April 26, 2017 by Alan Bentrup

We hear a lot about quiet time for reflection. This weekend, rather than quiet, I overheard a cacophony of reflection. This past weekend was our second Missional Voices National Gathering, and more than 200 clergy, laity, and seminarians from around the country gathered to discuss the mission of God and our neighborhoods.

I could tell you all about the wonderful presenters (videos available soon!), or about the worship, or any other of the planned and programmed activities. But this isn’t a sales pitch, so I won’t. Instead I want to tell you about the trouble we had in getting people to stop talking.

Topics: Mission
April 25, 2017 by Maurice Seaton

Ever thought of a capital campaign as a form of 'evangelism'? No, a campaign is not just about money, it's about cultivating new and existing relationships that nurture the vitality and growth of your congregation. A capital campaign offers a variety of creative ways for parishioners to interact both inside and outside the parish. Building relationships is as important for the future of your church as receiving monetary gifts in a campaign. Here are three groups you should intentionally reach out to in your capital campaign.

Continue reading...

April 20, 2017 by Brendon Hunter

April is financial literacy month and to help your congregation, we offer five resources to help get you started with the basics. Please share this digest with your parish leadership and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.

Continue Reading...

April 18, 2017 by Linda Buskirk

Five years ago in a small city on the Ohio River, an Episcopal faith community began to explore the gifts of its people, and what God was calling them to do with those gifts. Several people had a passion for the arts – many were artists themselves. They began to envision the arts as central to their ministry.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in New Albany, Indiana, has taken ministry outreach through the arts to an exciting new level – even for us artsy Episcopalians.

With an eye “to build relationship with artists, patrons, and guests through the ministries of hospitality and the arts,” St. Paul’s started with something small and manageable: a reader’s theatre called “Parlor Stories.” Actors and others from the community were welcome to participate.

Continue reading...

April 14, 2017 by Lisa Fischbeck

The day after my grandmother died, my family gathered in from near and far. Late afternoon, into the evening, sitting in her kitchen and living room, we talked. Coffee was plenteous, a bottle of wine, one platter overflowing with cold cuts, and another with Entenmanns coffee cake. We planned for the funeral, started thinking about distribution of her worldly possessions. Mostly, we shared memories and stories. We laughed about her personality quirks, we sighed about our experiences of her support and care, and we reminded ourselves of the wisdom she had given us. The body of the deceased wasn’t with us in the house, but her spirit sure was there.

Decades later, I was priest of the Advocate when a beloved parishioner died on a Thursday afternoon. A meeting was scheduled at the Church that night. But we knew that our sorrow would prevail, so we announced that we would gather in the Chapel and hold vigil instead. We used Evening Prayer as our guide, read scripture, prayed the Litany at the Time of Death, and shared memories and stories of our friend who had died. We laughed at turns of phrase he had used, reminded ourselves of the ways he had inspired us. We mourned together, and were comforted by our shared memories and shared loss.

Continue reading...

April 13, 2017 by Annette Buchanan

As we commemorate Easter in April and Mother’s Day in May we are expecting many more visitors to our churches, some returning and some new. So it is worthwhile reflecting on what our current practices are towards visitors.

Many of us acknowledge visitors at the halfway point during the service whether during the peace or at announcements where the general practice is to ask the visitors to stand and tell us who they are. In the past there has been a debate about this practice, whether we are outing people unnecessarily especially those terrified of public speaking and as a result may not return to our churches. For the itinerant member who may want to be obscure they instead get called out and is reluctant to again go through that scrutiny.

Continue reading...

Topics: Hospitality
April 6, 2017 by Scott Gunn

Last week, I was honored to serve as moderator for an Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF) webinar on preaching and leadership. Basically, I hosted a conversation among three preachers and fed them some questions of my devising and some from our audience. The panelists were the Rev. Ronald Byrd, rector of St. Katherine’s in Williamston, MI; the Rev. Brenda Husson, rector of St. James, Madison Avenue in NYC; and Mr. Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale, layperson from All Saints’, Indianapolis, IN.

I’d encourage you to watch the webinar, which will be an hour well spent if you’re at all interested in preaching. Much of the focus is on sermon preparation and delivery, but there is also some valuable advice for those who listen to sermons. I know I’ll listen to preachers differently because of this conversation.

Continue reading...

Topics: Leadership
April 3, 2017 by Annette Buchanan

Giving and receiving positive feedback as well as negative (constructive) feedback is a prerequisite for having healthy church relationships. Positive feedback should be easy, however, we sometimes overlook these simple acts of kindness only to have long-term members leaving the church or people feeling neglected.

Negative feedback is more difficult. Some of us are so concerned about hurting someone’s feelings that we say nothing at all, allowing dysfunction to continue. On the opposite end, we may blurt out insensitive words disregarding the impact. It is often hard to find the right balance.

Continue reading...

Topics: Conflict, Leadership
March 31, 2017 by Annette Buchanan

We are all aware of the need to have our church buildings be accessible. Federal and state regulations mandate the physical requirements for access. Our Welcoming Forums from years past highlighted the importance of this issue. However, many of our churches are still not in full compliance for physical accessibility. Most have ramps, some have accessible bathrooms, but movement from one floor to another is still an issue. I recently attended a breakfast event where the church hall was on the second floor with winding stairs. Chairlifts and elevators are expensive so the required upgrades are often not made. A reminder that there are grants available to assist organizations to become compliant, therefore we need to be more vigilant about seeking these funds. The consequences are the deterrence of persons from attending church and clients from accessing outreach programs.

Continue reading...

March 27, 2017 by Alan Bentrup

I’m back home preparing for my father’s funeral at the end of this week, and I’ve learned quite a bit being on the receiving end of pastoral care from a local church.

My dad, Dale Bentrup, is a lifelong Lutheran and a stalwart at the two churches he’s attended in my lifetime. His pastor, a dear friend of mine, has been a source of great comfort for my mom and family. And the outpouring of love and support from parishioners has taught me more about the role of the church than three years in seminary ever could.

Of all the word pictures and metaphors used to describe the church, one has always stuck with me: family. But as I’ve thought about it some this past week, I’ve decided that “family” isn’t a very good metaphor for the church.

Continue reading...

March 18, 2017 by Alan Bentrup

No, this post isn’t about Drive Through Ashes. Instead, it’s about how God can even use my addiction to Diet Dr Pepper.

Since I started at my parish in July, I’ve probably stopped by our local Sonic at least twice per week to grab my morning caffeine in the form of soda. It’s always the same car hop bringing me my food with a smile and a warm welcome. If some people become friendly with their neighborhood barista, I’ve got my neighborhood car hop.

I’ve been reading a lot of books about “neighboring” recently (see -1>here or -1>here for a couple I recommend). The underlying principle is that we should seek to mold our churches (and parishioners) into good neighbors. That’s the essence of the “parish,” isn’t it? To serve the local community, the area in the defined borders of the parish.

Continue reading...

Topics: Evangelism, Mission
March 16, 2017 by Greg Syler

My only lived experience of the 20 century was in its last twenty five years, and I don’t even remember all that much of it, but I do very clearly remember that one Sunday morning a pastor in my somewhat stiff Congregationalist church announced we were going to do a new thing – we were going to turn to our neighbors and offer, what he called, ‘the sign of peace.’

“Shake their hand, give a hug, look them in the eye and say, ‘Peace be with you,’” he invited the somewhat bewildered congregation to do.

This actually came easily to them, in fact, for in spite of the carefully scripted nature of Congregationalist worship – what I later learned was nothing less than a beautiful, exalted Sunday Morning Prayer service – there was always extended chit-chat and “Good mornings” and “How are you today?” in the large, albeit acoustically-live narthex on our way into the church itself. And so it was on that Sunday, much later in the 20 century than its mid-point, when “The Peace” was introduced at Bethany Union Church of Chicago that I remember my mom and dad turned around to those sitting nearby and said ‘Peace, peace, peace,’ and received from others ‘Peace, peace, peace.’

Continue reading...

Topics: Change, Worship
March 15, 2017 by Brendon Hunter

How can we meet better? This month we offer five resources to help your vestry or other church group have more engaging and productive meetings. Please share this digest with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices’ to receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.

Continue reading...

March 14, 2017 by Linda Buskirk

Lynne Switalski was just coming off a 3-year Vestry term when she was asked to be the Senior Warden at Saint Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church in South Bend, Indiana. Nine months into that position, the Rector announced he had accepted a call at another parish. Lynne was propelled into a Rector search process, office cleaning and reorganization, and hiring a secretary. With a smile, she calls this her “trial and error learning phase.” Now, with 6 ½ years of experience, Lynne offers these pointers for new Senior Wardens:

Continue reading...

March 13, 2017 by Greg Syler

Perhaps one of the most notable hallmarks of our Anglican liturgical tradition is rich, resonant choral music. It’s something we’re really good at, and it’s something for which our tradition is well known. Just this past week, in fact, it was breaking news that St. Paul’s Cathedral in London appointed a woman, Carris Jones, as chorister – ‘Vicar Chorale,’ being her exact title. “First female chorister in 1,000-year history,” one headline ran. [1]

But beyond the sheer heavenly beauty of Anglican choral music, and besides the fact that news headlines are always going to be quick to point out the sensational and ground-breaking, what is it about choirs and choral music that is so important to our Christian worship tradition? Is it merely it’s beauty and quality? I actually hope the answer to that is ‘no’ or, at least, ‘not entirely.’ If the thing we prize about our rich choral tradition is nothing much more than its professional quality and beauty, then that might be part and parcel of why our churches fail to grow, year after year. What’s the difference, then, between a museum piece or something that can be found in a concert hall and what the church, as church, is doing in the neighborhood?

Continue reading...

Topics: Worship
March 9, 2017 by Linda Buskirk

Nearly every morning, I enjoy morning prayer time with a group of friends. I think most of us are Episcopalians, but I don’t know for sure. We come from all over the United States, the Caribbean, and beyond. We read a meditation on the appointed scriptures for the day. We share our thoughts about it, enjoying the rich diversity of our experiences and vantage points. Sometimes we share memories or words to songs that speak meaning into the day’s subject.

We’ve done this so long now, we call each other family. Sometimes people share their worries, ask for prayer, or admit struggles and questions. In response, many prayers and words of encouragement offered. New people easily come into the mix and are welcomed. Anyone can participate.

Continue reading...

March 7, 2017 by Greg Syler

My daughter’s Montessori school is in transition. The dynamic husband and wife who founded the school more than twenty years ago are devoted Montessorians and have had a profound impact on our local community and, indeed, my own family. But now they are preparing to sell the school, and they have a buyer – in fact, a former teacher at the school, herself a gifted educator, and her husband are getting ready to take the reins.

Even though my siblings and I grew up in parochial Christian schools – my parents made great sacrifices to send us there – I’ve personally never experienced the sale of a school. In and of itself, it’s a strange concept to my mind; our elementary school was connected to a Lutheran congregation, and our high school was part of the Christian Reformed tradition. It’s a strange place in which to be, committed to a school and watching our daughter truly grow and develop, now in the third grade, in the careful and beautiful environment of a Montessori curriculum, while also preparing to go along with what will undoubtedly be change, probably significant change. Even as the new owners promise that the same ethos and standards will continue, I know some kind(s) of change will come.

Continue reading...

Topics: Change
March 1, 2017 by Annette Buchanan

An often overlooked aspect of our ministries is the need for and importance of transportation. It has potential impact on every demographic within our church, every ministry, our outreach, our finances and our viability, yet is rarely discussed. Examples of transportation impact are as follows:

Our youth depend on parents or guardians to be dropped off; without that reliable access they do not attend Sunday school, confirmation classes and youth events.

Our seniors may have discontinued driving, or are uncomfortable with public transportation and may be leery of coming out at night, limiting their participation in important church events.

Continue reading...

February 27, 2017 by Alan Bentrup

Ash Wednesday is coming. For at least one day out of the year, we’re going to be reminded that we are dust, and that we’re going to die some day. Fun times!

Over the past several years, this solemn fast day has been infused with a missional fervor in the popular Ashes to Go outings. Part of a church-wide movement, Ashes to Go moves this imposing act from the confines of church buildings to the people in their daily lives. Interested passers-by are marked with the sign of the cross and invited to seek forgiveness and renewal (and hopefully be prayed for!). Locations to receive ashes are designed to meet people wherever they are, including train stations, bus stops, coffee shops, church parking lots, street corners, and more.

Continue reading...

Topics: Mission, Worship
February 22, 2017 by Annette Buchanan
For many, their only worship experience or connection with other Episcopalians are in their home congregations. There are churches that are less than a mile apart and as individuals or congregations we have never visited or seen the inside of our neighboring churches. 

The reasons given for being strangers to each other are many: we are too busy; they are “high” church and we are “low” church; we didn’t know there was another Episcopal church nearby; their members are of another ethnic or cultural background; it is hard to plan logistically given worship times, etc. How can we be welcoming and inviting to non-Episcopalians when we find it so difficult to exercise that habit among ourselves? 

Continue reading...