Chris Yaw Interviews Claire Woodley: The Church Leaders May Now Leave the Building


It's time to get out of the (church) box, says the gifted and creative rector at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Mohegan Lake, NY.

The Rev. Claire Woodley says the Matthew 28 command to 'Go!' has sent her to regular visits to local businesses where the offers to pray with employees, open up a coffee shop for local teens, and to approach just about every community leader to ask, 'How can St. Mary's help you?'

Rev. Claire says the Gospel compels her outward, and it's paid off in attendance, health, and vitality at St. Mary's. Heed the words of this energetic and inspiring leader.



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Clare Woodley has a contagious love for her church and community that she's bent on sharing with as many people as possible. Here are my notes from the interview:

The Central Question

'What Does God Want to Have Happen Here?' is the oft repeated question for her and her leadership. And it's the most important question stalled and declining congregations need to be answering as well. How often do your leaders ask it?>

Applaud Rector-Free Activities

These are the terrific events and goings on at congregations that lay people take upon themselves to organize and run. Claire says this is often where the 'real' ministry takes place, meaning the clergy's job is to point out how God is present in it and using it.

Sing Top 40 Hits

Stealing from the Wesley's playbook Claire likes to take pop songs, re-write the lyrics, and have her congregation sing them on Sunday mornings. She says it's one reason her congregation has grown threefold in Sunday morning attendance in her 12 years there.

About Claire Woodley

Claire Woodley is an Episcopal Priest in the Diocese of New York and for the past 12 years has been the rector of a small parish in the northern suburb of Mohegan Lake.  She was chased mercilessly throughout her teen and young adult years by keen eyed Christians who knew low hanging fruit when they saw it. She resisted with all her might to further a career as a no account partyer, with a side business in becoming a star of stage and screen, and sometime comic. She is an Episcopalian with a date of November 22, 1975 when Jesus Christ started prying her sorry rear end out of the ditch.

Claire has served God primarily in troubled parishes doing interventions and after-pastorates. To keep her happy God has always provided a sideline of out-of-parish ecumenical youth ministry including working with the New York National Guard Challenge Program and the Freezone Middle School Music Club.  The primary question that guides her work is, "What does God want to have happen here," and the dictum, "You have been blessed, go be a blessing." She believes firmly that evangelism ministry starts wherever you are standing, so go someplace interesting.

Books Claire Recommends

Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life

The Celtic Way of Evangelism (text only) by G. G. Hunter III

A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix

Taken with permission from