December 23, 2016 by Greg Syler

Episcopalians love processions. There’s something about the grandeur, of course, especially if such a procession includes all kinds of liturgical accoutrements, but even in a more humble parish church, such as the one in which I serve, a liturgical procession is a profound opportunity to create a more intentional setting of space and place. (There’s also the joke in which the Baptist preacher, the Catholic priest, and the Anglican vicar are talking about how much time they spend writing sermons. Baptist: all week; Catholic: reading Encyclicals from the Holy Father; Episcopalian: “What?! You all don’t have an opening procession?)

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December 22, 2016 by Linda Buskirk

My church didn’t have the usual children’s Christmas pageant this year, but we certainly did rejoice in evidence of God with us. The third Sunday of Advent included 5 Baptisms and 11 Confirmations, Receptions, or Reaffirmations! It was a bittersweet day, however, for while our new Bishop came to help us celebrate, we also bid a formal farewell to our Rector who is retiring after ten years of faithful, fruitful ministry. Whew! There was a lot going on.

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December 21, 2016 by Brendon Hunter

This month we offer five resources to help your congregation get ready for Christmas. Please share this digest with others in your congregation and invite them to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and this Vital Practices Digest in your inbox each month.

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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 16, 2016 by Annette Buchanan
As we prepare for the festive season of Christmas and New Year with family and friends, we are also reminded that for many these are days of great despair. Whether through illness, being shut-in, loneliness, loss of loved one, or estranged family members, this “hallmark card” season exacerbates many underlying issues. 
It has been proven numerous times that contact with a compassionate and caring person in many cases can be the antidote to this despair. As church members and leaders, caring for others, especially those in our church community, should be our number one priority and the space where we excel above all institutions because we have the example and teachings of Jesus as our guideline. 

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Topics: Pastoral Care
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 12, 2016 by Crystal Plummer

In my corporate work, I used to facilitate a workshop called the M.A.G.I.C .of Customer Relations, which emphasized communications and relationships as two of the keys to delivering exceptional customer service. Early in the program we pondered a quote by Virginia Satir, the American social worker and author who is widely regarded as the pioneer of family therapy. According to Ms. Satir, “Once a human being has arrived on this earth, communication is the largest single factor determining what kinds of relationships he makes with others and what happens to him in the world about him.”

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December 10, 2016 by Greg Syler

This is a busy time of year both inside and outside the church. Someone said to me last week, “You must be so terribly busy,” and she was very kindly implying that there’s probably a great deal of work behind organizing our congregation’s annual meeting a few days’ ago and getting ready for the Christmas pageant and worship preparation for this season and Christmas Eve and pulling off last Sunday’s Advent Lessons & Carols. I admitted to her that, yes, it’s a full time for all of us, both church-workers and everyone else. But in the back of my mind I wasn’t really thinking about all the work. In fact, in the back of my mind was that series of emails and meetings, way back in late-September, with the president of the altar guild, during which we reminded one another of the times of services and the little details attached to all the special observances which were coming up from late fall through early January.

And with that series of emails and, I think, two phone conversations, the work has indeed been out of my hands, and into the hands of vastly more capable people -- namely, that blessed institution called the Altar Guild.

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Topics: Worship
December 8, 2016 by Linda Buskirk

The annual campaign is behind us. “Stewardship minutes” testifying to “reasons I give,” letters bravely asking people to consider tithing, bulletin reminders about pledge cards – gone. Even churches that try to avoid language of obligation may have allowed their treasurer to make an impassioned plea to avoid the dire, but that’s history too. 

Topics: Stewardship
December 7, 2016 by Miguel Escobar

What does it mean to communicate in a way that models Christ? How do we share good news with our friends, neighbors and strangers? In this issue of Vestry Papers, we invite you to consider how the sharing of stories can take on many different forms – conversations, pictures, videos or even performances. What they have in common though, is inviting others into fellowship, community and love.

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December 6, 2016 by Richelle Thompson

Our kids are fishing chocolate coins and nuts out of their stinky sneakers. St. Nicholas visited last night, and this morning they rushed to the fireplace to see the treats left by their favorite saint.

Neither my husband nor I grew up with a St. Nicholas tradition. But when our children were born, we wanted to find a way to connect Santa Claus with the church, the receiving of gifts with generosity of spirit. St. Nicholas has been a good way to do that.

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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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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