted as soon as it is available from the Joint Executive Committee or the Parish Vestry. If you have any questions regarding this activity, please contact one of the Rectors or Wardens listed below.

Last Updated: April 1, 2017

St. George's and Ascension

The Rev. Greg Syler - Rector
Karol Wolgemuth - Senior Warden
Tom Clark - Junior Warden

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What did the respective Vestries vote on regarding the various options presented on October 18, 25 and November 1?
  2. What prompted the vote?
  3. Why now?
  4. What’s next?
  5. How long will this take?
  6. If we share clergy, how? Who? Beginning when?
  7. Is there a plan to close the Church of the Ascension or St. George’s?
  8. What can I do to help that church that I love?

What did the respective Vestries vote on with regard to the various options presented on October 18, 25 and November 1?

Both Vestries voted to pursue Option 5 or something closely approximating it. Option 5 is the yoking option where leadership may be shared in some form, finances are kept separate, both campuses remain active places of worship and clergy (one or more) is shared.

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What prompted the vote?

Each parish has experienced the same sort of decline occurring in parishes nationwide: falling participation in Sunday worship and declining revenue. Pledge income alone does not cover the operating budget. As a consequence, both parishes have been in discussions for the last three years in whether to purposefully pursue collaboration in some form. They have been guided for the last several months with expert help from the Diocese of Washington through Ms. Joey Rick. Trinity Church’s decision to not participate, coupled with the untimely death of the Rev. Sherrill Page prompted a renewed sense of purpose to insure health and vitality for both parishes as we seek to live out being the body of Christ in the world. In order to continue discussions, it became clear that the Vestries needed to provide guidance so that concrete, substantive details could be worked out and implemented.

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Why now?

While the best time to act becomes clear only in hindsight, both parishes’ desire to make decisions from a position of strength rather than from a position of weakness makes “now” the optimum time. A position of strength keeps open the largest number of possibilities in shared ministry whereas a position of weakness limits choices and may result in unpalatable choices.

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What’s next?

Deciding to act was the easy part, relatively speaking. Now the hard work begins in fleshing out a clear vision for our mission as part of the body of Christ. From there a strategic plan will be fashioned to live into that vision. Part of that may be fashioning a covenant along the lines of the covenant crafted by Christ Church Wayside and Christ Church La Plata. The first step in this journey is a joint Vestry meeting in early December.

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How long will this take?

No timetable has been established. It is likely to take several months to work out a viable plan to the satisfaction of the various Vestries.

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If we share clergy, how? Who? Beginning when?

These are the types of details that need to be worked out over the course of the next several months, keeping the needs of each parish in the forefront of our minds.

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Is there a plan to close the Church of the Ascension or St. George’s?

Neither Vestry is considering this as an option.

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What can I do to help that church that I love?

Pray and pray some more! We pray that the leaders of St. George’s and Ascension will seek first God’s honor and glory, be guided to perceive what is right, be granted the courage to pursue what is right and be given the grace to accomplish it, as we, God’s people, together seek the renewal and mission of God’s church.

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Covenant Adoption Decision - June 8, 2016

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

On June 8, 2016, our Vestry voted on the draft covenant.  We are pleased to announce that we adopted the covenant.  We note that the Vestry decision was not unanimous.  We don’t view that as a negative.  Often those with whom we disagree have concerns that need to be taken into account.  We believe that having a “loyal opposition” will ultimately make us stronger and better equipped to position ourselves to meet our future.  We anticipate that St. George’s Vestry has come to similar conclusion.

Now the hard work of identifying the details and answering the many questions raised begins.  We anticipate that the Joint Executive Committee  will begin meeting frequently and regularly over the summer to determine what our priests currently do, what we want our priest to do, and what we can mutually afford our priest to doMost of what clergy do is not necessarily a priestly function, so we will also seek to determine what our members might be willing to do as we craft a position description and equitable balance between the two parishes.  From the position description, we can then refine what type of salary package we can mutually offer.  We will seek to do the same for our administrative needs.  Additionally, the Vestry will continue to explore ways in which we can increase our revenue stream, notably through renting our building.  We learned yesterday that the Pastoral Counseling Center is terminating their lease in mid-July – this presents us with  the opportunity to think about the office wing holistically  including our outreach ministry needs.  Finally, the Vestry will be identifying how our needs for a priest will be met until a joint rector can be called.  It is the intention of the Vestry to make each of these transitions as smooth and as transparent as possible.

Yours in Christ,
Karol Wolgemuth - Senior Warden
Tom McCarthy - Junior Warden
The Rev. Melinda Artman - Priest-in-Charge
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Meeting Minutes - June 30, 2016

With the adoption of the Covenant with St. George’s, each Vestry has appointed representatives to the Joint Executive Committee (JEC).  From St. George’s are: Senior Warden Bob Ertter and Vestry member Mike Mead.  From Ascension are both Wardens: Karol Wolgemuth and Tom McCarthy.  Both Greg Syler and Melinda Artman have input to the JEC.  The JEC has now met twice.  They have discussed options for how worship might be conducted and are considering pulpit swaps between Melinda and Greg in the coming months.  As a matter of some urgency for us at Ascension, they are working on how administrative tasks can be coordinated and shared.  By the time our respective Vestries meet in July, the JEC will have met three times and a summary of their work thus far will be presented.  As the JEC meets, the respective Vestries and congregations will be updated at Vestry meetings as well as via our websites, e-news and announcement bulletins.
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Meeting Minutes - July 14, 2016

The Joint Executive Committee released the minutes from the following meetings:

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Gail Dobson takes on double duty at Ascension - September 1, 2016

This week we welocome Gail Dobson to the Ascension Parish Office! As part of the collaboration with St. George’s-Valley Lee, the two priests have agreed to try sharing a parish administrator. The St. George’s current parish administrator, Gail Dobson, has graciously agreed to serve both parishes.  For the short term, Gail will be physically present at Ascension on Mondays and Wednesdays from 9:00 to noon.  She will be providing administrative support for our Sunday services.  She will also be assessing other areas where the two parishes might achieve economies of scale.

Gail has served as Parish Administrator of St. George’s, Valley Lee for the last 9 years.  Prior to that she worked as a tutor in the Academic Department at the Lundeberg School of Seamanship for several years. She is well known in parish administrator circles, and we are very excited to have someone as dedicated and gifted as Gail share her talents here at Ascension.  Gail is married to her husband of 30 years, John, and has two adult children who live in Baltimore.  Although she grew up as an Air Force “brat”, Gail has fallen in love with the Chesapeake Bay, and she has made her home in Southern Maryland for the last 20 years.  Welcome Gail!
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Rector Job Description Proposed - December 14, 2016

At it's meeting on Wednesday December 14, 2016 the Vestry received a proposed rector job description from the Joint (Ascension-St. George's) Executive Committee (JEC).  The Vestry voted to approve the job description.  With a job description, the Vestry can turn its attention to whom it might call to fill the position.  The JEC has recommended that the Vestry consider The Rev. Greg Syler, current rector of St. George's, given that our pastor, the Rev. Melinda Artman has indicated that she is not interested in the job.  Please note that the JEC is not a call committee and that it is up to the Vestry to decide how it wishes to proceed.  They have invited Fr. Greg to meet with them at their January meeting for an interview and to explore together whether this might be the direction we mutually wish to take.  The Vestry invites your comments and concerns over the next several weeks.  Members include: Karol Wolgemuth, Tom McCarthy, Patti Brady, Tom Clarke, Eric Delk, Melanie Dement, Beth Matthews, and Brandon Taylor.  By the way, if you'd like to be a member of the Vestry and help shape our common future, please let Pastor Melinda know ASAP.
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Rector Update - January 17, 2017

In April of 2016, the vestries of St. George’s Valley Lee and Church of the Ascension, Lexington Park voted to share a rector and entered into a covenantal relationship for a period of three years. The covenant calls for a “Joint Executive Committee” (JEC) made up of equal numbers of Vestry members from each parish to oversee and propose solutions to issues that may arise as a result of sharing a rector. The JEC was formed and has been meeting almost every other week since April to propose job descriptions and worship times to the respective Vestries. They have made recommendations on these to each Vestry and each Vestry is or will be taking action on them.

This covenantal relationship was established after seven years of on-going dialogue and was born of necessity. Neither St. George’s nor Ascension can afford a full time priest into the foreseeable future with shrinking membership and declining revenue. Each parish chooses to enter into this relationship from a position of relative strength, rather than from a position of desperation and weakness. With the example of Christ Church, La Plata and Christ Church, Wayside before us, we seek to not only survive but thrive, as both these churches have.

The vision is to build upon the strengths of our parishes and rejoice in being small, family oriented parishes. By combining our resources, we maintain a full-time priest who lives in our midst, leads our worship, inspires our work together as the body of Christ, and pastors us in times of celebration and need. Have all the details been worked out? No; however, we have enough details in place to begin. The JEC will transition into its oversight role, working to ensure that the new co-rector is not overwhelmed with the demands of two parishes, identifying what is absolutely essential and what others can handle without direction from a priest.

Ascension’s Vestry heard very clearly that stability in leadership is a paramount value of this congregation. With that in mind, the Vestry explored whether it wanted to ask the Diocese for an interim priest and begin a search process or seek another priest-in-charge. After interviewing the Rev. Greg Syler, the Vestry has determined that such steps are unnecessary. As a body, it has unanimously extended a call to Greg to be our next Rector. The Rev. Melinda Artman is hopeful of finalizing plans for her next call within the next few weeks. Although she is not ready to announce an exact departure date, we are agreed that it will be no later than March 31st and that Greg will begin no later than April 2. We anticipate that Melinda’s last Sunday will be immediately followed by Greg’s first Sunday. Please join us in welcoming Greg and his family (his wife Iman and daughter Carter) to Ascension.

Yours faithfully,
Karol Wolgemuth                                                                       Tom McCarthy
Senior Warden                                                                           Junior Warden

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The Rev. Greg Syler Shepherds Two Churches

Beginning on April 1, 2017, The Rev. Greg Syler became the Rector of both St. George's and Ascension Episcopal Churches. We are grateful for Fr. Greg’s initiative to take on two parishes and look forward to the growth and prosperity of the future.
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