May 5, 2017 by Linda Buskirk

“Why can’t we just ask people what they want to do?”

Sounds so simple. Logical, even. Why spend months in conversation about history, gifts and values to determine “what God is calling this congregation to do to next” when you could just ask people in one parish meeting for suggestions?

Here’s why. We live in community. Think of your congregation as a microcosm of the Body of Christ, which overall is more diverse than we can imagine. People flow in and out of the microcosm. Let’s think first about those who’ve come. Some have been there a long time – decades perhaps. Others arrived ten years ago, or one year ago, or last month.

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January 23, 2017 by Annette Buchanan

Parishioners and visitors staying in touch with our church community and each other is a critical component of a welcoming and vibrant ministry. In the past and also very much today the primary means of communication within our church is by word-of-mouth. Through a chance meeting at a grocery store or social event, a telephone call to a parishioner, or a planned visit, those absent for a Sunday or months of Sundays are given an update on the church happenings in these interactions. While these means of communication are great and necessary they can sometimes lead to inconsistent or wrong information being conveyed. Sometimes the messenger does undermine the message especially if an unhappy or gossip-filled parishioner. 

Topics: Communications
January 16, 2017 by Alan Bentrup

On Christmas morning a few weeks ago, we turned from the infant in the cradle to give our worship to the mighty God who came among us as that baby. We read these words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

The Word: this is one of our most holy names for Christ, the second person of the Trinity, the Beloved Child of God. Christ is the Word of God. And, as John tells us, Christ the Word was present with God in the act of creation—all things came into being through the Word, just as it is written in the book of Genesis. God speaks, and worlds are created.

Words create worlds.

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December 12, 2016 by Crystal Plummer

In my corporate work, I used to facilitate a workshop called the M.A.G.I.C .of Customer Relations, which emphasized communications and relationships as two of the keys to delivering exceptional customer service. Early in the program we pondered a quote by Virginia Satir, the American social worker and author who is widely regarded as the pioneer of family therapy. According to Ms. Satir, “Once a human being has arrived on this earth, communication is the largest single factor determining what kinds of relationships he makes with others and what happens to him in the world about him.”

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December 7, 2016 by Miguel Escobar

What does it mean to communicate in a way that models Christ? How do we share good news with our friends, neighbors and strangers? In this issue of Vestry Papers, we invite you to consider how the sharing of stories can take on many different forms – conversations, pictures, videos or even performances. What they have in common though, is inviting others into fellowship, community and love.

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November 2, 2016 by Nancy Davidge

Evangelism. Sharing our stories. Being comfortable talking about Jesus and the role faith plays in our lives. Making this easier – and also more difficult – is the array of resources available to almost all of us. At our disposal are tools to make our voices, our words, and even our images, heard and seen, across the room, across our communities, across the entire world. Today we offer ideas and examples of how Episcopalians are using their voices and their gifts to share their stories and understanding of their faith, using both the oldest and the newest forms of communication.

I hope the experiences and ideas of these congregations and individuals spark a conversation in your congregation:

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October 12, 2016 by Greg Syler

One of the best trainings I’ve had for parish ministry was the year I spent as assistant copy editor for my high school yearbook. My job was to write short, snappy, sometimes witty, often engaging captions and stories. Doing so became a fairly straightforward craft, and I learned this has its own internal logic: jump in with content, maybe a quick opening line, make sure there’s a verb up front, and say who’s who.

Every week I spend time, perhaps more time than I thought I would, organizing, revising, pitching, and writing copy. I’m not talking about blog posts or sermons, articles or reflective pieces. I’m talking about ‘blurbs’ for the bulletin, newsletter, website, and social media posts. I’ve come to believe that this is an important skill, and one that should require some investment on the part of church leaders.

So what does that announcement in your bulletin or newsletter, on your website or Facebook page say, anyway? Here are five suggestions for refining the message.

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Topics: Communications
October 3, 2016 by Alan Bentrup

A week ago Sunday, churches around the country participated in Social Media Sunday (#SMS16). This day provided an opportunity for people to “use digital devices intentionally to share their life of faith with the world.” If your Facebook feed was anything like mine, you saw plenty of selfies, check-ins, and short videos of worship, formation, and fun.

My background is in journalism, marketing, and public relations. I love that churches around the country are trying to reach out and share the Good News in new ways. From stained glass to the printing press to instrumental music, the Church has a long history of using new technologies and mediums to proclaim the Gospel. Our interactions with Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter should be no different.

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August 9, 2016 by Richelle Thompson

I have always loved looking through the church directories. As a kid, I would flip through them between commercials or get distracted by the photos whenever I was looking up a phone number. Seeing each picture both as an individual unit (whether family or single) and as part of the larger whole of the church was oddly compelling.

When we received our new church directory on Sunday, I found myself drawn again to the pictures. And I wasn’t the only one. During the coffee hour, several folks were thumbing through it.

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June 27, 2016 by Jeremiah Sierra
Editor's note: Our summer 'reruns' continue... For today's offering we're bringing back a post by Jeremy Sierra inviting us to find the time to practice telling our own difficult stories. Summer, with longer days and more relaxed schedules, might be just the time to try this. First published January 11, 2016.

It’s easier to avoid the difficult stories. We know this in our personal lives, of course: no one really likes to talk about their divorce, or the time they got fired. It’s also true in communities: we don’t talk about the families who left because of theological disagreement, the split in the vestry a few years ago. Telling these stories feels like gossip or dwelling on the bad moments, but perhaps there is a time and a place to tell them.

As my wife and I prepare for our baby, I’ve begun reading books about raising children. In the book I’ve been reading recently called The Whole Brain Child, the authors explain that children need to tell stories. It helps them make sense of their experiences.

It’s tempting to simply distract children from their difficult moments with ice cream or to insist that they are now fine so they shouldn’t worry. But recounting again and again the time they fell off their bike or got sick at school helps them move forward. The story doesn’t stop at the painful experience, but continues on to how mom or dad took care of them, how the painful moment was resolved.

This is relevant to adults, too, and communities. Just as we sometimes need to talk about things with a friend or partner or therapist, sometimes a community needs to talk things out. While we don’t want to recount stories that are none of our business, neither do want to simply distract ourselves from the difficult times or pretend that they no longer matter. This never gives us a chance to come to terms with the painful things that happened and why, and also how they were resolved. If we never have a resolution, then they still feel threatening. We need to tell the story because the story is how we make them into a meaningful narrative.

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Topics: Communications
May 23, 2016 by Linda Buskirk

“Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.”(Acts 2: 14)

It must have been breathtaking to be there at the first Pentecost, to hear God’s Word come to life in a mass of languages. However, it was after that Holy Spirit rush that the conversion began. When Peter communicated the Good News, 3,000 people were baptized on the spot.

I am guessing there were no tongues of fire dancing at your annual meeting, but perhaps proposals about new programs sparked enthusiasm for the coming year. If there has been a lull in progress since that time, consider the role communication plays in implementing good ideas.

I was once part of the leadership team at a small but growing Roman Catholic university. Pushing for the school to create its first comprehensive strategic plan was the marketing director. Her voice and direction strongly guided the implementation of many strategic initiatives – even the start of the school’s first football team.

“But she’s the marketing director,” I thought. “What does she know about football?”

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Topics: Communications
May 6, 2016 by Ann Mellow

Most schools take great care in how they articulate their educational philosophy and program. Yet many overlook the same when it comes to Episcopal identity. In our experience here at NAES, schools that are clear and forthright about their Episcopal identity thrive because they attract parents, students, faculty, and staff who become deeply committed to the school in its fullest expression. For these schools, their Episcopal identity distinguishes them from other educational options, supports the recruitment of “mission consistent” families, and links the school’s value directly to its core values as an Episcopal school.

Here are six strategies that Episcopal schools of all kinds can use to develop honest, clear and direct ways to communicate what the “E” means at their school.

Name it and claim it.

“Episcopal identity” varies greatly from school-to-school based on the school’s history, traditions, geographical location, liturgical style, and socio-religious context. Regardless of these differences, however, every Episcopal school has both visible symbols and cultural norms that embody its Episcopal identity. Naming and claiming these in ways that the entire community can understand, articulate, and celebrate is perhaps the first and most important “marketing tool” for any Episcopal school.   

Current families, faculty members, students, and alumni who speak with passion about the school out of personal experience and link their experiences to its Episcopal character are our first and best ambassadors. Ideally, all of the adults in the school community understand what makes the school Episcopal, not simply the chaplain, head of school, or admissions staff. In elementary, middle, and secondary schools, students should be able to name particular values, qualities, or practices that embody the school’s Episcopal mission and character.

Develop clear and consistent language.

“Naming and claiming” what makes our school distinctively an Episcopal school, however, can be challenging. But it is possible!   

St. James School in Philadelphia focuses school culture around agape. Trinity Episcopal School in New Orleans uses a tag line, “Challenging the Intellect, Nourishing the Spirit, Celebrating Community.” Palmer Trinity School in Palmetto Bay, Florida has a set of core values. Oregon Episcopal SchoolSt. George Episcopal School in San Antonio, and The Bishop’s School in California have developed lengthier statements about what it means to be an Episcopal school. St. Anne’s School in Annapolis answers the question, “Why choose an Episcopal school?   

These are just a few examples of ways schools articulate directly what it means for them to be an Episcopal school.

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Topics: Communications
May 2, 2016 by Jeremiah Sierra

Episcopalians: we’re not God’s frozen people. We’re God’s introverted people.”

This was said by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, perhaps one of the minority of extroverted Episcopalians, but it nonetheless rang true.

I don’t know that Episcopalians are actually more introverted than your average population, but I think that the culture of the Episcopal Church is introverted, focused less on creating high energy church services or on charismatic individuals and more on quiet faith cultivated in liturgy and community.

I heard Bishop Curry say these words at the Episcopal Communicators conference a few weeks ago. I am certainly one of those Episcopal introverts and yet I always enjoy this conference. Although the many hours spent with other people (not to mention the jet lag) left me somewhat exhausted by the end of the conference, I was also energized by the people I met and the shared sense of mission.

Regardless of whether we’re actually a church populated by introverts, I think the Episcopal Church and its members require a common mission as well as a culture that fosters connection and a mutual support in order to thrive.

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Topics: Communications
March 23, 2016 by Anna Olson

A few times a month for most of the last eight years, I have led a Bible Study at Century Regional Detention Facility, Los Angeles County’s main jail for women. It’s an environment where just about nobody knows what an Episcopalian is. I pass through nine locked doors and a security checkpoint, arrive in my assigned unit, and gather whoever is in the mood for Bible Study (or an hour out of her cell…). Fifteen to forty women sit in a noisy circle and wait for me to start. I have to explain Episcopalians, every time, completely from scratch.

Here’s my spiel. I vary it a little each time, but the basic points seem to work pretty well:

The Episcopal Church is a Christian Church. We believe in God and in Jesus and in the Bible. If you’re familiar with Catholic Church, our worship services look pretty similar. If you’re more familiar with Protestant churches, you will easily recognize the way we place a lot of emphasis on the Bible as the living Word of God, and draw on scripture to try to understand how we should shape and change our lives so that everything we do points towards God. Here are some things that set us apart from a lot of churches you may have experienced. We really try hard to be a church that has room for everyone. That means that our leaders and our members are men and women, people who are married and not married, have kids and don’t have kids, people who are gay and straight, people of different races and different languages and cultures, people with different kinds of mental and physical abilities. When you hear us criticized, it’s usually because someone thinks we have the doors open a little too wide. But we truly believe that God love us all and has placed gifts in all of us, and that the church is the richest when it can receive all those gifts and make space for people to use them. We’re not a church with a lot of rules. That makes some people suspicious. But God really just gave us two jobs to do, love God and love each other. God could have said, “Judge one another, as I will judge you,” but judging isn’t actually in our job description. God kept that one for Godself. So we try to let God be God and get about the business of doing our job: love.

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Topics: Communications
March 22, 2016 by Richelle Thompson
Steve Jobs and Apple have much to teach the church: both things we should embrace and tenets we should push away.
As I nursed a hacking cough this weekend, I finally caught the movie, Steve Jobs. Like many, I have long been a fan of Apple’s commitment to innovation and to the user-experience. This is a place where the tech company has much to offer the church. As we face significant changes in how people communicate and connect, we have the opportunity and challenge to develop new ways of being church, from how and when we worship to the types of relationships we seek and develop. Much has been made about improving the user-experience. This includes tweaks like offering an easy-to-follow worship bulletin to adding clear signage throughout a facility.
But as much as I like my iPad, iPhone, and big iMac, I took away a more important lesson from the movie. Steve Jobs was a closed-source fanatic. By that, I mean he didn’t want his products to interact with others already on the market. He was so committed to this principle that the MacIntosh computer required a special tool to open. A regular Phillips head screwdriver wouldn’t do.
Our churches need to be—must be—are called to be open source. In computer ease, open source means that the “software with its source code [is] made available with a license in which the copyright holder provides the rights to study, change, and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose. Open-source software may be developed in a collaborative public manner” (so says Wikipedia). In English, this means that open source is accessible to everyone and open to improvements or changes by users.
The church has for too long operated on a closed-source model. A few years ago, I offered free advertising and marketing materials to Episcopal communicators. The first feedback I received was shocking: “So what’s the catch?” Honestly, there was no catch. We had developed advertising materials that I thought could be helpful to the wider church, so I offered it to folks. The cynicism of the response reflects a broader issue: We haven’t created an environment where sharing is the norm, so when someone does it, we’re taken aback and become suspicious.

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Topics: Communications
March 15, 2016 by Richelle Thompson

“No comment” is not the answer to poor planning.

In a decade as a diocesan communicator, I was the point person on several occasions when something went wrong and the media wanted information. I also spent eight years as the one asking the questions as a journalist, including covering the abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church.

So here’s the thing: No comment means you’re either hiding something or you’re not prepared. Regardless, in situations that are ugly, with possible victims or misconduct, no comment isn’t the answer.

I’m not advocating for throwing open the doors and divulging every scrap of information. Often in cases of alleged misconduct, there are privacy concerns, for both the victim and the accused. But as leaders and representatives of the Church/church, we have an obligation to be honest and as forthcoming as possible.

What does that mean? Well, first, communication planning must be a part of the process, not an afterthought. If a leader in your congregation (clergy or lay) is accused of misconduct (including financial or sexual, criminal activity, or drug/alcohol addictions), the other leaders (vestry, diocesan, etc.) should immediately pull in a communications expert. This person can advise on how to clearly communicate to the stakeholders in a way that honors the individuals directly involved in the problem as well as those who will be affected by it. In addition, if the issue is something that will garner media attention, the communication expert can help craft an honest, succinct release.

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Topics: Communications
February 8, 2016 by Jeremiah Sierra
When you write, you can’t control how others interpret your words. Not completely, anyway.
I was reminded of this after I wrote some reflections for Forward Day by Day. These are daily meditations on the lectionary that go out to Episcopalians all over the country. The responses I receive vary widely. Some people send me kind notes. Others use the reflections as a springboard for their own thoughts. After one mediation that briefly mentioned climate change, I received one long email questioning my belief that climate change is real. 
Ultimately, you can only put your work out there and hope that others will find it meaningful or useful, even if the words don’t always come across as you’d intended. 
This is true of every word we speak and our liturgy, as well. Take Ash Wednesday, for example. Some understand it as the beginning of Lent, a time of reflection. Some simply stop in the church to get their ashes before heading back out to work, a visible reminder of a deeply felt if not regularly practiced faith. Maybe they only go to church on Easter and Christmas. Others go to the Ash Wednesday Eucharist and will go again on Sunday, as they go every week.

Topics: Communications
February 4, 2016 by Greg Syler

Two weeks ago, in advance of winter storm Jonas, the forecasters in the mid-Atlantic began their steady drumbeat of winter weather analysis mixed with heart-stopping projections. 

Meteorologically, they knew something was going to happen but, whatever it was, it wasn’t going to happen until Friday of that week; I’m sure they said as much in their ‘round the clock reporting. In the minds of area residents, however, the psychological situation had already begun to shift. 

I became aware of this on Tuesday when, for instance, the altar guild reported that they were going to set up for Sunday worship on Wednesday afternoon and then hunker down in their warm homes and see me the following week. Or maybe sometime after Groundhog Day! 

I’m not one to freak out about weather, so I went on about my week, even popping into the local grocery store on Wednesday afternoon to pick up some supplies for bible study. There, I noticed the meat counter was nearly empty and long lines poured out of every available register. I don’t know much about weather, in general, but I do know how to read a community! And that’s when I knew that no matter how many inches of snow landed on the ground, Sunday morning church was in serious jeopardy of happening.

And that’s also when I remembered a friend talking about doing what she called “conference call church.” On bad weather weekends, or at random points throughout the week, she’d set up a conference call, using one of the many free online conference call services. She’d let folks know the phone number and access code and then wait on the other end with Morning Prayer and sermon on the ready.

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Topics: Communications
January 5, 2016 by Richelle Thompson
Tomorrow the Church celebrates Epiphany, the arrival of the Wise Men in Bethlehem to greet and celebrate the birth of Jesus.

In a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, the wise men have taken the circuitous route. Throughout the twelve days of Christmas, photos of three wise men statues have appeared on the website of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Westerville, Ohio. Along with their trusty camel steed, the wise men have been captured on (digital) film at city hall, a park, a pub, a coffee shop, and a busy intersection. I’m looking forward to seeing where their journey takes them today. 
It’s a fun way to remind folks of the journey of the wise men and the continuing season of Christmas. And this type of project is a perfect venture for social media, where folks can share and like the photos of the wise men.

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Topics: Communications
December 8, 2015 by Richelle Thompson
Even from a hospital bed, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is a pastor.
Over the weekend, Bishop Curry suffered a subdural hematoma, a small collection of blood between his brain and his skull. He is scheduled for surgery today and is expected to make a full recovery.
Even as I’m sure he is a bit anxious about the surgery and his health, Bishop Curry also wanted to reassure and comfort his flock—the 2 million people of The Episcopal Church. From his hospital bed, he spoke in a video, with a nurse explaining his condition. His canon for ministry, the Rev. Canon Michael Hunn, was at his side.
Bishop Curry sets the bar pretty high. I know when I was awaiting surgery, I would not have wanted to smile for a camera. But the bishop offers a wonderful example of the use of social media as a pastoral tool.
Whether we like social media or not is really irrelevant in today’s culture. It is woven tightly into the social fabric, and we ignore it at our own expense. Video is an especially effective tool. It’s easily shareable and it’s dynamic, meaning that it engages the senses in multiple ways.

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Topics: Communications