Field Ed Profiles: Christopher Montella '15

Christopher Montella

Christopher Montella ’15 talks about his experience at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Studio City, CA.

Why did you choose St. Michael and All Angels for your Field Ed unit?

I have only ever been a member of rather large, well-funded congregations served by multiple clergy. I chose St. Michael because I really wanted to have a smaller church experience. Even though St. Michael is not very different from my home parish liturgically, it is very different dynamically and is served primarily by one priest, which was a very new experience for me.

What were your learning goals going into your Field Ed unit?

My goals at St. Michael were to improve my skills as a preacher, expand the community’s prayer life in and out of a service context, build liturgy, and help improve communications methods both in digital and in print. Additionally, St. Michael had recently turned a corner after an extremely extended period of deep turmoil. I wanted to learn from the community, and especially its leadership, what it was like to do the work of reimagining the future and then charting that course.

What skills and experiences did you bring to Field Ed?

On a practical level, I brought over twenty years of working in marketing and communications, which allowed me to work with a select group of leaders in the community to meaningfully analyze the existing communication tools and their effectiveness in a congregational setting. Additionally, I am a very relational person and was able to use my gifts for building relationships across the community to engage with people in need of pastoral care.

What knowledge and skills did you gain from your experience?

Without wanting to sound egotistical, I would definitely say that I improved my preaching skills, as well as my skills for extemporaneous prayer. The latter came especially through offering regular healing prayer during Sunday worship services.

I also learned that it is not enough just to have good ideas. Even though some of my ideas may have been great, if the members of the congregation did not feel their own sense of energy or call around them, these ideas could never effectively be implemented.

This may sound totally obvious to many; for me, it was different from my professional experience where I can put an idea out on the table and almost immediately put it into action because is my job to do it. It opened my eyes to the fact that I need to think less about being the bus driver and more about being along on the journey with people factoring in where they want to go, as much as where I think we should go. I’m still working on that one…

How did the unit develop your call to ministry?

What I found different about this experience was that this was the first context where I was regarded as a clergy person. Everyone knew I was a seminarian and still “being formed” but they interacted with me in the same way they would interact with their priest. This was manifested in the things they shared with me, the questions they asked, and the way they listened to my responses.

What this did in developing my call to ministry is it helped open my eyes to a need for healing and reconciliation for everyone—even people who look like they have it “together” the most. It helped me clarify that the most important thing I can do—whether or not I am ever ordained—is help people know that wherever they come from, or whatever they have going on, they are welcome at the table and worthy of the love of God, no exceptions, full stop.

The best part of your Field Ed experience?

If I had to pick one, it would have to be the moments of offering healing prayer during and after Sunday services, or during home visits. Finding myself with another person, just briefly, at the intersection where pain and need met with faith was profound and has changed me in ways that I am still processing months later.