August 21, 2015 by Bob Leopold

I've been thinking and writing recently about social media. Two posts ago, I mentioned that when I go places to speak, I am asked – and it is assumed – that we have social media guidelines in place at Southside Abbey. Well, we don't. What we do have – when we are at our best, which is not always – are how to treat one another guidelines. We all have access to these guidelines in the life and ministry of Jesus and his followers and the prayers that shape our corporate lives.

A lot of social media conflict that I have seen fits into a question that I consider a lot: Would you rather be right or would you rather be in relationship? Much of the conflict on social media occurs between folks who want to be right, often at the cost of relationship.

Social media is still young. We might even think about it as having some maturation ahead. We are coming from an Internet of anonymity, to posts with real-life repercussions. Maybe we've all got some growing up to do in this arena.

At Southside Abbey, we are about growing spiritual maturity (which requires social maturity). This is a good time to consider our social media posts with another question: Whom are we promoting? Are we promoting ourselves, our parishes, or Jesus? These things are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but the pictures and posts that point to our Savior are the ones that disarm in the best of ways.

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Topics: Advocacy
August 17, 2015 by Linda Buskirk

First of a three part series... 

In one of the poorest neighborhoods in South Bend, Indiana, the Feast of the Virgin Mary was celebrated this month with ecumenical neighborhood joy radiating from Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. Since 1948, Holy Trinity worship has valued catholic traditions, but the church’s relationship with its neighbors is an even bigger part of its ministry story. The story is so compelling that I’d like to tell it in a three-part series on Vital Posts.

Most mainstream churches in Holy Trinity’s neighborhood moved out to the newer parts of town decades ago. As is often the case, the parish struggled to survive, and was the subject of a “What are we going to do about Holy Trinity when the rector retires?” discussion at the diocesan level.   

Meanwhile, back in the summer of 2011, violence in the deteriorated neighborhood escalated at an alarming rate. Parishioner Susan Adamek tells the story best…

“On a regular basis, [neighbors] witnessed gun fire, homicide, and serious injury almost in their front yards. …neighbors felt abandoned by the city and believed they had no power to reclaim what was rightfully theirs.  “So here we are! Good Christians sitting in the middle of mayhem! Several times, gun fire and robberies to persons, were taking place as we were having Sunday services and on one Saturday as a bride was walking down the aisle to meet her groom! What to do? We could continue to deny everything and go right on as if nothing is happening, or we can take up the call and stand up in protest! Our neighbors were asking us for help! Then we definitely received a collect call from God! Now what? Scary!! You must realize that we are a very aging church with small numbers and few youthful energies, to answer this call.

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Topics: Advocacy
August 5, 2015 by Bob Leopold

It happened two weeks ago today, at the time I send this for publication, and I still can't believe it. An armed gunman opened fire on United States military recruiting offices in our town of Chattanooga.

I think a lot about my identity as a priest in the church. Let's call that discernment. One of my thoughts is that, in some ways, I am in the business of believing. I try live my life in such a way – believing so “loudly” in peace, love, family, relationships, and God – that hopefully others are drawn to that way of life. At least, that's my working theory. So for me to write that I cannot believe something is tough. In the weeks I have had to reflect, I think what I cannot believe the most is tragedies like these are always happening somewhere in our country.

According to an article in the Washington Post, there have been as many mass shootings in the United States this year as there have been days so far this year. That's what I cannot believe. My two hometowns – the one where I was born and the one where I live now – are Charleston, SC, and Chattanooga, Tenn – were both hit a month apart. News coverage can paradoxically simultaneously draw attention to the sensationalistic aspects of while shortening our memories of the events' impacts on the lives of those left in the wake of senseless violence. It can all get to be too much some times.

But I got to witness something recently. In the aftermath, our city, Chattanooga – still fragmented by the aftereffects of segregation and institutionalized racist policies – is trying to come together... and it is happening through social media.

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Topics: Advocacy
July 31, 2015 by Tom Ehrich

It is time for congregations to develop protocols for responding to hate initiatives on their doorsteps.

As the intolerant lose any self-discipline in lashing out at others, we can expect a fresh round of cross-burnings, gay-bashing graffiti, and online vitriol. At an Episcopal church in Delaware last weekend, for example, worshipers returned to their cars to find leaflets attacking them for being an inclusive church.

Such incidents are happening throughout our deeply divided nation, as well as in European states dealing with ethnic diversity and neo-Nazism. If your church, or its denomination, is identified as being gay-affirming, performing same-sex weddings, welcoming women into leadership, collaborating with Jews and Muslims, or honoring racial diversity, including mixed-race couples, you can expect to be noticed and, increasingly, targeted.

Will that mean 100 hate initiatives, or a thousand, or a million? There's no way to know. But being prepared seems sadly necessary.

Here are some suggested protocols for handling hate initiatives affecting your congregation:

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Topics: Advocacy
July 27, 2015 by Sandra Montes

¿Cómo vivo #blacklivesmatter #homelessJesus #LoveWins y otros eslóganes a diario? (las vidas de los negros vale/importa, el Jesús sin hogar, el amor gana)

Estaba mirando mi gafete que llevaba en la Convención General y noté que algunos de mis botones se han caído. Sé que algunos se quedaron por Utah porque los perdí antes de regresar y no sé que pasó con los demás. Mientras veo también la bella estatua de miniatura del Jesús sin hogar me pregunto si he estado viviendo tan entusiastamente los sentimientos de estos recordatorios como cuando estaba en medio de personas que usaban los mismos botones y sonreíamos cuando nos encontrábamos. Es fácil dejarme llevar con la emoción de todo el mundo y, mientras estoy en lugares o con personas que alimentan estas causas pensar que lo que hacemos vale la pena. Pero cuando regreso a casa, ¿qué? En realidad, ¿qué significa todo esto si mi corazón sigue igual? Y, ¿cómo puedo llevar lo que he visto, sentido y oído en mi corazón y en mi vida cotidiana?

Como una de mis pasiones es tomar fotos y hacer videos, he podido usar esta pasión para difundir diferentes mensajes de personas alrededor de la Iglesia Episcopal. He puesto varios videos en español en el canal de YouTube de ECF (suscríbete aquí para no perderte ninguno y cuando los edito tengo la oportunidad de escuchar los mensajes una y otra vez y me inspiran. Esta entrevista con el Padre Fred Clarkson me inspiró a hacer una lista de cómo seguir alimentando y viviendo todo lo que he aprendido durante el mes pasado sobre la inclusión, el sufrimiento, la igualdad, la compasión, y la Iglesia Episcopal.

Siga leyendo....

Topics: Advocacy
July 23, 2015 by Sandra Montes

This post is also available in Spanish aqui.

I knew it was going to be life-changing
I just didn't know how
I knew I was going to shed some tears
I just didn't know when
I knew I was going to feel uncomfortable
I just didn't know why
I knew I was going to learn new things
I just didn't know which
I am at a Plantation for the first time
I knew I would see a big White House
And slave quarters
As I walk towards the big house
I feel as though I am in a scene from The Color Purple
and I smile with pain
I stand near a chimney and breathe
With spirits of young and old running all around me
Showing me how to feel and what to do
As I touch a slave child’s footprint left on a brick
and imagine his laughter (he’s my son in my mind)
I cry.

Written during my quiet reflection time after hearing three slave narratives at one of the largest plantation complexes in the south – Stagville Plantation.

Last week I had a transformative experience when I was part of the Lift Every Voice/Freedom Ride event in the Diocese of North Carolina (you can read about it here). It was an event for youth and young adults that centered around truth, reconciliation, and peace. There were over 70 of us from several dioceses around the nation and South Africa. As part of the leadership and music team I had the opportunity to plan and hear ideas of how we would help the participants and ourselves months in advance. From the first moment I felt the love of God in each person of the team – mostly comprised of young adults. Even though I only knew the director, my musician partner, and my son, I felt great intimacy with each person present. We were united by curiosity and deep emotions and I also feel we are united by some fear that this experience will bring a lot of feelings that we might not even know we hold inside. We pray a lot and we commend ourselves to God.

During the week we had opportunities to visit places that were key for social justice and the history of civil rights in North Carolina. We had the chance to meet historic figures as well as activists who greatly inspired us. We heard many narratives from invited guests, team members, and participants. Each story, each anecdote, each poem, each video, each prayer drew us closer and gave us hope to keep going. We cried, laughed, remembered, and lived.

One of my highlights was meeting Episcopal Latinas and being able to interview some. I interviewed Cecilia Alvarez, Canon for Transition Ministry and Clergy Development from the Diocese of New Jersey who taught me about making daily devotion time to spend with God. Student and activist Fernanda Torres taught me about the feelings of isolation and people’s judgment when people find out you are undocumented. Activist and teacher Elisa Benitez taught me the importance of being an advocate for those who don’t have a voice or aren’t being heard. Fernanda and Elisa are from the Diocese of North Carolina. Each one taught me lessons the entire week on God’s unconditional love and the importance of having a relationship with God. (Note: You can find more videos, pictures, and stories by searching #LEVNC on social media.)

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Topics: Advocacy
June 10, 2015 by Bob Leopold

Well, they actually have already come, and gone. One of the blessings of being an ECF Fellow for 2015 is the opportunity that it affords Southside Abbey to grow with other communities that will come visit us as part of the Innovative Leadership Rounds Program. Our time with the Minnesotans was a pilot of that program, graciously put together by Missioner Steve Mullaney and the Episcopal Church in Minnesota. 

Nine Minnesotans descended upon Chattanooga's Southside late Thursday evening. I don't know what any of us thought would happen, but I can share what did happen. Somewhere along the way the Holy Spirit showed up for each one of us.

While it certainly helps that Steve brought a fantastic group of faithful followers of Jesus with him, I know that this special weekend is one that I will treasure for a long time to come, as it continues to feed me days later.

This time together was an opportunity to learn from one another. We at Southside Abbey were able to share with our new friends what we are doing, while at the same time seeing Southside Abbey's mission and ministry through fresh eyes.

During our time together: We ate, we prayed, we shared our hopes for the trip, we slept, we went on a “reality bus tour” of Chattanooga's Southside, we ate, we met immigrants and those experiencing homelessness, we shared Christ's table with them at H♥ART Gallery, we ate, we jubilee-ified (now a word) a laundromat – providing quarters, pizza, soap, and hope, we were part of house blessing of a man who had lived on the streets for more than a dozen years, we ate, we worshiped in “traditional” Episcopal ways, we worshiped in “non-traditional” Episcopal ways, we shared stories, we talked, we processed, we ate, we wrote a compline liturgy together (which still requires some editing and permissions, but will soon be up on Southside Abbey's website under the “Open Source” tab), we sang, we prayerfully walked the neighborhood, and we said “see you later.”

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Topics: Advocacy
June 1, 2015 by Jeremiah Sierra

A few years ago I started to worry a lot about climate change. Reading more about it wasn’t helping (this article in Rolling Stone magazine was particularly motivating). The only thing I could find to assuage some of my worry and anxiety was to find a way to take some meaningful action.

So I went to a meeting of the New York chapter of, a grassroots organization founded by Bill McKibben, working to stop or at least mitigate climate change. I volunteered to hand out flyers and to help plan events. It was in these meetings and that I learned more about climate change and about some possible solutions.

Sometimes, I think, solutions arise from careful planning and reading and writing and sometimes they arise from simply jumping right in and trying things out. I didn’t make a plan or evaluate all the options. I just went out and volunteered to do something.

As we’ve been hearing lately, the Episcopal Church, like many churches, is facing declining membership numbers. Many of us are wondering what the church will look like for future generations.

I don’t think the solution to church vitality lie in theological statements or inspiring blog posts. Of course, these are good and useful. I’m glad there are theologians out there thinking through what we’re doing, but another thing the climate crisis has taught us is that being right isn’t enough to win people over or spur them to action. Preaching the best theology isn’t going to grow the church. The right words and the best arguments aren’t what change the world.

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Topics: Advocacy
May 1, 2015 by Tim Schenck

There was an adage growing up in white Baltimore that declared, "70% of Baltimore is black; the rest of us all know each other." I recall being vaguely uncomfortable whenever I heard it -- the product of liberal parents -- but also thinking, well, there is some truth to that.

And therein lies the problem. Despite all the rhetoric, Baltimore, like many urban areas, has remained a segregated city -- geographically, socio-economically, religiously, politically. The forces of income inequality and institutional racism, combined with the tragic and preventable death of Freddie Gray, have sparked the inevitable outburst of despair triumphing over hope.

As the Episcopal Bishop of Maryland put it in a sermon he preached on Tuesday afternoon, "We are in an official State of Emergency, but we are also in an unofficial State of Despair."

And we're all responsible. Every time we fail to acknowledge our privilege comes at another's expense; every time we neglect to reach out and embrace the less fortunate; every time we close our hearts to those who don't look or act like us.

Whenever children grow up in privileged communities, you hear parents lament that their kids are "growing up in a bubble." Living in a wealthy community on Boston's South Shore, I've had the same thought. Sometimes when parents say this, it's because their "ungrateful" children don't know how good they really have it. There's also a sense of guilt that they aren't exposing them to the "real world" and helping them develop a healthy empathy for others. Of course, given the choice, parents wouldn't actually leave that bubble. It's not perfect, of course, but it's not as if they're going to uproot their families to leave the bubble that is their perceived birthright.

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Topics: Advocacy
April 16, 2015 by Erin Weber-Johnson

The more you have, sometimes the more complicated your life gets."   - Dan Price

On April 13, 2014, 30-year-old CEO Dan Price of Gravity Payments made a startling announcement  to his 120-person staff. Over the next three years, Price intends to raise the minimum rate across the company from to $70,000. Today, his company pays an average wage of $48,000. 

To ensure all of his employees are compensated at this amount, he anticipates a decrease in his salary to $70,000 from about $1 million dollars. He plans to keep his salary at this amount until the company earns back the profit it made when the new salaries came in to affect.

What motivated him? Not politics---instead what drove him was inequality. Price is more concerned about the well being of his employees then his own salary. He notes, “Of all the social issues that I was in a position to do something about as a business leader, this was a worthy one to go after”

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Topics: Advocacy
April 15, 2015 by Brendon Hunter

Greening Our Faith

In this month’s Vital Practices Digest, we highlight 5 ways for congregations to practice their commitment to caring for our earth home and all who inhabit it. Our 5 resource is a suggestion for congregations interested in the practice of year round stewardship and gratitude.

It’s easy and free to access these resources for your congregation. Subscribe to ECF Vital Practices and receive Vestry Papers and this Vital Practices Digest in your inbox each month.

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Topics: Advocacy
April 2, 2015 by Anna Olson

Do you feel too small or too shy to get out there?

Let me tell you a story.

I am a fairly shy person. In my early 20s, I was certainly not given to drawing attention to myself in public. But my first job after college was as a union organizer. It involved a lot of talking to people and an occasional trip out into the world to make some noise.

That’s how I ended up in a Home Depot outside Houston, Texas, in the door and window department, with a bullhorn and three workers from a Dallas door and window factory. Our job was to make a little noise, and draw attention to the poor working conditions in the factories that sourced Home Depot’s products at the time.

Everything went pretty much according to plan. We found the doors and windows. We started to chant. We used the bullhorn. We were asked to leave the store. We did. We stood outside the store chanting. When the police arrived, we expected to be told to leave the property and to move on to the next store. We had been doing this all day. There are a lot of Home Depots in greater Houston.

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Topics: Advocacy
April 1, 2015 by Nancy Davidge

In her Easter message, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori reminds us we can find Jesus still rising, “if we will go stand with the grieving Marys of this world, if we will draw out the terrified who have retreated to their holes, if we will walk the Emmaus road with the lost and confused, if we will search out the hungry in the neighborhood called Galilee. We will find him already there before us, bringing new and verdant life. The only place we will not find him in is in his tomb.”

This month, we continue to share stories of individuals, congregations, and organizations who have chosen to stand with the grieving Mary’s of this world. What all of them have discovered is the strength that comes from seeking out others responding to the same, or similar, call; the wisdom gained by sharing their stories, experiences, and resources.

Here are our April offerings:

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Topics: Advocacy
March 23, 2015 by Jeremiah Sierra

A few years ago, I went to the monthly meeting of a local environmental group. It was long and tedious, and at the end I wasn’t sure what I should do next to get involved. I never went back.

I eventually got involved in other ways, but I think this is a common experience that people have when they care about a cause but can’t quite figure out how to contribute meaningfully.

Some people, of course, enjoy going to meetings, attending rallies, and writing letters to their senators, but for the rest of us advocacy or activism can be a chore. Engaging people in making change requires a little more than just convincing them our cause is just.

The other day I went to a panel discussion on climate change, and one of the hosts, Curt Collier from the New York Society for Ethical Culture, said, “The stronger the community, the better it is able to tackle environmental issues.”

Now I know the church is not simply an advocacy or environmental organization, but a church cannot follow Jesus without also creating community and trying to change the world for the better. Fortunately, as Collier points out, those things go hand in hand. To create change you don’t just need to make people care, you have to get them connected to each other.

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Topics: Advocacy
March 4, 2015 by Nancy Davidge

What is it that inspires us to move from intent to action? It’s often a very personal decision, one that may be difficult to put into words. In this Vestry Papers we share stories from four Episcopalians who understand, as shared in the Parable of the Yeast (Matthew 13:33; Luke 13:20-21), God’s kingdom begins in small way. Like yeast, these small actions become the catalyst for change, transforming all they encounter into something larger, something that nourishes and sustains….

Here are stories – of individuals, congregations, dioceses, and organizations – all making a real difference in their communities:

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Topics: Advocacy
February 23, 2015 by Anna Olson

I walk to church from my home, about a mile and a half away, a couple of times a week. Lately I've started using a new route, which led to the discovery of a small mystery.

Every morning, hundreds of people line up on the sidewalk of a side street just south of the main thoroughfare of Wilshire Boulevard. Literally hundreds, stretching all the way down the block. The line leads toward a nondescript large office building.

I first noticed the people around Christmas. I imagined a food or toy giveaway, of which there are quite a few at that time of year. But this morning, deep into January, there they all were.

I usually walk on the other side of the street. It's shadier, and there are too many people in the line to pass easily.

Today, something made me cross the street. I waded awkwardly, upstream through the crowd. Up close, I could see that most of them were clutching folders or envelopes full of paperwork. I made my way toward the back of the line, gathering my courage. I'm an introvert, after all, shy with strangers and crowds. Finally, I asked a group of women what one waited for in this place.

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Topics: Advocacy

On November 8, 2013, the strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded hit the central islands of the Philippines. The islands of Leyte and Samar were hit the hardest, with more than 6,000 dead and 1,000 missing. Southern cities like Tacloban and Surigao were devastated, with infrastructure damaged so severely that rescue and recovery seemed next to impossible.

After military responders opened a path into the impacted area, Church staff arrived to see what infrastructure remained and how its buildings, people and resources could be mobilized to help. Episcopal Relief & Development’s partner E-CARE (Episcopal Community Action for Renewal and Empowerment), the development organization of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, worked with the National Council of Churches to quickly establish food distribution centers at churches in the most devastated areas.

But one thing was different about this response. Rather than preservative-heavy canned and processed foods, the distribution centers handed out healthy, organic biscuits and noodles, along with a high-energy powdered nutritional supplement that could be used to feed infants as well as kids and adults.

How did they do this? Where did these supplies come from?

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Topics: Advocacy
December 19, 2014 by Anna Olson

Wait for the Lord. Patiently wait. Wait for the Lord.

It’s the congregational response for the sung psalm we are using in my parish for the season of Advent.

How do we wait in times like these? In an Advent where #blacklivesmatter and #handsupdontshoot are the trending hashtags, when the non-verdicts roll in and our young people explode in rage and despair, is waiting enough?

I am waiting. I still believe that there is more yet to be revealed, that God’s power is greater than the forces of evil, that our salvation is closer now than on the day we first believed.

But I am more conscious than usual about how I wait, where I wait.

This Advent (probably any Advent), waiting with the doors closed and soft music playing and lovely candles lit is not enough. Waiting that is passive is not enough. Waiting in places that muffle the voice of Jesus, crying, “I can’t breathe!,” is not enough.

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Topics: Advocacy

In the area where I live in Sri Lanka, we are currently experiencing an extended water cut, a result of inadequate maintenance of public infrastructure. The last water-cut we experienced in early-August (for similar reasons) lasted four days. Household potable water is a comfort my neighbours and I have grown so accustomed to that it leaves us scrambling to find alternatives. And of course plenty of grumblings and complaints.

In between these two water cuts, I visited one of Episcopal Relief & Development’s programmes in India, where piped household water is a luxury. In fact, having a water source within walking distance has been a luxury for as long as the eldest resident can remember.

Episcopal Relief & Development began a partnership with the Diocese of Durgapur to accompany a group of 36 isolated villages, mainly populated by the Santali tribe, in community development activities. One of these activities was the provision of rain-water reservoirs.

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Topics: Advocacy
December 5, 2014 by Abagail Nelson
I first met the people of the Diocese of El Salvador in 2001 when I visited there in response to a series of earthquakes that had flattened the country. I traveled with a dedicated slate of church leaders who carried water and food to isolated mountain villages, stood in the rain assessing the structural integrity of school and church buildings and reached out their hands to hold Eucharist in the midst of chaos and piles of rubble. 
They were leaders who had been called upon to respond through the years to poverty, gang violence, natural disasters and a significant period of civil war, and they taught me in a few short days about sacrifice, tenacity and hope. 
They knew, then and still, that communities ache for safe strong houses, nutritious food, health services and education – a path to dignity and wholeness. 
Together with those leaders, and with the support of thousands of Episcopalians across the United States, we spent several years building Anglican villages complete with water systems, houses, clinics and social programs. With these relief activities, we planted seeds that we prayed would grow into a solid foundation from which good things could spring, undergirding growing families and enabling them to flourish. 

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Topics: Advocacy