There is a scary sense of the unknown at the start of a period of congregational discernment, whether for a potential capital campaign or for strategic visioning. I have to admit, as a facilitator the anticipation is part of the thrill – like when the safety bar clamps shut on a roller coaster and you know the ride is about to begin. Oh, what will the listening, prayer and Holy Spirit will reveal?
At St. John’s Episcopal Church in Canandaigua, New York, an obvious need to renovate the former rectory building turned out to be secondary to the congregation’s spiritual need to experience and share worship and music with the community. Organ replacement and stained glass window preservation moved to the top of the priority list. A successful capital campaign to address those issues is now being followed by new ministry possibilities for the old house.
By this time, the well-organized among us will have carried out our carefully laid stewardship campaign plans and will be reaping the harvest of generous pledge cards. The rest of us will manage somehow to keep things flowing for another year, using whatever combination of grit, habit, late mailings and frantic or low-key appeals.
In the pledge-driven madness, let us not forget the other half of good stewardship: faithful and realistic budgeting. Whether we have had glorious pledge campaign success or more of a white-knuckle experience, the church budget -- now under preparation in most of our congregations -- can elevate or sink the best efforts at generating support for our ministries.
To be useful, budgets have to be realistic. This might seem to go without saying, but I have seen many churches trim ruthlessly on the expense side, while taking a wildly optimistic (if not downright fantastical) approach to the income side of the church budget. Heck, I’ve done it myself in more than one place, on more than one occasion.
Here are a couple of guidelines to start with.
Throughout my career as a fundraiser, most people outside the profession seem to think that fundraising is about asking for money. Of course, money is part of the consideration, but it isn’t really what the conversation is about.
In the fundraising context, I like to think of the giving and receiving of money as a kind of sacrament – it is the outward and visible sign of a spiritual covenant between donor and recipient. This covenant is based on shared values, goals, and trust, and it signifies the coming together of donor and recipient in support of a purpose much larger than any one person or organization.
This month we offer five resources to help your vestry, bishop’s committee, or other leadership group take a productive and life-giving retreat. Please share this digest with your parish leadership and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.
1. The Vestry Goes on Retreat
The Vestry Goes on Retreat shares how retreats can be a time of fruitful work, relationship building and most importantly, honest conversations about the life and health of a church.
Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling. Psalm 43:3
We seek God's light and truth to lead us, and we envision that it will lead to eternal life. But what path to take? It's a question with which we grapple as individuals, and as faith communities joined in our church homes.
Grappling is a great reason to make time to consider more than what "our" most pressing needs are (deficit budget, leaking roof, etc.), but rather how well our faith community is following Jesus’ reminder to the church leaders of his day, challenging them to understand God’s Word: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” (Matthew 12: 7)
In the middle of my first ‘stewardship’ season as a new rector, now ten years ago, I was doing everything by the book and already feeling overwhelmed and unenthused. The congregational leaders appeared only mildly interested in doing a pledge drive. And yet it’s drilled into us, in most every way, that the fall is the time to do stewardship, be intentional, make sure you make the proper ask, but of course couch it in terms of God’s larger mission because you’re not just asking people to pay the church’s salaries and light bills – oh, and remember to do stewardship year-‘round so it’s not only an annual request for generous pledges.
At a local clergy meeting that fall, the wiser, more senior rector of a neighbor parish said to me, “I simply hate this time of year.”
With the frequency of hurricanes that have recently occurred it begs the question how prepared are our churches for any catastrophe. Whether its fire, flooding or a mass shooting we do need to have a Disaster Preparedness Plan to address the physical and emotional needs of our congregation.
The Church Pension Group in its monthly newsletter points us to the Facilitator’s Guide on the Episcopal Relief and Development website. There we find a number of resources to help introduce this disaster preparedness discipline as part of our normal church life. Their best practices suggests that churches have a focused meeting to assess and provide remedies for any type of disaster including identification of the primary person within the congregation that has the responsibility for preparedness. There are also resources at the diocesan, provincial and national levels to assist with this activity.
There is a lot of anger, confusion and just plain disrespect flying around in the world these days. One big chunk of it recently flew right through a newly refurbished and protected stained-glass window at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan, Kansas.
Earlier this year, the people of St. Paul’s gave generously to a capital campaign, exceeding their goal to accomplish much-needed restoration in their historic home of worship and ministry. Then one afternoon, someone threw a piece of concrete at a stained glass window featuring two fish. The blow shattered the protective glass and destroying several of the window’s colored panels and iron work.
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.