November 2, 2017 by Alan Bentrup

I’m not a Houston Astros fan. Not at all. But, I realize how much this city is rallying around its championship-caliber baseball team. Watching this playoff run, I’ve seen many parallels to the City of Houston itself, and even one major lesson we in the church world can learn.

A recent sports blog wrote a great profile of this team and this city (I’m not linking to the profile, because the language is decidedly not family-friendly). The article highlights the fabled futility of many professional baseball teams, like the Red Sox, Cubs, and Indians. Stories are shared, movies are made, and identities are solidified around these loveable losers.

But you we don’t talk much about the historical struggles of the Astros. It’s not a part of the team’s identity.

Instead, this team’s identity - and this city’s identity - is in embracing failure and trying again.

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Topics: Change
October 31, 2017 by Miguel Escobar

Dear Robot Priest,

I have to confess: I began laughing the first time I watched the above video of you. And by laughing, I mean the embarrassing sort of full on, tears-streaming-down-my-face laughing. The kind where people around you wonder what on earth you’re laughing so hard about.

And so now I’m writing to apologize for that initial laughter. And also to let you know that I’m starting to think the joke is on me.

I was in an airport the first time I watched you raise your robotic hands, light emanating from your metallic claws, and utter a traditional blessing in a masculine German voice. Honestly, my first thought was how ridiculous this seemed. I couldn't imagine a world in which people would go to a robot for a blessing.

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Topics: Change
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
August 1, 2017 by Alan Bentrup

Last time I briefly mentioned how Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg thinks his community shares many of the same goals and attributes of the Church. The response I saw in the media, and among my friends and colleagues on social media, was that Facebook sees itself as a new kind of “church.”

But this - the idea that a corporation could replace (or at least replicate) “church” is nothing new.

This past week my wife and I watched the movie “The Founder,” which tells the gripping story of Ray Kroc, the McDonald brothers, and the McDonald’s Corporation. One part, relatively early on, caught my attention. In selling his vision of expanding McDonald’s franchises around the country (a vision the brothers didn’t share), Mr. Kroc shared a story about his travels around the country.

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Topics: Change
July 25, 2017 by Alan Bentrup

I’ve used the ride-sharing app Lyft before, so I recently received an email from the company announcing their new charitable donations program. This is a great idea, and a great use of crowd-funding and the gig economy. But one line in the email struck me as off. Lyft has chosen non-profit partners that “align with values that represent the Lyft community.”

I’ve ridden in Lyft, so that makes me part of this community, apparently. But I’ve shared Lyft rides with people that are dear friends, and I don’t know that I would say our values align with each other, not to mention the millions of people around the world that use this service that I don’t know and will probably never talk to.

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Topics: Change
June 15, 2017 by Annette Buchanan

The church bulletin is arguably one of the most important documents in our congregations. Given our bibles, hymnals and Book of Common Prayer (BCP) that may sound a bit heretical. However the amount of resources that goes into producing it does give our church bulletins very high priority. The original purpose of the bulletin was to provide the order of service including references to the BCP, hymns and readings of the day. We have evolved much beyond the basics.

Bulletin content is the largest issue for us to wrestle with. Bulletins may contain some of all of the following: fundraising and social activities, meetings of church and community organizations, lists of illnesses, birthdays, anniversaries and deaths, special donations, community, diocesan and national announcements, stewardship messages as well as information on a particular saint day, others have information on voting, job posts and apartment rental. So our bulletins, have become newspapers, newsletters and journals all rolled into one. Whew!

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June 6, 2017 by Renee McKenzie

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.

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March 16, 2017 by Greg Syler

My only lived experience of the 20 century was in its last twenty five years, and I don’t even remember all that much of it, but I do very clearly remember that one Sunday morning a pastor in my somewhat stiff Congregationalist church announced we were going to do a new thing – we were going to turn to our neighbors and offer, what he called, ‘the sign of peace.’

“Shake their hand, give a hug, look them in the eye and say, ‘Peace be with you,’” he invited the somewhat bewildered congregation to do.

This actually came easily to them, in fact, for in spite of the carefully scripted nature of Congregationalist worship – what I later learned was nothing less than a beautiful, exalted Sunday Morning Prayer service – there was always extended chit-chat and “Good mornings” and “How are you today?” in the large, albeit acoustically-live narthex on our way into the church itself. And so it was on that Sunday, much later in the 20 century than its mid-point, when “The Peace” was introduced at Bethany Union Church of Chicago that I remember my mom and dad turned around to those sitting nearby and said ‘Peace, peace, peace,’ and received from others ‘Peace, peace, peace.’

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Topics: Change, Worship
March 7, 2017 by Greg Syler

My daughter’s Montessori school is in transition. The dynamic husband and wife who founded the school more than twenty years ago are devoted Montessorians and have had a profound impact on our local community and, indeed, my own family. But now they are preparing to sell the school, and they have a buyer – in fact, a former teacher at the school, herself a gifted educator, and her husband are getting ready to take the reins.

Even though my siblings and I grew up in parochial Christian schools – my parents made great sacrifices to send us there – I’ve personally never experienced the sale of a school. In and of itself, it’s a strange concept to my mind; our elementary school was connected to a Lutheran congregation, and our high school was part of the Christian Reformed tradition. It’s a strange place in which to be, committed to a school and watching our daughter truly grow and develop, now in the third grade, in the careful and beautiful environment of a Montessori curriculum, while also preparing to go along with what will undoubtedly be change, probably significant change. Even as the new owners promise that the same ethos and standards will continue, I know some kind(s) of change will come.

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Topics: Change
February 14, 2017 by Alan Bentrup

I’m a simple man, really. I like gadgets and such, but when it comes down to it I do most of my thinking with a paper journal and a ballpoint pen. So when I ran out of pens the other day, I walked into the store to buy my favorite brand.

That’s when it hit me. There, on the package of Bic Crystal pens (the brand I’ve been using since high school, and which was first made in the 1950s) I saw those big, bold words: NEW & IMPROVED.

Why on earth (and how on earth) could you make a simple, plastic, ballpoint pen “new” or “improved”?

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Topics: Change, Worship
January 9, 2017 by Greg Syler

“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.

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Topics: Change, Evangelism
December 19, 2016 by Alan Bentrup

For two days in February 2014, workers on the London Underground went on strike, closing several subway stations and forcing an even larger number of commuters to scramble to find a new route to work. In a study published earlier this year, researchers pulled data from transit cards of commuters before, during, and after the strike. Using this information, they charted how many commuters had to change their routes to work around the station closures.

By necessity, many commuters had to alter their routes during the strike. Since we tend to be creatures of habit, one could reasonably assume that folks would go immediately back to their original route as soon as the strike was over. But that wasn’t the case.

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Topics: Change
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 2, 2016 by Richelle Thompson

Call the papers. This is breaking news: An Episcopal church is ending a longtime tradition without gnashing of teeth or calling in a mediator.

My church has held a spring card party since at least folks in my generation (and I’m in my 40s) were children. I know that because some of these women were models in the card party fashion show.

I’ve written about this event before in Vital Practices – I’ve learned some important lessons about patience and change. To recap: The card party is a luncheon with ribbon sandwiches as the featured meal. For those who are unfamiliar with ribbon sandwiches, they are comprised of layers of salads—tuna, chicken, egg, pimento, with mayonnaise and white bread serving as the dividers. In past years, the ladies would play cards after the meal, but that pastime has dwindled to just a few tables trying to play euchre or hearts while the clean-up crew fold up the chairs around them.

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Topics: Change, Stewardship
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 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 9, 2016 by Greg Syler

We’re investigating and working to install more energy- and, we hope, financially-efficient HVAC systems at St. George’s. The very comprehensive energy audit taught me a lot, and not just about insulation and ducts. I learned that the most effective way to adjust the temperature in a room isn’t only to force more cold/hot air into the space. “Picture a glass full of water,” our auditor told me, “you can’t get more air into that glass until you get some of the water out of it.” The HVAC principle: you can’t cool a space simply by shoving more cold air ducts into the room; you need to also find a way to get the hot air out.

I’d say that principle also applies to the organizational capacity of churches (maybe even my un-intended pun about hot air), especially now as most of us are looking at next year’s budgets. Few church leaders will be able to change the ‘temperature’, the capacity of our congregations until we also, and at the same time, move out some of the stuff which is standing in the way. Many (most?) clergy and lay leaders in The Episcopal Church are trying valiantly to straddle the line between desiring the emerging ‘new’ and maintaining, or at least not threatening, our conventional and, to date, relatively financially coherent strategy: create members of the local church and ask them to fund its operations. If funding slips, either (a) get more members or (b) get more money out of the ones you have or (c) cut expenses.

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Topics: Change, Stewardship
October 26, 2016 by Greg Syler

This post is about efficiency, for sure, and it’s about a pretty small, seemingly insignificant part of congregational life, but I’m also a believer that paying attention to the little things – and with an eye toward greater efficiency – is a great way to pastor the whole community.

Here’s the problem we were facing: every week, our parish administrator, together with me and our music director, created drafts of the Sunday bulletin and got them to our inboxes by Tuesday, Wednesday at the latest. There was one bulletin for 8 o’clock, another for 10:30am. Both had announcements and information, the same calendar and same scriptures, of course. One had music, the other did not. When all the edits came in, bulletins were printed, folded, stapled, and set out for the various worship services.

Sounds like life in most every parish church, I’m sure.

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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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September 19, 2016 by Alan Bentrup

Or, how a remake of a remake of a song became a classic

Starting from scratch is usually a bad idea.

Too often, we assume innovative ideas and meaningful changes require a blank slate. When a project fails, we say, “Let’s go back to the drawing board.” When we have habits we want to change, we think, “I just need a fresh start.” However, creative progress is rarely the result of throwing out all previous ideas and completely re-imagining the world.

Take Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” for example.

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