How we Episcopalians love to experience a thundering organ and rousing choral music, complete with hand bells and chimes and sunshine beaming through the stained glass, wait… why is that family leaving?
This article is the third in a series about improving inclusion for people with disabilities in our faith communities. Some disabilities are invisible. Those who have particular sensitivity to noise and lights may not be able to enjoy a typical worship service.
The local public radio station allows sponsors 24 words for each ad. The name of the sponsor counts as one word. But if a website is given, “dot” is one word, and “org” is another. 24 words.
Like a tweet on Twitter, the word limit makes us consider what is most important to communicate and to whom. A good exercise. It is similar to articulating a mission statement. But a mission statement is meant to guide and inspire the people who are already part of the congregation. This was for those beyond our walls.
So, how do we describe ourselves in 24 words or less?
James Turrell is perhaps my favorite artist. He uses light and space in new ways to help people see new things. Or, rather, he helps people see things in a new way. During our recent visit to Newfield in Indianapolis, a docent invite my wife and me into a room to see one of his works, Acton. I’ve only ever been to his skyspaces before, so I didn’t know what to expect.
As we stood at the back of the room, we looked ahead at a white wall with a dark painting hung in the center. Or so I thought. Acton is one of his “space division” series, which “consists of a large, horizontal aperture which appears to be a flat painting...but is a light-emitting opening to a seemingly infinite, light filled room beyond.”
In my city, Fort Wayne, Indiana, AWS Foundation works to educate all of us about how to be graciously, respectfully, inclusive. The Foundation is where I first learned about “people first language” – words that move hearts from marginalizing others to including them (learn more here).
AWS Foundation CEO Patti Hays recalls as a child being taught, “It’s not polite to stare,” at someone with a disability. Today, she encourages parents to suggest, “Let’s go meet this person.”
Hays reminds us that the Americans with Disabilities Act provides minimum guidelines for removing barriers. Engaging people with varying abilities in the life of our faith communities may require some intentional learning and understanding.
We all watched and reflected with pride as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry delivered his sermon at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Much has been written and spoken about the impact that sermon portends for the Episcopal Church and Christians today.
One area worth exploring again for our congregations and ourselves is the impact of an invitation. Specifically how often do we extend an invitation to family, friends, colleagues or even strangers to join us at our worship service and our outreach ministries.
Projects to improve accessibility are often included in church capital campaigns. In my work as a capital campaign consultant with ECF, I witness congregations choosing ramps, restrooms large enough for caregivers to enter with their adult loved one, hearing loops, wider doorways, lowering the altar rail to the main level of the nave, and other changes to make it clear that all are welcome.
As our awareness of physical barriers increases, let us also consider whether our language and behavior send messages of, “You are truly welcome.” Consider the differences between these sentences:
There was a time when I would have been frustrated with the small scale of our offering. Ten parking spaces when nearly one percent of the population of Los Angeles lives on the streets? I easily count more than ten tent encampments just on my 1.5 mile walk from home to church. Things are bad.
Ten spaces will definitely not solve the problem. However, I have been amazed to discover once again how God can take a small offering and multiply its impact. You might think that the mustard seed parable or the feeding of the 5000 (not counting women and children?!) would have been enough to convince me. Maybe it was growing up in Missouri, the oddly named “show me state”. I have to see things with my own eyes, hear them with my own ears.
As a college student majoring in Music at Arizona State University I was a part of the Choral Union which presented Handel’s Messiah at Christmastime.
I sold tickets to people at my church, loaded everyone into the church’s bus and drove them to the auditorium through streets clogged with the cars of Christmas shoppers. By the time I unloaded my concertgoers at the main entrance and parked the bus at the far, far end of the parking lot, I was too late to join my fellow tenors as they marched onto the stage. So, I decided to enter through the lobby, make my way down a side aisle and climb onto the stage to take my place in the choir.
This month we are highlighting five resources to help your vestry or other church groups learn more about strategic visioning and planning. 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.
1. In Why Strategic Planning, Linda Buskirk describes what strategic planning is and why it’s important for churches to engage in strategic thinking. She also shares the necessary steps a church needs to take in order to achieve its vision and provides some thought provoking questions to help your church move forward in strategic ways.
After the Missional Voices National Gathering last week, my wife and I spent Sunday afternoon at Newfields (the rebranded Indianapolis Museum of Art). I draw much of my inspiration for MV (and ministry) from art museums and other places and groups that are looking to creatively gather and connect people.
What I found at Newfields was a perfect way to cap off a week of conversation about innovation, creativity, and courage in the Church.
Newfields is working to find the right balance between traditional museum and innovative gathering space. Its director, Charles Venable, is seen as either a visionary or a heretic. And if you read profiles of him or Newfields (here, here, or here, for example), replace the work “museum” with “church” and I think you would find a great discussion of what our future may look like.
The heads and heartstrings of many Episcopalians are being tugged toward action for racial reconciliation, social justice, addressing poverty, or determining how our congregations can be more obvious participants in the Jesus Movement. Marching in demonstrations is one thing, but how do we, as faith communities, start to bring about unity and peace?
Traditionally, we categorize such efforts as “outreach ministry,” hoping we make a positive difference to those who need it. We jump to do things for the poor. We give money, buy and wrap Christmas presents for the Angel Tree, invite needy neighbors to hot meals we prepare. Beautiful acts of charity.
After many years of doing so, some wonder, “Why don’t those people come to worship?” Some sigh and conclude, “Well, they just must want the food and clothes we hand out.”
St. Mary’s Church in Los Angeles’ Koreatown, where I have served as rector since 2011, recently became a site for “safe parking”. We opened a part of our small church parking lot to be used each night as a safe spot for a few of the thousands of our Los Angeles neighbors who are living in their vehicles after losing their housing. A community partner raises funds to provide security and a portable toilet in the lot each night. That partner also works with local social service agencies to offer case management to each of the guests as they work towards a more permanent housing solution.
This is the first in a short series of posts about how St. Mary’s came to this ministry and what we have learned in the process.
Congregations can take years to get up the gumption to seriously consider a capital campaign, even when ministry needs in their church home are obvious. Tight operating budgets and fewer folks in the pews often foster these misgivings, along with fear of failure. Leaders may feel overwhelmed, not knowing how to begin a campaign effort, let alone end one successfully.
Certainly an important outcome of a successful campaign is raising enough donations to successfully pay for desired projects. Here are three other outcomes of a robust capital campaign process, as I’ve witnessed as an Episcopal Church Foundation capital campaign consultant:
When was the last time a delegation of 5 or more people from your church attended an event that addressed an area of vital importance to your congregation? These important areas may include: 1) Evangelism 2) Stewardship 3) Formation 4) Anti-racism 5) Vestry Leadership Development 6) Church Planting/ Replanting 7) Outreach or 8) Communication.
These events may have been sponsored by the Diocese, the Episcopal Church or a national Episcopal organization. These entities have invested much time and effort to be a resource in the areas listed above and others not mentioned. Additionally the National organizations have dedicated their whole ministry to deep expertise in these areas. Examples of these organizations are Forma, Episcopal Church Foundation, and Church Pension Group.
“Wait? This isn’t the last budget revision we’re doing?” our church’s treasurer recently asked at the finance meeting. To his point, he’s the one who plugs in the numbers. He did it in November, preparing for our December annual meeting. He did it in December, when the Vestry wanted to revise some areas. And he was doing it in January and February, when the finance committee started to take another whack at it.
Ascension and St. George’s, the two congregations I serve as rector, are doing a lot of amazing things and one of the most impressive things, I tell them, is that they’re facing financial uncertainty. A few years ago, before our collaborative sharing began, Ascension looked at their numbers and calculated they had three to five years left. St. George’s, too, recognized that the numerical and financial growth it was experiencing was, ultimately, insufficient to create a sustainable model of ongoing discipleship and growth. And each congregation, unto itself, faced those financial uncertainties. They stared financial uncertainty in its ugly, nasty, scary face. They wouldn’t let it dominate them. They didn’t run away and pretend it didn’t exist. They faced it, plain and simple, and they let that uncertainty take them to the limit of the old business model.
This month we are highlighting five resources to help your vestry or other church groups learn more about effective endowment management. 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.
1. An "Endow your Pledge" Campaign
In order for most traditional churches to function, they depend on the generosity of their parishioners in the form of pledges. What would it look like if some were to guarantee their annual pledge in perpetuity? In An "Endow your Pledge" Campaign, Deborah Kelly shares how her church educated and invited parishioners to think about endowing their pledge.
“We are doing something we've never done before. We are changing the culture of resource development in our Church to be more fruitful for God's mission.”
So boldly announce the College for Bishops, the Development Office of the Episcopal Church, and the Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF), in their partnership creation called Project Resource.
The week after Easter, we always hear the story of Thomas’ questions. And in some places, Thomas gets a bad rap as “doubting.” But I don’t even think this story has much to do with Thomas. Do you know what bothers me most about that story?
The other 10 disciples had already seen the risen Christ, they received the Holy Spirit, but they’re still hiding behind locked doors a week later!
I sometimes feel like that, too. I have experienced Christ, I have received the Holy Spirit, but too often I sit behind a closed and locked door. But Jesus wants us to go! Jesus wants us to share the Good News we’ve received with a broken and hurting world.
That’s called evangelism.
How many committees should your church have? Two, I believe. An Episcopal church should have two committees and, technically, they are sub-committees of the vestry. I also believe that this, and the other considerations in this blog post, should be spelled out in the parish by-laws.
For starters, our polity has set it up that the business model of every Episcopal congregation is overseen by one elected body – the Vestry. The Vestry is the overarching committee, the Committee of all committees.
Also, the Canons are clear, and rather limited, at that, when they speak about the powers and responsibilities of a Vestry. When a parish is not otherwise in clergy transition, a Vestry is fundamentally in charge of the fixed assets of the parish (“…agents and legal representatives of the parish in all matters concerning its corporate property”) as well as something like a council of advice between the clergy and the congregation (“…and the relations of the Parish to its Clergy,” Canon I.14.2). The Vestry is in charge of money and the oversight of fixed assets.
We Episcopalians are truly blessed by the liturgical touchstones that help us feel our way through Lent, Easter and the entire year. The reading the Word and its interpretation through creative arts – sculpture, statues, stained glass, and all the smells, bells and glorious music - are truly gifts of our worship tradition.
Given this, it seems fitting that we should replicate some of this artful exuberance in our personal faith journeys. In his latest book, Jesus God Among Us, available at Church Publishing, author and artist Roger Hutchison uses one of his own paintings to inspire reflections about finding Jesus. The painting in its entirety “illustrates the full life of Christ.” Segments of the painting inspire Hutchison’s reflections on Christ’s journey “then,” and where we might find or follow Christ “now.” Each reflection is accompanied by questions for further exploration and prayer.