January 29, 2018 by ECFVP Editorial Team

ECF Vital Practices seeks to build online communities of Episcopalians who share their stories, experiences, and best practices, who learn from one another, and who discover support to help sustain their leadership and their ministries. Late last year, we asked the church leaders on our Facebook page a question: What do you wish you had known when you first joined the vestry?

Below are their answers supplemented with ECF Vital Practices resources to help you take concrete first steps towards effective vestry leadership.

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Topics: Vestry, Leadership
September 8, 2017 by Miguel Escobar

Registration is now open for the 2018 Church Leadership Conference, March 2 - 4 at the Kanuga Conference and Retreat Center in Hendersonville, NC.

Join us for three inspiring days, designed in partnership by the Episcopal Church Foundation and Kanuga, to strengthen, equip and re-energize church leaders for ministry. View a preliminary schedule here.

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Topics: Leadership
August 7, 2017 by Annette Buchanan

Within our churches and organizations as the leadership becomes more seasoned the question arises who will take over the responsibilities they now oversee. Many believe that they are irreplaceable and refuse to train or transition to someone new. Others complain that they cannot find anyone to take on their responsibilities. Still others may believe that as seniors they have much more to offer and are being discriminated against in a youth-oriented society. Whether it is the Senior Warden with the 20 year term or the Altar Guild member who has been there for 40 years, our friendly term for some of these folks are Mama or Papa Docs that is, leaders for life.

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Topics: Change, Leadership
April 6, 2017 by Scott Gunn

Last week, I was honored to serve as moderator for an Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF) webinar on preaching and leadership. Basically, I hosted a conversation among three preachers and fed them some questions of my devising and some from our audience. The panelists were the Rev. Ronald Byrd, rector of St. Katherine’s in Williamston, MI; the Rev. Brenda Husson, rector of St. James, Madison Avenue in NYC; and Mr. Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale, layperson from All Saints’, Indianapolis, IN.

I’d encourage you to watch the webinar, which will be an hour well spent if you’re at all interested in preaching. Much of the focus is on sermon preparation and delivery, but there is also some valuable advice for those who listen to sermons. I know I’ll listen to preachers differently because of this conversation.

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Topics: Leadership
April 3, 2017 by Annette Buchanan

Giving and receiving positive feedback as well as negative (constructive) feedback is a prerequisite for having healthy church relationships. Positive feedback should be easy, however, we sometimes overlook these simple acts of kindness only to have long-term members leaving the church or people feeling neglected.

Negative feedback is more difficult. Some of us are so concerned about hurting someone’s feelings that we say nothing at all, allowing dysfunction to continue. On the opposite end, we may blurt out insensitive words disregarding the impact. It is often hard to find the right balance.

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Topics: Conflict, Leadership
February 22, 2017 by Annette Buchanan
For many, their only worship experience or connection with other Episcopalians are in their home congregations. There are churches that are less than a mile apart and as individuals or congregations we have never visited or seen the inside of our neighboring churches. 

The reasons given for being strangers to each other are many: we are too busy; they are “high” church and we are “low” church; we didn’t know there was another Episcopal church nearby; their members are of another ethnic or cultural background; it is hard to plan logistically given worship times, etc. How can we be welcoming and inviting to non-Episcopalians when we find it so difficult to exercise that habit among ourselves? 

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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 14, 2016 by Richelle Thompson

Among my character traits, you will not find “waits with patience.”

Whether it’s for a table at a restaurant, on hold with customer service, or anticipating a big trip, waiting is not among my virtues.

That makes Advent really hard.

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Topics: Change, Leadership
December 6, 2016 by Alan Bentrup

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…

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November 25, 2016 by Greg Syler

Almost like those moments that begin sometime late at night Christmas Eve and continue the next several days, the world begins to hush during Thanksgiving week. People re-connect and spend precious time with their loved ones, and there’s not much noise or commotion. I really like this time of year. I like it for so many reasons – great feasts among them – but I also like this pause, this hush.

A harvest festival, such as what we’re doing this week, does that to us – gives us pause to consider, encourages us to take stock, provides a moment to focus, even strategize about how we can best invest in what really matters. It’s significant that the Thanksgiving holiday and our own stewardship/fundraising practices in the church fall in the same timeframe. For one, they’re both connected to ancient harvest practices. On another level, though, they’re both about healthy practices of looking back and going forward, a dynamic, communal motion that is really one and the same – giving thanks for what God has already provided and, based on God’s good generosity, making sure we’ve put those resources toward where God is leading.

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November 23, 2016 by Annette Buchanan

Annual meetings are being held in many of our congregations in the next few months. We will have the opportunity to elect leaders to include wardens, vestry members and delegates to diocesan conventions.

It is important for us to reflect on how we select leaders within our churches.

For many the criteria is to have someone from the “inner circle”, which may mean being from the right family or having the right status in the community. For others selection is by default, they are the last person standing, no one else wants the position or they do not want to give it up and others are afraid to wrestle it away from them. For some their names were selected while absent, others were pressured into taking the position even though their hearts were not in it, and for a few their egos were stroked – you are the only one that can do this job.

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Topics: Leadership, Vestry
November 16, 2016 by Anna Olson

Like most of the country, I had never heard of Bean Blossom (also spelled Beanblossom) Indiana, before this weekend. It’s honestly the kind of name someone on the blue parts of the coasts might make up to mock the perceived backwardness or hokey-ness of the center of the country. Bean Blossom.

Last Sunday, the members of St. David’s Episcopal Church in Bean Blossom arrived at their church to find it painted with a swastika, the phrase “Heil Trump” and the phrase “Fag Church.”

I want to be like Bean Blossom.

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November 16, 2016 by Richelle Thompson

I planned to be a gracious winner the week after the election.

I wasn’t going to rub it in the faces of folks who had been Donald Trump supporters. My social media presence would be demure, and while I expected to dance a little jig inside, my public persona would call for unity and broad arms to encircle the disenfranchised.

I didn’t expect to be the one needing the arms.

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September 30, 2016 by Joseph John

Walk back in time with me when you were new to the vestry, as I was. Like a deer-in-the-headlights, I was paralyzed by the information overload and I began asking myself the proverbial question: “What did I get myself involved in”?

I recognized if I was going to be a member of the vestry, involved in this important ministry, I needed some facts — pertinent facts. I was looking for answers to “where have we been over the past 10 or 15 years”, and “are we growing, are we stagnant, or are we withering?” The three-ring binder of do’s and don’ts for vestry members didn’t include this. I needed a one page or two page of “factoids” that immediately painted a picture of our church and how those facts could relate to current and previous rectors’ tenures, our congregational numbers, and, very importantly, stewardship and pledges over the years.

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September 23, 2016 by Annette Buchanan

The message heard loud and clear at our monthly UBE (Union of Black Episcopalians) meetings at different congregations throughout the Diocese of New Jersey was how difficult it was to fill all Sunday services with a clergy person. The reasons were varied; the congregation may have been in transition, or the full time clergy was on vacation, on sabbatical, or even ill.

One idea stood out from all of our discussions. A clergy person suggested we re-embrace layperson led Morning Prayer as a legitimate form of Sunday morning worship. Response was mixed. Anglicans from the Caribbean or Africa experienced Morning Prayer often, due to less frequent clergy availability due to the number of congregations to be served. Older members had positively experienced Morning Prayer as common practice in times past. For others it was a harder pill to swallow, as they believed if there was no Communion then we didn’t really have a Service. There was also feedback that Morning Prayer was unfulfilling and it some cases even boring.

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September 20, 2016 by Richelle Thompson

Our youth group’s revival started with a half-century old confirmation bulletin.

A member of the church brought in his confirmation bulletin to share with the priest. As he looked at it, he noticed an interesting addition. In the listing of clergy and staff members and congregational leadership, there was another line: the president of the Episcopal Young Churchmen. That’s right: the leader of the church’s youth group was listed (and in this case, leader meant the young person, not the paid or volunteer adult).

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July 20, 2016 by Brendon Hunter

In the July Vital Practices Digest, we offer 5 resources centered on spiritual aspects of leadership in congregations, with the 5th a resource to help in developing year-round stewardship in your congregation.

It’s easy and free to connect with more great resources for your congregation. Subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and this Vital Practices Digest in your inbox each month.

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Topics: Leadership
July 18, 2016 by Linda Buskirk

We come to our churches with many gifts. One spirit supplies our gifts. Diverse as we are, we are one in this spirit. This is lovely, Biblical reality. So why do the fruits of our gifts sometimes seem a little sparse?

In many congregations, the fruits are organized by committees. That’s great - many hands make light work, etc. However sometimes the organization itself may block ministries from their full harvest potential.

In his book, Governance and Ministry: Rethinking Board Leadership (2009, The Alban Institute), Dan Hotchkiss reminds us that committees may not be the right structure for vital ministries. Lumping all aspects of a certain ministry into one committee’s lap may overwhelm and make the committee members wary of new ideas or initiatives. Hotchkiss encourages us to separate governance from ministry: 

"…there is no reason why someone with a heart for child care needs to attend meetings to interpret the insurance company requirements about child safety – or vice versa." (pg. 76)

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Topics: Leadership
July 5, 2016 by Richelle Thompson

Editor’s note: Long weekends are wonderful. Until you return to work on Tuesday. For today’s summer rerun, we’re sharing one of Richelle Thompson’s past posts that seems appropriate as many of us return to an overstuffed inbox after the long Independence Day weekend. 

I pride myself on an ability to multitask. But I also resent when the unexpected takes me away from my well-laid plans.

During breakfast, my dining companion talked about a willingness to be open to the work of the Spirit. A one-time parish secretary, she embraced a “theology of interruption.”

And I began to pray right there that I could practice this philosophy. See, I’m easily frustrated by interruption. When traffic jams up my schedule, I’m annoyed. When I’m hip-deep in crafting a difficult sentence, I don’t want to answer the phone or talk about expense reports or answer inventory questions. When I’m reading a great novel, I don’t want to hear how one child said something mean to the other.

Leave me alone. I have plans here. Can’t you see I’m busy?

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Topics: Leadership
June 16, 2016 by Greg Syler

A title like this should go with a longer, more comprehensive and sufficiently nuanced piece, or perhaps a book. Be forewarned: this is not that contribution. It isn’t even close.

Here’s what I want to share: St. George’s in Valley Lee, Maryland just adopted a Collaborative Ministry Covenant with our neighbor congregation, Church of the Ascension in Lexington Park, Maryland. Both are congregations of approximately the same size, only a few miles away from each other in St. Mary’s County, a growing, fascinating and rapidly changing place to do ministry. St. George’s and I have been talking for a long, long time about serious, significant and intentional institutional collaboration with neighbor Episcopal congregations. The trends aren’t pleasant, the long-term challenges even less so, but the opportunities for ministry could be pretty abundant. Seven years ago, together with our Diocese of Washington, congregations in our region started talking about “The Episcopal Church in Southern Maryland, 10 Years Out,” even as the official timer on that ‘10 Year’ clock never began. We didn’t pull off a grand collaborative vision on a regional scale, but it is growing in pockets – the four-year long process between St. George’s and Ascension which has gotten us to this point being one such sign.

The Covenant is a broad statement which, now, enables two separate congregations to figure out the details, together: how to work together, call one shared rector, empower greater degrees of lay ministry, and more fully serve our immediate community, let alone God’s Kingdom. The Covenant isn’t a ‘contract’, and all the business-stuff is yet to come.

Which brings me to the point where I should end this post, or at least this part of this post.

For we should discuss the best ways to set up a functioning, operational, reasonably healthy and well-endowed congregation. The opportunity for Ascension and St. George’s, I think, is that everything, for the first time in a long time, is on the table.

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Topics: Leadership