My mom was a school principal. My wife is Head of Lower School at St. Thomas’ Episcopal School in Houston. One of my sisters is a high school math teacher, and the other is an elementary school counselor.
Needless to say, we talk about education a lot in my family.
And we in the Episcopal Church have been talking about it quite a bit these past two weeks. First, All Our Children held their National Symposium in Columbia, S.C. All Our Children started as a joint initiative of Trinity Wall Street and the Episcopal Diocese of New York in response to educational inequality in New York City’s public schools. The nationwide organization now champions “every child’s right to a quality public education by building community, creating partnership, and advocating for justice.”
This past New Year’s Eve, as I was awaiting the countdown with my family, I was able to pray with more than 1,000 people just by opening up Facebook.
Ever since Hurricane Harvey, my parish has been hosting morning devotions and Compline every Monday through Saturday on Facebook Live. While it was still raining and streets were impassable, we started offering up these times for folks to come together and pray, with my rector and I taking turns officiating.
When I lead the prayers, I’m usually joined by parishioners, family members, colleagues in ministry, elementary school classmates, and (more often than not) a bishop or two. It has been a wonderful example of how technology can be used to bring people together, which we’ve talked about before in this space.
My wife and I really love New Orleans. The art, music, food, and atmosphere are the perfect place for us to get away. But it’s also a place that makes me think deeply about my work and my call to follow Christ.
I’m a photographer, so I like to get up early and walk around the city taking photographs. When I do so, I inevitably strike up conversations with people. On this trip, I met a jazz musician who plays bars at night, plays in his church band on Sundays, and spends his days playing Gospel music on his trumpet outside Cafe Du Monde. At the end of our conversation, we hugged and prayed with each other...because it is hard to stay strangers too long in New Orleans.
This month we’re sharing five of the most popular posts in 2017 on ECF Vital Practices. Help your parish leadership get connected to more great resources by sharing this digest and an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.
There is a lot of anger, confusion and just plain disrespect flying around in the world these days. One big chunk of it recently flew right through a newly refurbished and protected stained-glass window at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan, Kansas.
Earlier this year, the people of St. Paul’s gave generously to a capital campaign, exceeding their goal to accomplish much-needed restoration in their historic home of worship and ministry. Then one afternoon, someone threw a piece of concrete at a stained glass window featuring two fish. The blow shattered the protective glass and destroying several of the window’s colored panels and iron work.
Family dinner comes rarely these days, with two teenagers on the go and two parents serving as taxi drivers (and working full-time). When we get to sit down together, it is treasured time.
A napkin company made it even better. We bought one of those jumbo packs of napkins from the local grocery store. We expected the cheap dimpled-white napkins. Instead, these napkins had quirky illustrations and conversation starters: Share your best joke. What was the most outrageous thing you saw today? Tell me about your day and what made it ok.
We’ve had fun with the napkins, asking the questions and then going down inevitable rabbit holes that have left us laughing and learning more about each other’s day—and lives.
At my home parish, St. Augustine Episcopal Church, Asbury Park, New Jersey, we have been truly blessed to have a Music Director, Gladstone Trott, who began with the church as a child prodigy at age 13 and remained for over 45 years until his recent death after a long illness.
As a tribute to Gladstone’s long tenure there are many wonderful behaviors he practiced that congregations can embrace to ensure a successful music ministry. They are as follows:
September is back-to-school month for many of our youth. There is much anticipation and preparation by parents, students, teachers and retailers for this once a year event. Schools send out reminders about schedules, meals, and activities. Teachers spruce up classrooms and take refresher courses. Parents buy clothing and supplies and figure out transportation needs. Students look forward to reuniting with friends and negotiating for the latest computers, backpacks, sneakers etc. from their parents.
September is also an opportunity for us to have a back-to-church month for our youth with the same vigor and anticipation for Sunday School and youth activities. How are we doing? The leadership of the church including our vestry and clergy, not just the youth ministry leaders, should be intimately involved in this youth outreach. Many of us bemoan the lack of youth in our congregations but do not make it a priority in our planning.
I’m writing this as my family and I are in the midst of Tropical Storm (formerly Hurricane) Harvey.
My heart goes out to so many victims of Harvey – to those dear souls who have lost their life, and to those who lost their homes and cars, or years’ worth of memories and precious possessions. Hardship and suffering tend to bring out the worst in people – the occasional looting in flooded neighborhoods, traffic nightmares, and fist fights in long gas station lines are, sadly, all too real.
But hardship and suffering also bring out the best in people!
In 2015, Vital Posts recorded the planting of a new Episcopal congregation in Brownsburg, Indiana, just outside Indianapolis (Parachute Drop). Rev. Gray Lesesne, D.Min., Church Planter/Pastor, “parachuted” into this suburban area and worked the coffee shop crowd, discovering what he was called to find: diverse people seeking spirituality.
The small seed of a congregation that Fr. Gray planted has grown to nearly 130 people of Good Samaritan Episcopal Church. He says it is “a Spirit-filled operation that has gone beyond our wildest dreams.” The congregation stays united around a mission and identity rooted in service: Good Samaritan Episcopal Church is a growing community of open-minded Christians who seek to do what Jesus taught us: to include, love, and serve all people without exception.
This past weekend I went out with a group from my parish to serve with 249 & Hope, a ministry for and with our brothers and sisters living along the local highway. This was my first time to go along with the group, and I was struck by the question the ministry leader asked me. “What are we going to learn today?”
I didn’t have an answer.
Too often, I think the church goes out into its neighborhood to solve problems. Let’s feed the homeless, or tutor in the local school, or visit the sick and lonely. These are all good things that we, as Christians, should do! But we don’t do them because we can provide solutions to other people’s problems.
On the 2nd day of Ramadan 2017 our senior warden Evelyn and I attended the annual fundraising dinner of the American Muslims for Hunger Relief (AMFHR). We did this at the invitation of Ghani Khan, the Executive Director. The Church of the Advocate and AMFHR have shaped a partnership that fruited in Halal meals being offered monthly at our Advocate Cafe. How wonderful it was that evening of the fundraiser to be immersed in a cultural event outside of the Eurocentric, Christocentric framework, one that propelled me and Evelyn into a sea of colors, textures, tastes, hues and sounds that declared another way of being that nourished and enlightened and spoke to a powerful encounter with the sacred.
What AMFHR does for the Advocate community is less about the Halal meat made available to our patrons. What AMFHR does is remind us that the work before us as Christians is sometimes best done in relationships that cross boundaries to find places of common mission. Our relationship with AMFHR is not predicated upon removal and substitution, we have not substituted any Islamic beliefs or practice for our own, but rather is situated upon a common interest to meet a basic human need; i.e. the need for food. The shock is not in the partnership but in the need.
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.”
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.
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.
Most of us have been taught to avoid triangulation in communication, but it can be a valuable tool for promoting peace and justice. Triangulating by asking Jesus to “re-speak,” through the power of the Holy Spirit, words we are unable to receive is good triangulation. The gift of learning at our Lord’s feet is always available to us through scripture and prayer, and daily life becomes a dialogue of faith when we give ourselves to God in this way. These dialogues of faith often become the foundation for raising voices of advocacy.
The diocesan Commission on Peace, Justice, and Racial Reconciliation is working to organize voices of advocacy that promote reconciliation, restoration, and healing, and I am grateful to be a part of this work. Seeking to better understand human systems that produce dysfunction and despair has been part of my training as an anthropologist. Now, as a priest, I understand that Jesus calls us to faith that sees beyond the landscapes our brokenness and sin have created. Christian advocacy is about seeing a horizon of hope through the eyes of our faith and asking Jesus to use us as his ears and heart and hands.
This fall, Episcopalians have a unique opportunity to do the holy work of building the Kingdom of God here on earth by engaging in the electoral process. Engaging in the election is an opportunity to be with and speak out with people who are oppressed, hungry, and/or an outcast, and to insert compassion and justice into our country’s guiding systems and structures. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry reminds us,
“If we who are Christians participate in the political process and in the public discourse as we are called to do — the New Testament tells us that we are to participate in the life of the polis, in the life of our society — the principle on which Christians must vote is the principle, Does this look like love of neighbor?"
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.
Back to school time! Pencils, pencil boxes, notebooks, markers, glue sticks, tissues, hand sanitizer... Lists of required school supplies are long and diverse for each grade, each school. Many churches engage their members to “shop the list” and bring items to be given to families in need, often supplying backpacks too – sometimes several hundred at a time.
Today, we highlight the extraordinary backpack ministry of Trinity Episcopal Church in Logansport, Indiana (Diocese of Northern Indiana). Trinity’s average Sunday attendance is 65. On August 6, many of those folks distributed more than 750 backpacks and all the supplies students needed.
In 2006, when Trinity first realized the community need, the church gave away 40 filled backpacks. School Supply Giveaway project chairperson Deb Miller says the effort grew because of the “generosity of spirit” living in the people of Trinity.
CNN calls it “the 90s fad that never died,”  and in fact Pokémon is on another upsurge. Nintendo’s new smartphone-based app / game, Pokémon GO, has been released in the US, New Zealand and Australia – topping the US iOS and Android charts within hours of availability – whereas the worldwide release scheduled for the first week of July hit some snags. The servers went live on July 4 in Singapore and Taipei but by 9 o’clock that evening they were shut down, apparently struggling to keep up with the huge demand for the game.
Pokémon GO is a new twist on the old characters and an even more interactive spin on the relatively new smartphone game, now inspiring players to not just stare at their tablets but get out into the world – literally go to different places to improve their scores. I learned about Pokémon GO this week when the grandson of a parishioner popped into the 8 o’clock service. He’s not normally known for showing up at church, let alone at the early service. “God moves in mysterious ways,” his grandmother said, and then told me all about the game – and that St. George’s Episcopal Church in Valley Lee, Maryland is one of the game’s hotspots! Pardon my Poké-ignorance, but I’ve since learned that at various places – St. George’s being one of them – there are such things as Pokéstops (from CNN’s article: “Geotagged locations, i.e. a landmark or destination, where you can get Pokéballs and other treats”); and Pokémon gyms (again, CNN: “Where you can battle your Pokémon with other Pokémon to earn control over different gyms, as well as other prizes. These are geotagged like Pokéstops.”)