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One of the highlights of NAGA’s Triennial was the presentation by Demi Prentiss. Demi was listed on our schedule as the “keynote speaker” for the meeting, but her presentation was much more than just a speech. She spent several hours with us, during which we listened to her and to fellow participants, moved around in the room to discuss various topics and situations, and spent some time thinking about our own church environment and how we can share our gifts through altar guild service.

Demi is well qualified for this type of presentation. Her impressive vita lists her education (Harvard, Seabury Western), her church staff positions in congregations of varying sizes, her stint as program officer for lay leadership on Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori’s staff, and her years assisting in the reorganization of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth as it recovered from schismatic division. Demi has also done extensive volunteer work and is currently the vice chair of the Taskforce on Formation for Clergy in Small Congregations, an interim body of the Episcopal Church’s General Convention.

Demi is the coauthor (along with J. Fletcher Lowe) of the book Radical Sending, Go to Love and Serve. This might be considered a companion book for Reverend Canon Stephanie Spellers’ Radical Welcome (a favorite of Bishop Curry). In fact, Spellers contributed the forward for Demi’s book, and in it she noted:

This is a core resource for discernment in living out baptismal promises. It empowers the laity for their ministries beyond the church doors. As congregations explore their emerging visions, they need support in “equipping the saints” for ministry beyond the doors of the building. The dismissal, “Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord” becomes as important as the Eucharist in feeding the people for the journey.”

Her presentation included some interesting statistics about Episcopal congregations. Nearly half of all Episcopal congregations are small, family-sized congregations with fewer than 75 attendees for Sunday services. Pastoral-sized congregations make up the next largest group with fewer than 225 attendees per Sunday. Corporate-sized congregations with more than 450 Sunday attendees make up only 0.5% of Episcopal churches.

Demi stressed that the health and vitality of the church depend on how we move out into a world of changing demographics and expectations. In her presentation with our NAGA group, she offered the analogy of the church as a base camp consisting of a community of people who “gather to reflect on life, be reminded of their identity, and make plans for exploration.” The church is a place of worship, education, and community, but it must evaluate itself on how well it empowers people for work during the remainder of the week. A base camp exists to serve hikers on a trek, usually up a steep and arduous incline. Demi explained that the hikers don’t exist for the good of the base camp but the base camp exists for the good of the hikers.

Several times during the presentation, Demi had us get up from our seats, leave what she called our “stuff,” and move to join others to discuss issues or brainstorm ideas. In true Episcopal fashion many of us (including myself) had occupied the same seat in the meeting room each day of the conference. To me, this insistence that we leave the relative comfort of our chosen spot, the familiar folks on either side of us, and our stuff, provided a small-scale model of Demi’s entire message. We are to get up and go out — often to places where we might not be as comfortable – in order to do the work we are given to do. She illustrated this with several passages from the New Testament: John 20:21; Matthew 28, 18-20; and Luke 10:12-17. This meshes perfectly with the theme for this year’s NAGA conference: Send Us Out To Do The Work You Have Given Us To Do. Demi described the altar guild as “the institutional face of welcome in the Episcopal Church.” My personal view is that the altar guild, as a liturgical partner with the clergy, has a vital role in “equipping the saints” for day-to-day lives and for ministry beyond the doors of the church.

Demi Prentiss is an energetic, dynamic, and knowledgeable speaker. I am currently reading Radical Sending, and hope to apply some of the ideas generated by this book, by Demi’s presentation, and by the group discussions she facilitated for us. Demi is a keynote speaker who doesn’t just speak. She insists that we move, think, and share.


Jean C. Childers, St. Martin’s, Charlotte, NV

One Comment to “Demi Prentiss – 2018 NAGA Triennial Keynote Speaker”

  • […] Also on Monday, our keynote speaker, Demi Prentiss, likened the Church to a base camp below Mount Everest. We can’t just sit there and wait for things to happen. We must equip ourselves and go out into the world in witness of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (read her keynote here). […]