January 9, 2017

A New Thing | Katie Nakamura Rengers

For background on this series, read this. This was inspired by the How I Work series over at Lifehacker. If there are planters, creators, innovators, entrepreneurs–ministry leaders that are working on new enterprises that you know and think I should profile, fill out this form or leave me a note on Twitter or Facebook.

About Katie: The Rev. Katie Nakamura Rengers is Vicar and founder of The Abbey, an Episcopal Church and coffee shop in Birmingham, AL. Her husband, Josiah, is also a priest, and they have two daughters, Naomi (4) and Katherine (6 months).

Katie was a presenter at Missional Voices 2016 National Gathering. You can watch her presentation here and view her slides here. A short video profile of The Abbey can be seen here.

The Series: Colby Martin | Jane Gerdsen | Jeya and Dan So | Sara Shisler Goff | Katie Nakamura Rengers

Can you describe your new thing?
The Abbey is a coffee shop church. I like to say that we are an “open door” to the church - literally, we are open 6 days a week, 12 hours a day. We celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday, host young adult EfM groups, and provide comfortable, hospitable space where the traditions of Christianity can be rediscovered and reimagined.

Why you? What drew you to do this?
For the Church to thrive in the 21st century, we Christians have to get ourselves out into the world. The more time I spend at The Abbey, the more I believe that one of the priesthood’s greatest hazards is getting stuck behind a computer all day. Add a comfortable, full-time salary and benefits to that, and it can be tempting for a parish clergy person to never leave their office. In the almost 6 years since I graduated from VTS, I’ve never had a cushy office, and I’ve only been paid a full-time salary for one of those years. While I’ve certainly moaned and complained about those injustices every step of the way, they give me a strong advantage. For me, the risk of launching a new, unpredictable, not-yet-self sustaining ministry is less frightening than it might otherwise be.

I find that the institutional church loves to talk about starting new ministries and taking “church into the world.” Then, when the world doesn’t respond the way we want it to, we cower and think we’ve “failed.” I hope to be someone who encourages the church to take more risks with the world.

How would you describe yourself?
I’m an INTJ on the Myer’s-Briggs. Learning about different personality types has helped immensely when it comes to working with my team at The Abbey. INTJ’s are sometimes called “the mastermind” or “the architect.” I tend to be a great visionary and builder, but I’m not always an adequate communicator. I’m a pretty good listener, but I struggle to give words of affirmation. I recently hired a Lay Missioner who is basically charged with making up for my shortcomings. In other words, she is friendly and extroverted!

My advice to anyone starting a new ministry is to be aware of your own strengths and weaknesses. You aren’t good at everything. You shouldn’t be good at everything. Don’t pretend to be good at everything. Surround yourself with people who have different personalities and gifts.

Where and when are you most productive?
When I’m alone, with pen and paper.

What inspires you to create?
I once took a mini-Eneagram quiz online that told me that I’m a “Reformer.” That sounds about right. I’m constantly looking at situations and wondering “how could we do this differently?” I’m naturally attuned to seeing new possibilities rather than dead ends.

What are you currently reading or listening to that inspires you?
Since I have two little daughters, I read, watch and listen to a lot of Disney princess stuff right now. Mulan, Belle, Moana - those women are inspiring! I can relate to being a small, underestimate female who is actually really, really tough.

Start-up’s can be spirit-draining work. What nourishes your soul?
I usually read the daily office lectionary at night before going to bed. Staying connected to the Gospel is crucial when doing this kind of work. I also have to be intentional about not isolating myself and bearing the burden of The Abbey’s “success” or “failure” alone. Talking with friends, collaborating with my team, and asking people to pray for me are vitally important - even though they aren’t things that always come naturally to me. Finally, I go to a class called Body Pump a couple of times a week. Body Pump is a low weight, high rep, loud music exercise class that strengthens my body and encourages my soul. Plus, I can imagine that I’m training to throw my arch-nemesis of the moment out the window.

Starting something new requires knowing who will be served by the thing you are creating. What method(s) have you employed to understand your context?
We are a coffee shop, so we have the advantage of seeing people all day long, and being part of the business community as well as the faith community. Because we see people of many different sorts during the day, we ask them about their lives, thoughts, spirits, etc. Coffee really has a way of encouraging conversation.

Typically, there are fewer people available to get work done in new endeavors. What do you use to manage your time, get things done and/or delegate to your team?
I am a micromanager by nature. However, there is so much to do in a new endeavor that I don’t have time to micromanage anything (except the budget… I definitely micromanage money). I have a team of lay leaders and baristas whom I trust to make decisions and do their job in a way that is consistent with the vision and ministry of The Abbey. In turn, they trust me.

Being fair to my family is also a big issue. My work can be hard on my husband and our two daughters - I sometimes have to fill a shift at a moment’s notice, work odd hours, etc. and all for very little pay. I cannot attend every event that happens at The Abbey. We are now closed on Saturdays, so there can be one day a week when I never have to be “on.” This is a ministry, not a business - it’s okay to let some things go.

Time and resources are often limited during start-up’s. What time-savers have you found useful? What have you found is worth splurging on and what can you skimp on?
Functionally, I am a bi-vocational priest AND a parent. I can’t do the level of pastoral care that a parish priest can offer. I try to do the best I can by checking in with people on Facebook, engaging them in the shop and on Sundays, and making sure that other lay people at The Abbey are offering emotional and spiritual support.

Free coffee refills are worth splurging on. Most coffee shops charge at least a dollar for a refill. At The Abbey, we want people to spend a long time with us, and with each other.

Where do you find affirmation that you are doing what you were meant to do?
New endeavors are so incredibly difficult and stressful! I often find myself in despair, thinking “Why did I ever start this? This was a terrible idea!” Then, someone will tell me how The Abbey has changed their concept of how church functions in the world. Or I come in the day after the presidential election and find the shop full of people who just need to be in a spiritual place. Things like that make me realize that we’re doing the work we’re supposed to be doing.

On days that you go to bed with a deep sense of satisfaction, what happened? What was accomplished?
My husband says that I come home in a good mood after an EfM night. I have 20 young(ish) adults enrolled in the program this year, and our theological conversations are always amazing! EfM engages lay people in authentic theological reflection, and I see our groups here as preparing the next generation to take ownership and leadership of the church. Whenever I have a “why the heck am I doing this?” moment, I remember my EfM students. They are the reason why.

What advice would you offer to others starting something new?
This is incredibly difficult work, and it probably won’t be fast, cheap or easy. Try to instill reasonable expectations in yourself, your Diocese and your family. Even more importantly, seek out spiritual direction and/or some consistent, helpful prayer practice. Remembering to think theologically about your work is what is going to keep you going for the long haul.

If there are leaders you think I should profile, fill out this form or leave me a note on Twitter or Facebook.

The Series: Colby Martin | Jane Gerdsen | Jeya and Dan So | Sara Shisler Goff | Katie Nakamura Rengers