April 20, 2018 by Linda Buskirk

“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.

This month I attended “Project Resource 2.0” as a lay member of a team from the Diocese of Northern Indiana. We registered for this intensive, 3-day course at the invitation of Bishop Doug Sparks. With Bishop Sparks, we 8 lay and clergy attendees will share our learning with parishes back home. 15 dioceses sent teams to Project Resource 2.0 held at Camp Allen in Navasota, Texas.

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Topics: Stewardship
April 17, 2018 by Alan Bentrup

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.

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Topics: Evangelism
April 14, 2018 by Greg Syler

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.

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Topics: Vestry
April 10, 2018 by Linda Buskirk

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.

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April 6, 2018 by Charles Fisher

In my previous career, Fran (my coworker) and I were developing products and services to help obese people lose weight, and had prepared to meet with a woman named Susan to learn about how well the health negatives of obesity were understood. Susan was a large woman, and happily quoted all the standard health reasons we had prepared to hear – nothing new to learn. As we were finishing, Fran asked about where Susan’s kids were today. Susan began tearing up. When she regained her composure, she said: “They went to King’s Island (local amusement park) with friends – I just wish I was able to fit on the rides with my kids.” This started a much deeper conversation where we learned what really drove her desires, and the help she needed to accomplish them.

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April 3, 2018 by Greg Syler

“How do you do Sunday mornings?” That’s perhaps the most common question I get when someone realizes that I serve as one rector of two congregations. The question makes perfect sense, actually, and figuring out the Sunday morning worship schedule was among the most important things we did before launching our new, shared venture between Ascension and St. George’s – the two communities I serve.

In order to develop the fullness of Sunday morning worship, as well as make sure that neither church ‘lost’ a service, we wanted to develop two Sunday morning services at both churches. Both Ascension and St. George’s, each, have worship at 7:30am – one at St. George’s, one at Ascension.

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April 1, 2018 by Anna Olson

It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with [Jesus] from Galilee followed [Joseph of Arimathea], and they saw the tomb and how [Jesus’s] body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.

On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.

Luke 23:54—24:3

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March 30, 2018 by Greg Syler

“How do you do Sunday mornings?” That’s perhaps the most common question I get when someone realizes that I serve as one rector of two congregations. The question makes perfect sense, actually, and figuring out the Sunday morning worship schedule was among the most important things we did before launching our new, shared venture between Ascension and St. George’s – the two communities I serve.

I need to state, up front, that we put out a survey. We mentioned it online, but we very intentionally surveyed the actual Sunday morning worshippers. We stuck in the bulletins a hard-copy half-sheet insert for four Sundays. We ran it well before we had to make the actual decision. We listened carefully to the feedback.

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March 28, 2018 by Alan Bentrup

“To encounter crisis is to encounter the possibility of truly being the church.” So says missiologist and theologian David Bosch in his great book, Transforming Mission. Bosch notes that the Japanese character for ‘crisis’ is a combination of the characters for ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’. So, in his estimation, crisis is not the end of opportunity but the beginning.

So what is the Church’s opportunity?

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Topics: Mission
March 23, 2018 by Linda Buskirk

I lugged my technology-laden baggage over the stone path and up the wooden stairs to the entrance of my cabin. I couldn't believe I had an entire cabin to myself at Kanuga, the beloved Episcopal conference, retreat and camp center in North Carolina.

I started touring, taking photos to text to my husband. The cabin was sheer rustic charm, including a fire place with a small pile of chopped wood on the hearth!

I intended to review notes for the retreat I would be facilitating the next day, but just had to build a fire. After it was blazing, I called my husband to ask if he had seen my latest pic captioned, "1 match."

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March 22, 2018 by Greg Syler

Following his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus stayed in the city. “Every day he was teaching in the temple,” Luke tells us (Lk.19:47), and we can feel the plot thickening. Indeed, “the chief priests, the scribes and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him.”

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March 16, 2018 by Linda Buskirk

It’s Lent – a great time to start constructing your congregation’s annual giving campaign – and, no, not as part of your penance. It’s a great time because it’s early in the calendar year and, for most churches, the fiscal year too. There is ministry happening all over! Take advantage of opportunities now through the summer to document how current year giving is making impacts. Here are three steps to get you started:

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Topics: Vestry, Stewardship
March 15, 2018 by Annette Buchanan

Luke 16 verse 13

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Personally for many, our financial health is fragile and in some cases dire. A 2017 GOBankingRates survey indicates of the 8,000 respondents 39 percent have $0 (nothing) saved. The reasons are varied for this stark number. It includes chronic unemployment, underemployment, poor money management, insufficient retirement funds, catastrophic illness, government policies etc.

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Topics: Finance, Mission
March 13, 2018 by Janet Lombardo

Congregations often want to be all things to all people, jumping on every new idea without considering whether it supports the congregation’s mission to the community. The ideas may be good individually, but how do they align with the congregation’s mission and ministry? When a congregation fragments its mission, it is a recipe for failure.

Another common pitfall is encountered when a project is continued, simply because “it has always been done.” These projects lack support among the congregation and may even have lost their original purpose and intent, making it difficult to find enthusiastic participants. When a congregation can let go of something that has lost its usefulness, it opens itself up to new ideas and opportunities, giving new life and energy to the congregational system. How do you decide what to let go of and what to keep?

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March 8, 2018 by Alan Bentrup

As we continue our Good Book Club journey through Luke’s Gospel this Lent, I’m struck by the recurring theme in the upcoming passages from chapters 14 and 15.

Luke 14 begins with Jesus eating at the home of one of the leaders of the Pharisees, and then he goes into a story about a great wedding feast, and Jesus closes out the chapter by talking about food seasoning. Luke 15 opens with Jesus being accused - by the Pharisees - of welcoming sinners and eating with them. Jesus then goes on to tell a couple of stories, including one about a father who throws a great feast when his wandering son returns home.

I get the sense that Jesus liked to eat.

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Topics: Mission, Outreach
March 6, 2018 by Greg Syler

In addition to my church work, I serve as President of the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) at my daughter’s Montessori school. It’s a way I can help give back to a great school. Also, the President of the PTO has far fewer responsibilities than Rector of a congregation, and I love simple, straightforward jobs.

As it turns out, the PTO was re-started a few years ago with a strategic aim. Like many small, private Montessori schools, our school was started by a visionary Montessori educator who wanted, herself, to start a school. She and her husband literally built it out of nothing. And in recent years they began to sense it was time to retire, which meant: time to sell the school. I knew this all along, and I knew as well that re-starting the PTO was envisioned as a helpful contribution to this overall transition. Kickstart a PTO so parents and teachers and the school community have a sense that there’s a place they can go when they have questions. Transitions are difficult enough for everyone.

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February 28, 2018 by Richelle Thompson

I’ll be the first to admit: I don’t always want to start our leadership meetings with Bible study.

For the past two years, we have begun our weekly meetings with Bible study, first reading through Exodus and now the Gospel of Luke in conjunction with the Good Book Club. Sometimes I get to the meeting, harried and stressed with an overflowing to-do list, and I just want to get down to business.

And then somewhere in the midst of the scripture reading or the discussion with my colleagues, I am reminded that reading and exploring God’s Word is the foundation of our business as an organization committed to serving the wider church. If I can’t make Bible study a priority, then all else will suffer.

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February 27, 2018 by Annette Buchanan

We are now in the season of Lent. As the Book of Common Prayer reminds us in the Ash Wednesday service:

… I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature …

Many of us make genuine efforts to follow the practices suggested for Lent but in our humanness many times fall short. I especially remember one story where a parishioner fell in the parking lot of the local bakery right after the Good Friday Service in her haste to buy the cake she had given up for Lent. Though our efforts are not always successful I believe they are certainly worthwhile.

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Topics: Change, Discernment
February 24, 2018 by Anna Olson

Luke and Acts are thought to have been written primarily for a Gentile audience. This means that from the very beginning, Luke has a challenge. How does one “set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us” when the listening audience does not share a common language of hope and fulfillment? For a Jewish audience, the question, “What are we waiting for?” would have had a fairly clear answer, even if individuals and groups would have argued (and certainly did) over what shape the Messiah’s coming would take.

For a Gentile audience, the question of “What are we waiting for?” is a much tougher one. So Luke starts with hope. For a people who have not imbibed the promises of the Hebrew Scriptures with their mothers’ milk, Luke lays out a number of interlocking statements of hope. In a few chapters, the gospel introduces a whole new people to centuries of shared history and commitment and faithfulness – on the part of both God and the people.

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Topics: Mission, Discernment
February 21, 2018 by Brendon Hunter

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.

1. The Consent Agenda: More Efficient Meetings
The Consent Agenda: More Efficient Meetings introduces the concept and practice of using a consent agenda and how this makes space for strategic mission and ministry discussions without adding to the length of a meeting.

Topics: Vestry