July 19, 2017 by Brendon Hunter

This month we offer five resources to help your congregation with buildings & grounds. Please share this digest with your parish leadership and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices.

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May 31, 2017 by Annette Buchanan

The discussions on the use of space in our society can sometimes be controversial, they include debates on whether to designate open spaces for parks or golf-courses, commercial spaces for industrial or retail business or housing for low-income or gated communities.

Likewise in our faith communities there are continuous discussions on how to make the best use of the spaces within our church buildings. For many, the default is to use the church for worship only and hold church committee meetings as necessary. While this internal-use model is simple, functional and more secure it does raise the issue of whether the space is being used optimally.

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March 31, 2017 by Annette Buchanan

We are all aware of the need to have our church buildings be accessible. Federal and state regulations mandate the physical requirements for access. Our Welcoming Forums from years past highlighted the importance of this issue. However, many of our churches are still not in full compliance for physical accessibility. Most have ramps, some have accessible bathrooms, but movement from one floor to another is still an issue. I recently attended a breakfast event where the church hall was on the second floor with winding stairs. Chairlifts and elevators are expensive so the required upgrades are often not made. A reminder that there are grants available to assist organizations to become compliant, therefore we need to be more vigilant about seeking these funds. The consequences are the deterrence of persons from attending church and clients from accessing outreach programs.

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January 5, 2017 by Richelle Thompson

Coming to church saves lives.
Literally.

At least it did in our congregation on Christmas Eve.

If you read only one blog, read this. If you’re going to follow the advice of only one best-practices column, let it be this one.

It’s a lifesaver.

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July 27, 2016 by Greg Syler

I’m writing this post from Lion’s Camp Merrick, a beautiful camp set along the picturesque shores of the Potomac River – looking west about a mile to the Virginia shore – in far western Charles County, Maryland. This is where our diocesan summer camp, Camp EDOW – the acronym stands for Episcopal Diocese of Washington – is kicking off its fifth year. (Truth be told, I’ve just stepped in to write this blog in a lovely air conditioned cabin, an added blessing given that the thermometer’s 91 degrees actually only feels like 100 right now in southern Maryland!) This is a beautiful place to begin with, and made even more special by the happy sounds of children and counselors, ropes course elements, and the daily challenge of archery, swimming in the pool and canoeing on the river, Eucharist celebrated atop an overturned canoe, and bible study late at night by candlelight in the cabins.

But I’m also humbled and thrilled that, for one, we have this camp opportunity in our diocese and, two, this ministry continues to catch hold of kids, families, adults, and staff who feel drawn to this amazing experience and come back to Camp EDOW, year after year.

Which is to say, in short, I am reminded every summer at Camp EDOW that we can create new, vibrant ministries in our church. More, doing so doesn’t require hugely innovative ideas (sleep away camp, for instance, has been around for a long while) and it doesn’t take too much effort (there’s consistent work, don’t get me wrong, but we started with one week, five or six adults who formed a committee, and the hopes that families might send their children).

What Camp EDOW, in particular, did require was a hope, a desire, and a commitment to do something well, even if it wasn’t big or splashy; just well. I think this lesson applies to many of us who love Jesus and, to boot, love His Church.

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July 6, 2016 by Nancy Davidge

Church. Hearing the word, my brain immediately ‘sees’ a building with a steeple. And, I recall the stories of leaking roofs, faulty boilers, and so on.

Yet, when I began looking for stories of how congregations were managing their buildings, what I discovered was story after story of churches using their buildings and grounds in service to their hopeful vision of what God is calling them to do in their communities: Leaky roofs notwithstanding.

Here are their stories:

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June 15, 2016 by Brendon Hunter


In the June Vital Practices Digest, we offer 5 resources for re-thinking the purpose and use of your church buildings, 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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April 20, 2016 by Brendon Hunter


In the April Vital Practices Digest, we offer 5 resources churches can use to start or continue to develop a thriving church garden ministry, with the 5th a resource to help develop 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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November 19, 2014 by Greg Syler

Over the past several years, we’ve been updating our parish hall at St. George’s, Valley Lee. We stripped some walls bare and fixed the masonry, where needed. We’ve insulated walls and above the ceiling. While we were tightening things up, hopefully cutting down on energy usage, we also decided to add nicer finishes: wood flooring in the offices where there previously was linoleum; tile in the restrooms and drywall in the classrooms where there used to be cement block; nicer lighting in as many spaces as we could, and less expensive light fixtures, too – thank God for LED lights. Project by project, the parish hall is starting to look and function a lot better. 

Like many churches, we inherited a set of facilities built by – and, largely, for – the inhabitants of a previous congregation and, indeed, world. With the exception of our historic church, our buildings aren’t that old. Built in the 1960s, they are young enough to be functional but old enough to be costly. They were built with little and, in some cases, no insulation (energy costs apparently weren’t a serious consideration back then) and featured small, tight, dark rooms designed for that mythical Sunday School of 200+ kids. Until we started these more intentional renovations a few years ago, the best this congregation had done, to date, was re-paint and keep up those Baby Boom-era spaces.

Meanwhile, the world changed. This meant different patterns and expectations of church – including the purpose of church buildings.

And in our case, the church was starting to operate and function in new ways. Today, we are a very different community than the one which built our parish hall. The best part is, with some intentional leadership, we’ve been able to have the conversation about our goals and values today, and how these goals are different from those of previous generations and why those differences matter. We started to update our church spaces not because the world had changed but because the church was changing; because, for instance, we needed to pay greater attention to IT issues and build a 21st century office infrastructure; because, we discerned, the overall presentation of the spaces matter, and new leaders were bringing new and good questions about why things go where.

This is when and where we started to get into the conversation about change.

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August 29, 2014 by Greg Syler

Like every other church, St. George’s deals with deferred maintenance on our buildings and grounds. We try to keep up with as many projects as we can, but our forebears gave us a lot of stuff and, today, the funds and the personnel are limited. But even more limited than the money or the volunteer core has been the vision to do something and the will to carry it out.

For the life of me, I could never figure out why we couldn’t get a properly organized Buildings & Grounds Committee at St. George’s, despite the fact that there are lots of handy and capable crafts-people in this congregation and community. In part, that was the problem: the do-ers wouldn’t come to the table because they just wanted to get a project done, and the planners would slow down the process and frustrate the former group.

Over the course of this past year, that heavy dysfunction has begun to change. It changed when one person came on board, gifted with a calm, straightforward, clear, and balanced leadership capacity. She has convened meetings and made the meetings – not to mention the agenda and overall process – quite clear and transparent. She has massaged egos and calmed nerves and clarified points of disagreement. She has her own thoughts about what should happen and what something should look like, but she leads with her experience and gifts as a group facilitator.

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May 5, 2014 by Jeremiah Sierra

The other day my church rented out our new space for an art show. An organization called Fiercely Curious took our space (which is very much an empty room at the moment) and made it into a gallery for a weekend. 

Using church to display art is nothing new, of course. Churches have been home to religious art for hundreds of years—statuary and stained glass and icons. I think that the church can and should continue to be a home for art.

There are many examples of this around the country. Trinity Church in Houston, Texas, where I was a member for several years, displays art by parishioners in it’s building throughout the year, much of it very good.

Parables, an experimental Lutheran community in Brooklyn, has had a Lenten art show at St. Paul’s Lutheran for the past two years, which brings in visitors and allows the community members to express their faith in new ways.

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April 15, 2014 by Anna Olson

How many times have you been told -- or told someone else, maybe with a slight tone of spiritual superiority -- that the church is not the building?

I know, I know, it’s the people. I do know.

But it is the building.

Your neighbors see a building. They may have even been inside. Often for something other than worship. Often somewhere other than the sanctuary.

The built environment matters. It shapes what we see, where we walk, where we drive, the very textures beneath our feet. Buildings shut out noise, let in light. Doors are open. Or closed.

As church membership declines in many places, sometimes it seems the buildings are all that will be left.

So what if we take these buildings seriously?

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March 3, 2014 by Richelle Thompson

As the list of closures started scrolling across the bottom of the TV, I waited for the commentary from the couch. It didn’t take long.

“I can’t believe all of these churches cancelling services!”

To frame the discussion a bit, my husband (a priest) doesn’t cancel worship services because of bad weather. A vestry meeting? Maybe. But never a worship service. Even if he expects he’ll be the only one there, he still shows up.

Masochistic? Maybe a bit. But mostly he feels like it’s really important to open the doors to the church for regular worship, even when the weather is bad, even when the schools are cancelled. A caveat here is that we live in the Midwest – we’re not in hurricane territory and thankfully haven’t had a major weather disaster. So we’re talking about snow and ice. Of that, we’ve had plenty this year. But come every Sunday morning, the doors are open, and he’s celebrating the Eucharist. 

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September 9, 2013 by Richelle Thompson

Do as I say (and write), not as I do.

I’m teaching Sunday School this fall for the first time at our new-ish church. Our kids are old enough to make their way to the classrooms so I hadn’t spent much time looking at the space.  Yesterday was an eye-opener.

The walls are a mess, with scuffs and marker lines. The whiteboard would be more aptly named gray-with-squiggles board. The shelves are full of tired books probably purchased directly from Gutenberg. And I swear, the pictures on the wall were stolen from my Sunday School classroom three decades ago.

The room looks like we’re a church that doesn’t value our kids.

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September 6, 2013 by Barbara Ballenger

September is National Disaster Preparedness Month. Episcopal Relief & Development’s US Disaster Program equips Episcopal dioceses in the United States to prepare for local disasters, mitigate their impact and help the vulnerable make a full and sustained recovery. This is the first in a series of four posts on parish disaster preparedness planning.

When Janine Ungvarsky and John Major train parishes in the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem in how to prepare for and respond to disasters, they begin by explaining how unprepared they were for the one that hit their community two years ago.

On Sept 8, 2011, the Susquehanna River overflowed its banks in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. The flood displaced thousands of people in West Pittston and caused millions of dollars in damage. And, it came within a block of Trinity Episcopal Church where Major is rector and Ungvarsky is missioner for ministries and renewal.

“We did nothing to protect the building,” Ungvarsky recalls. “Had the water come a block farther, our church would have suffered damage that we had done nothing to protect it from.”

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September 5, 2013 by Richelle Thompson

If the Pope can take one, then so can we.

A picture of the Pope in a selfie—a self-portrait taken by a cell phone (more on what a selfie is here)—has been making the rounds on social media. To be fair, the Pope wasn’t taking the picture himself—but he did lean into the frame to appear with several teens.

So I started thinking: maybe this is a good time for churches to take some selfies (the clean kind). First, let me tell you why—and then I’ll talk about how selfies can make this happen.

In order to be outward-focused, we also need to look inward to get ready. There are lots of ways to do this, from Bible study and formation programs about hospitality and service to targeted newcomer ministries and building improvements. And if we stretch this metaphor of the selfie far enough, we could talk about what we see in the behaviors and hearts of our congregation. But I’m going for the soft-pitch for today with a look at our facilities. 

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March 21, 2013 by Brendon Hunter

How about some spring cleaning for your congregation?

With Easter approaching, we again have the opportunity to welcome many more visitors through our church doors. Consider dusting off those corners, sprucing up your narthex, or tidying up the parish website. We hope these articles and resources will provide inspiration to help your parish shine forth with the festivities and beauty of the Resurrection this Easter.

Looking for more helpful resources? Subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive this midmonth digest in your inbox along with our monthly Vestry Papers publication.


Hospitality Matters: Seeing Our Buildings Anew

What people see – or don’t see – when entering your church can make a lasting impression. Priest, architect, and liturgical artist Eliza Linley shares some great ideas, small and large, in Hospitality Matters: Seeing Our Buildings Anew for sprucing up your church. When reading through the article, take note of some smaller projects for Easter and think about some other ideas to work on later this year.


At the End of the Day

Does your congregation have an effective newcomer ministry? Maybe it’s time to polish your welcome to guests? In At the End of the Day, Mary Parmer shares a road map and resources for congregations to use from the Diocese of Texas Newcomer Ministry Project.

Blog Posts

What's Your Sign?: Have you looked at your church sign lately? Can you remember what it says? It might be time to take a look…


What ARE You Saying?: Paying attention to what the experience of visiting a church is like can help avoid confusion for someone visiting your church.



How Not to Win Friends and Impress Visitors: Most churches claim to be welcoming. However, there can be a disconnect between what the members of the congregation think and what the guest experiences.

Tools and Resources

ECF Spring 2013 Web Conferences: Topics include vestry leadership, stewardship, and running meetings. Be sure to reserve your spot and register today!

Adventures in Technology in a Mom and Pop Store: Advertising with social media is easier than you think and very effective at connecting to new people.

Print vs. Digital: Which? When?: Here are some tips to help you choose the right tool for your budget, and the right tool for the job.


Holy Care for Holy Places

Perhaps some spring cleaning shows you really need to get down to business with your buildings and grounds. Annabelle Radcliffe-Trenner knows that this can be a daunting, even thankless job. In Holy Care for Holy Places, she breaks down the umbrella of maintaining church buildings into gradual steps to organize and equip your congregation for proactively caring for your buildings and grounds.

January 11, 2013 by Richelle Thompson

We received the keys to our new house last night.

The kids ran from room to empty room, claiming their space and plotting design elements. We brought the champagne to pop open after the old owners left.

But a funny thing happened. Like most moves, it took longer to clean out the last bit of stuff than they anticipated. The previous owners were still loading and sweeping, and by this time, forgoing boxes and instead, throwing their belongings in trash bags to sort out later.

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January 9, 2013 by Richelle Thompson

You’ve probably seen the posts by now about the pay-it-forward movement on Facebook.

“The first five people to comment on this status will receive from me, sometime in the next year, a gift - perhaps a handmade item, some baked goods, a candle or some other surprise. There will be no warning; it will happen when the mood strikes me. Inbox me your address if I don't already have it! The catch is the first five to respond must post this message on their Facebook page and make the same offer.”

Social media is a strange creature, telling us far more sometimes than we want to know (I really don’t care about the color, texture or velocity of a child’s vomit). Sometimes it creates rifts: my husband’s great-uncle recently unfriended both of us. Facebook is not a good medium for him – he comes across spiteful, angry and bigoted, so perhaps the unfriending is a blessing.

But there is also a real power in the way it connects people. Birthday blessings are fun, but it’s also a privilege to offer prayers for the high school friend whose 18-year-old niece died unexpectedly.

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January 7, 2013 by Jeremiah Sierra

I spent a few hours cleaning my apartment this weekend. There’s something satisfying about caring for your own space, and something almost soul-feeding about the work, about moving a broom across the floor or doing dishes.

As I’ve mentioned before, I attend a church called St. Lydia’s that combines dinner with our liturgy. We meet in a rented space. We cook and clean together, setup the tables with candles and decorated napkins. In a sense we make the space sacred with our work.

In the church we spend a lot of time thinking about our space—the purchase of property or construction and upkeep of a church building. Actually, this is true not only of the church, but of human beings. We are physical, incarnate beings, and to ignore our physical place in the world is a mistake.

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