Sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with friend or stranger sounds a bit scary. To make it less so, we are advised to prepare what we would say whenever the opportunity arises. Writing one’s faith story is a powerful experience when done in prayerful partnership with the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the resulting words on paper seem so compelling, the would-be story teller transforms into a would-be author. Or at least dreams about it.
Recently, dreams found paths toward reality at a Writing for Your Life conference in Nashville, Tennessee. More than 100 spiritual writers – some would-be and some already published – gathered like pilgrims at a hallowed place. No candles in this grotto - just inspiration from best-selling authors Barbara Brown Taylor and Rachel Held Evans, and information from other writers, teachers and editors about the craft and business of writing for publication.
The most recent issue of the Diocese of Texas’ Dialog magazine is focused on faith, culture, and the ways that we live our faith in the midst of our daily lives. This got me thinking about some of the places I’ve seen folks serving Christ in the day-to-day.
There’s Dr. Beverly Vick, an angel on earth who is a first grade teacher in Alexandria, Va. For my oldest son, and countless other children for whom school can be challenging, Dr. Vick makes learning come alive. For my son’s birthday that year, he invited Dr. Vick to dinner, and I was amazed at the stories she shared of a life dedicated to teaching. And underpinning it all is her deep faith and love of Jesus.
In the middle of May, the Church observes the custom of Rogation Days. In the spirit of this tradition, we offer five resources to help your congregation get outside and into your neighborhood. 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.
What is it about tables? We all hear the anecdotes and research about the importance of family dinner around a table. But what about dinner around a table with our church family, or even our community?
The Diocese of Texas started a project several years ago called Sharing Faith Dinners. As its website states, “Sharing Faith dinners invite people to gather around a meal and participate in life together. At each dinner, a moderator will prompt participants to share stories of their faith journey with printed questions. Sharing Faith provides a welcoming and safe way to engage one another, articulate our faith and build relationships.”
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.
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.
Discussions of crowd size have blanketed the news this past month. Friday’s crowd was small, and Saturday’s crowd was bigger, so we judge the value of these two ideas based solely on audience participation.
The Episcopal Church knows a thing or two about decreasing crowd sizes. Too often, our “success” and significance as parishes (and as a national church) are measured by large numbers and our average Sunday attendance. The average ASA for parishes across the country dropped from 60 in 2014 to 58 in 2015. We can’t dispute those facts. But what if we could provide more meaningful information, by asking alternative questions?
“The first significant wave of multisite churches started coming onto the North American church scene roughly two decades ago,” writes Warren Bird, director of research for the Leadership Network, capturing the history of this recent movement. “In the 1980s there were well under 100 and in the 1990s at most 200. During the 2000s growth increased at a rapid pace with the greatest number of multisites being birthed within the last ten years.” (Leadership Network / Generis Multisite Church Scorecard, 2014, p.5; download here.)
A multisite church is defined as one church that meets in multiple locations. This recent category in North American Christianity is the result of megachurches who, for various reasons, struggled with the question about whether to build an even bigger building or plant additional satellite campuses. The shift from mega-turning-mega is, I suspect, also a smart response to the larger demographic and cultural turn away from ‘big box’ anything and toward more boutique and locally-owned, locally-sourced products, Christianity included.
This month we offer five resources to help your congregation get ready for Christmas. Please share this digest with others in your congregation and invite them to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and this Vital Practices Digest in your inbox each month.
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.
My wife and I recently spent a few days of vacation in New Orleans. Jackson Square is one of my favorite places on the planet, largely because of its collective and eclectic group of artists, performers, and tourists.
This time I happened upon a street magician that had a pretty lousy show, to be honest. But one thing he said at the beginning stuck with me. “The only thing I’ll guarantee you is this: by the end of our time together, you’ll be part of a circle of strangers all hoping for the same thing.” Maybe we’ll all be hoping this ends soon, I thought…
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:
Our leading evangelist is not a Baby Boomer with conversational skills honed by the Dale Carnegie school of making friends and influencing people. It is not a latchkey Gen-Xer, earnest to please or a freewheeling Millennial breaking from social media to be social.
Nope. Our leading evangelist is a 92-year-old woman with white hair braided into a ring around her head.
I have never seen newcomers enter our church—on Sundays, at spaghetti suppers, for Bible studies, or community gatherings—without Fran making sure to welcome them. And somehow, she never makes her greeting seem forced or awkward. She gives a full-mouth smile, perhaps places her hand on an arm or shoulder, and introduces herself. Then, often, she asks, “So, tell me your story.”
Music has always been a struggle in our Spanish service at St. Mary’s. As we have slowly built membership in our largely low-income neighborhood, we are not anywhere close to generating the kind of offerings that would fully support the clergy time that goes into the service, much less paying a professional musician. We’ve tried different things over the years -- a priest with a guitar or piano, a capella singing, some paid musical help. In recent years, we’ve come upon what I would argue is the best musical situation yet: bartering for band music.
Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry new video is here. (3:58)
Note: The following is the transcript of the Presiding Bishop’s video message in English and Spanish.
We’ve been talking for a little over a year now about being the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement, and somebody recently said to me, “As a bishop, why don’t you paint us a picture, give us a picture of the Jesus Movement so that we can see it?”
I never knew when it was going to happen. We could be standing in a check-out line at the grocery, or visiting a doctor, or ordering food at a restaurant, and my mom would look right at the clerk/doctor/waitress and say,
“A few years ago I learned a new ending to that old prayer, ‘Now I lay me down to sleep…’”
“Oh, yeah, sure.”
“Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. Thy LOVE be with me through the night, and bless me with the morning light. Isn’t that lovely? Isn’t that better than the other way?”
Sometimes, when life hands you lemons, you have a chance to show love.
Between Friday night and Saturday morning, someone (or a group of someones) tagged St. Michael the Archangel Episcopal Church with graffiti. It wasn’t pretty. The doors were covered, as well as part of the sidewalk and entrance. Some of the messages were pretty raunchy.
No sooner had the rector, the Rev. Laurie Brock, sent out a message about the vandalism than parishioners showed up, rolled their sleeves, and began scrubbing. Had the cleanup stopped there, it would have been a story about the congregation responding quickly to an unfortunate situation.
Amid the various back-to-school traditions of churches, one congregation has struck gold. They tap into the community’s strong support for the schools – and particularly for its athletics – by offering yard signs: Pray for a Pirate. Pray for a Titan. Pray for a Panther.
In the week before the special school kick-off Sunday service, the church’s front lawn is full of these signs – a powerful testament for passersby of the church’s connection to the community. Who doesn’t want to pray for young people as they return to school?
The church also invites a few student-athletes to speak during worship about the role that faith plays in their lives.
So this will be a short post as we are in the throes of packing and the movers come later this morning – but I had one of those experiences that puts a few things in perspective. At 11:30 in the evening I ran to Walgreen’s to get some last minute essentials for our trip to Tucson. I have spent the day packing, cleaning out the garage, cleaning off lawn furniture, throwing away lots of trash, and more. So after 15 hours of that, I was not looking my Sunday best.
When I went in to the store, a young woman was at the counter. She was in soccer shorts and a t-shirt and seemed to be having a pretty animated though convivial conversation with the man working the counter. I got my few items and went to stand in line while wondering why her transaction was taking so long. I overheard her say, “It’s a great church!” It turns out she had been telling him all about her church – that’s what was taking so long. When she noticed that I was listening in – she asked me “Do you want to know more?”
I was taken in by her energy and said that I would. She explained that she goes to the Upper Room Church which was started in Dallas but has branched out to Denver. She loves it because it is focused on “The work Jesus did.” When I asked what that meant, she said, “Well, for example, we’ve all been out tonight going to places where the homeless gather at night and inviting them to breakfast tomorrow morning. No strings, just a meal and a conversation partner.”
This past week you may have noticed herds of people wandering around neighborhoods, staring at their phones, and searching for something. Those somethings were Pokémon, and those people were trying to catch them in the mobile game Pokémon Go.
You can physically see the way Pokémon Go, barely a week old, is affecting the real world. Players are searching for, among other things, “gyms,” the game’s focal point for between-player competition. There’s a “gym” near me that is simply a tree in a park with no real benches or meeting spaces. Still, on a Sunday afternoon a dozen teenagers were there, at the tree, hanging out and defending the gym.
But what does this have to do with church?
Anecdotal reports from the game’s first week indicate that many of the game’s items are turning up in or near churches. Sanctuaries have unsuspectingly been tabbed as “gyms” or Pokémarts (where players buy virtual items for use in the game). In my neighborhood, it seems more than half of the landmarks in Pokémon Go are churches.
It’s not hard to imagine that well-meaning clergy and laity sitting in a church office might take a tone-deaf approach to a casual visit of a Pokémon Trainer (the name given to real-life players). That’s a wholly unimaginative and inhospitable way to treat our new Poké-visitors.
Instead, take a cue from this indie clothing store, which got into the spirit of the game by saying, “Come get your PokéBalls and previously rocked threads. Gotta catch ‘em all in style!” What if a church said, “Come get your PokéBalls with coffee and free wi-fi!”