June 27, 2017 by Renee McKenzie

“I know there shouldn’t be so many guns in the neighborhood, but I “get” it; I understand why people have guns. People need to protect themselves in this community.”

“Everyday we are treated like criminals when we go to schools. We have to go through metal detectors, take off our shoes and belts and be wanded. I never get into trouble; I have always been an honor student. I don’t deserve this treatment but I understand why they treat us this way. I understand but don’t agree with it.

These quotes came from 10th grade African American males as they and three adult advisors (I being one of the three) were debriefing a recent neighborhood forum organized by the youth leadership council of The Advocate Center for Culture and Education. We were debriefing one completed series of community stakeholder neighborhood forums and we were beginning to shape the next forum series.

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October 7, 2016 by Grow Christians

A Grow Christians blog post by Nancy Hopkins-Green

The other day, I was sitting at a table with a group of parishioners when a mother asked, “How do we teach and model stewardship with our kids in a digital age?” Speaking specifically about her desire that her children establish the habit of tithing from an early age, she spoke of the challenge of what to do when the plate is passed on Sunday mornings, when she and her husband give to the church online.

I have very distinct memories of my own experience of being taught to give at an early age. My parents had their offering envelopes – and so did I. Instead of participating in common worship with the adults, we had a small worship service as part of the Sunday School class. Included in that service were the small brass offering plates. My box of offering envelopes were provided to help me learn giving. Each envelope was divided into two sections: one for the church, and one for mission and outreach.

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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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September 8, 2016 by Greg Syler

I’m writing this on the day after Labor Day, also known in our household as our daughter’s first day of third grade. In our community, most school-aged children have been back in school for a while now (my daughter’s school does things a bit differently), but summer’s unofficial ending is now past.

In the church, as well, we’re gearing up for another year of Sunday School and formation. Our Sunday School Kickoff Sunday is, as it’s been, this weekend, right after Labor Day. I’m very proud that St. George’s, as a community, has grown a heart for formation ministries. When I arrived as rector nine years ago, there was a dedicated team of teachers and a great, but small crew of children and youth. They followed the one-room-schoolhouse approach, and critical numbers weren’t strong enough. Teachers on the search committee told me they didn’t have enough volunteers to help so, in their words, “we all wear several hats.” In my first few years, as part of investing in this community – not just the congregation I saw regularly but the wider networks of people, many of whom have deep ties to this church – I met lots of children, and learned that this area is, in fact, teeming with young families and young children, and I also came into contact with a lot of gifted and spiritually deep adults, many of whom are currently some of our best teachers. Our Sunday School has grown from one class to four, from probably a handful of children to nearly 40. I’m proud that the addition of a regular Sunday morning adult forum has seemed to stick, too.

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July 13, 2016 by Greg Syler

CNN calls it “the 90s fad that never died,” [1] 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.”)

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November 20, 2013 by Greg Syler

Last year, about this time, I was walking around the downtown square of our County seat with Jason Evans, our diocese’s new young adult missioner. He was new to the diocese and had just come down to spend a few days in St. Mary’s County, to get to know the folks and, literally, the lay of the land. We wrapped up a productive lunch with some lay leaders from the local parishes and were taking advantage of a warm December afternoon to talk about that evening’s dinner meeting with 20 or so young adults.

“What do you want to talk about tonight?” Jason asked.

“I want to figure out their level of desire and what they’d like to be involved in,” I said, “but I feel like we keep asking the same questions, over and over, and getting the same results.”

He nodded in general understanding, said he’d give it some thought, and we talked for a bit more before I dropped him off at his hotel so he could have a few hours of downtime before dinner.

The question Jason asked surprised me. It’d been several years, for me, since God started tugging at my heart, nagging me to get outside of this institution called ‘church’ and meet my own peers, young adults and young families, where they are, where I would be if I were not the veritable definition of the inside-guy. But all I had was the institution’s language, the church’s vocabulary, and so I kept asking the same question, over and over again, and getting the same lack of results. I kept asking, “What do you want us to do for you?” And I assumed that if we did those things they would come.

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October 4, 2012 by Peter Strimer

Our season of Bountiful Abundance for our church school began with a Creation Day where 70 children and adults each created a personal mosaic. It was an amazing undertaking and took our artist-in-residence and our children’s program director’s coordinated efforts to pull off in just 45 minutes. It was a glorious tornado of creativity.

At St. Andrew’s we have used the arts on many occasions to generate program and build community. We are perhaps best known for our work in Stained Glass, having created four sets of 12 windows each. The sets are changed out seasonally, one for Advent/Christmas/Epiphany, a Stations of the Cross set for Lent, A Stations of the Resurrection set for Easter and then a series with stories from the Gospels for the long Pentecost Season.

In 2007 we took on the construction of our North Wall Window, a major project. Twenty six teams created individual panels that were assembled in a framework, creating the 30 foot window that has become the centerpiece of our sanctuary.

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September 7, 2012 by Richelle Thompson

I want a village to help raise my PK’s (priest's kids) – as long as they’re not defined by their parents’ profession.

I’m sure this is an issue for families of a variety of occupations, but there are some peculiar expectations placed on priest kids. Let’s be honest: it’s complicated when Father Joe is also Daddy. When your foibles and quirky comments make the Sunday sermon. Or when people raise their eyebrows when the kids say their mom is the priest.

We’ve all heard the urban legend about the two kinds of priest kids: the super-devout and the wild child. My husband and I are trying to let our kids find their own way, without superimposing higher standards because of their father’s vocation.

But we need your help.

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August 23, 2012 by Peter Strimer

I wrote earlier this summer about the search process for a new Director of Children, Youth, and Family Ministries at St. Andrew’s Church. I am happy to report we have just hired a fabulous young woman who is perfect for the job.

Even though this was a ¾ position with a moderate pay scale, we had over 24 applicants from across the country. Two had Ph.Ds. Five were ordained. Six were strong enough candidates to be interviewed and we ended up with two finalists.

These two were then invited to Sunday worship and to meet with two final interview teams. One consisted of our part-time support staff for children’s ministries: our senior and junior high youth leaders, our Church School superintendents, and our nursery team. The other were five representatives of the screening committee I assembled to narrow the field. Both groups concurred on our final choice.

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July 19, 2012 by Nancy Davidge

Growing up, we were taught not to plan our lives around a television program. It is advice I follow to this day unless it is an Olympic year: Watching the opening and closing ceremonies is required. Television schedule in hand, I map out the events I don’t want to miss and build the rest of my calendar around them.

This year, First Lady Michelle Obama is linking her Let’s Move campaign to the Olympic Games. Families, friends, and neighbors are encouraged to join together on Saturday, July 28 – the first day of Olympic competition – for an afternoon of “soccer, hoola hoop, relay races – whatever gets you moving and having fun!"

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July 7, 2012 by Peter Strimer

We have begun to receive resumes for our next Director of Children and Youth Ministries. It made me think back to my own experience as a kid in Sunday School.

I was confirmed in 1967 as a seventh-grader at William Street United Methodist Church in Delaware, Ohio. At that time I had already spent 13 years at the church and I have many tender memories of my time at “Bill Street.”

My earliest memory was being issued my yellow cherub choir robe in 1960 and then singing at the early and later Easter service. All the choirs were served a wonderful breakfast between services and I was left with my first strong sense of being a minister of the church. I still remember how wonderful that egg casserole tasted.

An embarrassing memory was walking in on Mrs. Peterle in the second-floor restroom in the old house that served as our education wing. I still cringe with abject mortification at the thought.

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June 29, 2012 by Peter Strimer

I have put together a screening committee to help me select a new leader for our children and youth ministries. At St. Andrew’s we are coming to the end of a seven-year period where our children and youth ministries have been directed by a fun, gifted young woman who will leave this position to become a college chaplain. She came to this ministry fresh out of seminary. She was not yet ordained and her primary experience had been working with college age young people. In the course of these past years, she has become a priest and learned on the job what it takes to direct a church school and youth program.

We know much better now what we seek in the right candidate to become our Director of Children, Youth, and Family Ministries. We learned what we know from four open sessions to which we invited parents during the month of June. Here are some of things they shared:

“We want our kids to have a sense of belonging” “We hope that they will know the joy in service to others, friendships, values, fun, and laughter at church” “We need regular, repeated, constant communication about activities and opportunities” “We parents want ways to connect and opportunities to get to know each other” “We want someone who is fun, nurturing, and a good listener” “Let’s get someone who can channel children’s wild energy into joyful service”

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June 12, 2012 by Miguel Escobar

This past Friday I headed to Virginia Theological Seminary to take part in Why Serve 2012, Vocational Discernment for Young Adults of Color. Upon my arrival, I immediately regretted how short my visit would be; I loved meeting everyone who had gathered there to discern where God was calling them.

As you might expect, there was a significant amount of discussion around the priesthood, but there was also a sizable contingent who were drawn to the transformative yet frequently marginalized role of the laity. Yet even there, the clericalism runs deep. In one workshop on lay identity called Empowerment 101, attendees were asked to identify the head of the Church. It took the group a long while to get to ‘Christ.’ ‘Bishops’ and ‘priests’ were the first responses.

On Saturday afternoon I had the opportunity to give a workshop which I entitled “Working Together, Getting Things Done.” The title reflects the fact that these are two of the most challenging aspects of being a part of the Episcopal Church. We are called to do both. Whether lay or ordained, I believe we are called to transform the Church and world. Yet to put a finer point on this, I also believe that we are called to do so by working together, by helping to build one another up, by supporting one another along the way.

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June 5, 2012 by Miguel Escobar

Pssst. Have you heard?

Great things are happening in the Episcopal churches every single day.

This weekend I reviewed survey responses from subscribers to ECF Vital Practices. While there was a lot to review, I was particularly struck by the way one of our questions elicited inspiring stories and comments. These put fuel in my tank and reaffirmed my belief that the most transformative work in the Episcopal Church is taking place at the grassroots. Below you’ll find a small selection of the stories we received.

We are going to do our very best to tell these stories of strength and hope, but I would also encourage you to reach out and contact these communities directly if their strengths match your needs. Find out what they are doing right and what they’ve learned along the way. And when you’ve done so, be sure to share what you’ve learned in the comments section below or on our Facebook page. Also, be sure to share your own story of what gives you hope below.

Question: What is one project or new initiative that makes you the most excited or hopeful for your church’s future?

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May 18, 2012 by Chris Yaw

Editor’s Note: Guest blogger Chris Yaw’s passion is healthy churches. His ChurchNext ministry puts the spotlight on a diversity of ministries that are flourishing. He records and shares interviews with faith leaders so others can learn from their experiences. Click on the Interview link below to watch the video or download a podcast.

Let’s face it, for many churches today’s generation gap looks more like a chasm. So how do older churches go about welcoming young adults? After much research, and the popular book Tribal Church - Carol Howard Merritt has a few ideas.

I first heard about Carol after reading her popular blog, and was inspired by her clarity and common sense as she identifies the priorities many young Christians bring to community life: connection with God, a strong drive toward social justice, and a deep desire to connect. Be inspired by Carol’s wisdom and passion.

Watch the Full Program here.  

No time to watch? Here's a synopsis of our conversation: 

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April 23, 2012 by Jeremiah Sierra

If you went to church camp, you may remember it fondly – friends, games, singing in chapel and swimming in a pool or lake. Or, like me, your feelings about camp may be mixed. You loved the singing in chapel, enjoyed some of the games, but the first few days were always painful until you adjusted to the other kids in your cabin. There was also the fact that you never had a moment alone except when you were in the bathroom. 

I’ve been reading Susan Cain’s book, Quiet. The book is about how modern society values extroverts and often undervalues introverts. I’m much less shy than I used to be, but still very introverted, and this book is full of revelations. Suddenly the dissonance between who I am and how I should act – socially and professionally – makes a lot more sense.

The book touches on many of the author’s own experiences, including camp, which made me think about my own days at an Episcopal camp in Texas. I have many fond memories of that camp, but it was also exhausting. It was cool to be extroverted and social and friendly, but I was shy and reserved. The camp counselors were always full of energy and seemed to enjoy performing for the kids, and almost every activity was social. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only kid who found it exhausting.

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March 23, 2012 by Lindsey Seegers

Give them such fulfillment of their mutual affection that they may reach out in love and concern for others. Amen. 

-The Blessing of a Marriage, the Book of Common Prayer

I grew up thinking only nuns could be married to God. Now I think there is no other way to consider our own holy relationship than marriage: a life together of mutual affection, unconditional love, and forgiving, forgiving.

Lent for me is very much about solitude. It is often a period I confront personal struggles only to be reminded of Christ’s own journey in these forty days. I think about Christ in the desert, alone.

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March 20, 2012 by Miguel Escobar
The highly anticipated movie The Hunger Games opens this Friday in theaters across the nation. Based on a series of young adult novels by the same name, this movie reflects on scarcity, individualism, and an ethos of distrust. In this blog post from last summer, Miguel Escobar reflects on what he learned from the young adult series and what he believes it can teach the wider Church.

This summer I read Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games, a popular and unnervingly dark young adult novel series. In three books, we read how a violent society pits starving teenagers against one another in the ultimate zero-sum game, a reality show where friends must turn on one another if they are to emerge as the sole survivor. The victor of these annual games wins food and wealth for her/his family.

Scarcity, survival, competition for limited resources - part of my interest in this novel series came from the fact that these themes were already on my mind. Last summer offered me multiple opportunities to reflect on how scarcity can lock us into a white-knuckle struggle to survive, oftentimes at the expense of more imaginative solutions and potential partnerships. 
The first of these moments came when I learned that the stove had broken.

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March 16, 2012 by Lindsey Seegers

I have always had an interest in the faith practices of the Amish community, and find certain aspects of the culture surprising and even counter-intuitive. The degree of freedom offered to Amish children—both in decisions surrounding marriage and baptism—may seem unexpected for such a disciplined people. During Rumspringa, teenagers are given two years to live in and among the modern world to determine whether they want to join the church for life. At the end of Rumspringa, some choose to leave the Amish way of life and are not welcome to return again. In some cases, the child is not permitted to call or write any member of the family.

I thought this was harsh, and maybe even un-Christian. Providing the child the choice to leave, but not return! Then, in a recent PBS documentary, I heard this firsthand comment:

In the Amish community, when a child leaves, his place at the table is always set and no one is ever allowed to sit there. Three times a day, for the rest of his life, the child [far from his family] knows, 'My place is set.'

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December 16, 2011 by Amity Carrubba

What are you doing after graduation?

Do you remember this question? Did you dread it like I did? I confess that 15 years ago I was one of those college seniors who had no idea what I was going to do with my life after leaving the safe confines of higher education. Not knowing how to begin a job search, I applied to the Peace Corps and took graduate school entrance exams instead. But really there was a deeper question nagging me as I dropped the graduation party invitations in the mail, I was not sure who I was supposed to be.

Often that deeper question goes unasked as we try to encourage young adults in their journey after college. In our slow economy there is increasing pressure to secure one of the few positions out there, and true discernment feels like a luxury. Even for those a few years out of school, finding the way from work to vocation can be a challenge. The church is not often viewed as a resource during this transition from student to adulthood, yet it can be.

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