October 1, 2013 by Anna Olson

An English version of this article is available here. 

El Gran Jesús se conoce debidamente como El Divino Salvador del Mundo – el Cristo transfigurado, patrono del pueblo de El Salvador. Llamarlo el Gran Jesús puede rayar en sacrilegio, pero simplemente no puedo pensar en Él de ninguna otra manera. En mi defensa, Él es… grande, de casi seis pies de altura, con manos y pies majestuosamente grandes, una corona hecha a mano y una larga toga de varios colores litúrgicos. Vive la mayor parte del tiempo en una caja de vidrio protectora cuya forma desafortunadamente sugiere un ataúd. Pero en Su día especial sale de la caja. 

Ese día especial es la Fiesta de la Transfiguración (o el fin de semana más cercano a cuando el Departamento de Policía de Los Ángeles permite el cierre de una calle en el barrio de Los Ángeles con el mayor número de salvadoreños). El Gran Jesús es la estrella de la tradición de La Bajada, cuando se lo hace descender a un gigantesco globo de papel maché, del que emerge transfigurado luciendo un atuendo brillantemente blanco con una bandera salvadoreña bordada en el frente.

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Topics: Diversity
September 24, 2013 by Anna Olson
Nota - Este artículo es disponible en español aquí. 

Big Jesus is properly known as El Divino Salvador del Mundo -- the transfigured Christ, patron of the people of El Salvador. Calling him Big Jesus might border on sacrilege, but I just can’t think of him any other way. In my defense, he is...big. Almost six feet tall, with majestically large hands and feet, a handmade crown, and long sparkling robes in various liturgical colors. He lives most of the time in a protective glass box whose shape unfortunately suggests a coffin. But on his special day he gets to come out of the box.
That special day is the Feast of the Transfiguration (or the closest weekend when LAPD will grant a street closure permit in LA’s biggest Salvadoran neighborhood). Big Jesus stars in the tradition of la Bajada -- where he is lowered into a giant papier mache globe, and emerges transfigured in his sparkliest, whitest costume, with a Salvadoran flag embroidered on the front.

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Topics: Diversity
January 7, 2013 by Nancy Davidge

Happy New Year!

What makes some vestries really effective? Is there a secret to developing a vestry that enjoys working together, feels energized while doing so, and has fun at the same time?

How are vital congregations and congregational leaders making God present in their families, community, and world at a time when it sometimes feels as if no one is interested?

These are questions we think about a lot at ECF Vital Practices – and we’re devoting our January/February Vestry Papers to an exploration of some of the vital practices that lead to vestries that work well.

This month, we’ll share articles on:

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December 19, 2012 by Richelle Thompson

I don’t believe in a red-horned devil, waiting in the wings with a pitchfork and maniacal cackle.

But I wonder: As the decibels of rhetoric rise above the chimes of church bells, is this the insidious work of Satan?

To be sure, great tragedy requires deep examination. Like so many across the country and world, I weep every time I think about the shootings in Connecticut. My children walk to elementary school. They sit in classrooms, cross-legged listening to stories, painting refrigerator-worthy scenes, completing math facts in a flash and spelling word tests. My children, my heart, are 8 and 11, and they could have been as easily slain as those students at Sandy Hook. I can scarcely bear it. I can’t fathom how the parents can summon the strength to wake up, much less the courage to testify to the world about the depth of their loss, the character of their children, and their prayers for the family of the killer. 

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Topics: Diversity
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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February 7, 2012 by Miguel Escobar
As committee chair, I take pride in our diversity. The New York Intern Program’s communications committee “meets” on a monthly basis and includes A mother clanging pots and pans while preparing dinner for her young children Exhausted interns who’ve just completed long days at their respective work sites Board members calling in from cubicles and offices across the city Alumni who are now engaged in ministries throughout the United States Our committee is made up of older and younger members, and we are also ethnically and religiously diverse. But before I take too much credit for all this, I need to say that the main reason we are able to gather so many different voices is that 1) our meetings never last longer than an hour and 2) we never meet in-person. (We set these as ground rules and hold to them religiously.)

To a great extent, advances in technology have made this widening of the circle possible. Our committee “meets” using a free conference call service and we collectively edit our notes using a shared document on Google Docs. And though there are definitely some disadvantages to meeting this way (I miss being able to read the body language of some of our more introverted members of the group), I’ve come to believe that the diversity of voices around the table makes it worth it. Indeed, the mother clanging pots and pans, exhausted interns, office-bound board members, and geographically scattered alumni have told me it’s the only way they are able to contribute their voices.

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November 15, 2011 by Miguel Escobar
I am attending the Transformation and Renewal Conference at Kanuga Conference Centers in North Carolina. Co-sponsored by the Office of Black Ministries, the Union of Black Episcopalians, and Kanuga Conference Centers, this year's gathering focuses on increased innovation and vitality in black churches in the Episcopal Church. The plenary speaker, the Rev. Junius B. Dotson, Senior Pastor of St. Mark's United Methodist in Wichita, KS, was inspiring. 
Yesterday, I managed to sit down with five leaders at this conference and do brief interviews about their own leadership practices, what they hope to gain from this conference, and the challenges they are facing in their ministries. In regard how I did this, I took this series of clips using my iPhone, uploaded the clips to YouTube, and then edited it last night using YouTube's free video editor. As you will see, it's far from perfect, but using these tools is an easy and timely way of capturing the voices of those attending a gathering. (I'll be sending this link to the conference organizers today.) 
Finally, a word about the fourth interview, that of the Rev. Marcia Beam. Unfortunately the sound quality isn't great, but the story of her congregation and the leadership practice she shares merits close listening. Today, I hope to get more interviews from lay and vestry leaders.

November 1, 2011 by Miguel Escobar
Okay. I confess. All Saints Day in The Episcopal Church has always struck me as a bit bland.

Sure I know the official line: that All Saints Day is when we honor the martyrs, preachers, teachers and everyday witnesses whose examples we seek to follow in our lives. But every time All Saints Day rolls around, I can’t help but think of how the saints were spoken about, and used, in the pragmatic, popular faith of my Roman Catholic childhood.

In that setting, saints were a lot like apps: mobile, easy-to-use, and applicable to all sorts of everyday situations.

Lost keys? There’s a saint for that. Selling your house? Not unless you bury St. Joseph in the yard. Computer troubles? Saint Isidore of Seville can help. Not a morning person? Pray to Saint Vitus who, along with a rooster, had the grisly misfortune of being boiled in oil at dawn (though I’m still unclear how this qualifies him to be someone who can help us wake up refreshed). And for those who have no clue whom to apply when, never fear: you can now purchase an actual patron saints app for just $1.99.

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October 25, 2011 by Miguel Escobar
NPR is currently doing an excellent series on how Latinos, the U.S.’ largest minority group, is “making their mark on religion, technology, education, Hollywood and the workplace.” There are many good stories in this series, but I believe two stories and one interactive feature are particularly important for leaders of the Episcopal Church:
U.S. Hispanics Choose Churches Outside Catholicism: While focusing on how evangelical churches are drawing Latinos from Roman Catholicism, much of what is said also applies to The Episcopal Church. Latinos currently constitute the fastest growing segment of The Episcopal Church. How Latinos are Reshaping Communities: This is an interactive map showing population change by state and county. Yellow, orange and red represent the areas with the greatest growth rates - and you will note that many places with growing Latino populations are not where you might expect. And be sure to check out the larger mapA Look at Iowa's First Majority Hispanic Town: Latinos are changing the face of communities across the U.S. including in areas that have traditionally been majority white. As Iowa’s first majority Hispanic town, West Liberty is an example of one community that has embraced a multilingual, multicultural existence. In our first year, ECF Vital Practices has made a concerted effort to provide articles, resources and tools that will help Episcopal congregations across the country embrace this new reality. In partnership with the Episcopal Church Center's Office of Latino Ministry, we are focusing on three key areas: successful models of shared leadership in English and Spanish-speaking congregations, best practices in stewardship/generosity, and intergenerational ministry.

You will note in the list below that while some of the material has been made available in both English and Spanish, a few have not. This reflects the relatively high cost of translations and the fact of limited budgets. Here’s a short list of what we have been able to do so far:  

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August 24, 2011 by Richelle Thompson

Members of another urban congregation are picketing the second service of St. John’s in Columbus, Ohio.

The service is Street Church, where for the past five years, the Rev. Lee Anne Reat presides over a full Eucharist on a street corner in downtown Columbus. Attendance averages about 70 – a little more than the first service of the day, which is held in the church facility. The Street Church congregation has celebrated baptisms together and gathered for funerals.

“This is not an outreach program” says Reat. “The language we use to talk about what we do is so critical -- this is our second service. I don’t think we can really be the church if we separate out what we do in worship from what we do in the larger community. It is all of a piece.”

Over the past five years, “we’ve had some successes in getting people off the street,” says Reat. “But what’s most gratifying is the relationship aspect … to be part of a community that I envision looking a lot like the kingdom of God – that’s pretty awesome. From my upper middle class, privileged background, I would probably never come across some people who I now call my friends.”

Taking religion to the streets is nothing new. Throughout history, street preachers have urged people to repent, to turn or burn, to change their lives or face damnation. St. John’s is part of the nationwide Ecclesia Network, a loosely affiliated group of street churches that focus on worship and connection.

“Our emphasis is on being in relationship with the most vulnerable among us,” says Reat. “Our focus is on worship. We try to meet other needs if we can, referrals for housing, getting jobs, providing dry socks, coats, boots and tents. But the most important thing is being in a real mutual relationship.”

That’s why it was so gratifying when one of the Street Church parishioners invited some of the picketers to lunch. He offered them some of the sandwiches that the congregation eats after the worship service.

“They keep yelling at us to repent,” says Reat. “And we keep saying, let’s respond with love. Let’s love them.” And so the Street Church member showed them love, from one community of faith to another.

Reat begins a sabbatical this week and will spend three months traveling across the United States, worshipping with different street churches. One of her goals is to collect liturgical ideas and resources to create a street church prayer book.

You can follow her journey at www.streetchurchacrossamerica.blogspot.com. And if you have ideas or practices for street churches, post them on the blog.

“I really see this as part of the fresh expressions of the church – it’s the church beyond walls. There’s so much potential for communities to do this,” Reat says. “The reason we go outside the church building is because there are people who feel like they can’t come inside the church, for whatever reason. I smell. I don’t have the right clothes. I’m drunk. I’m high. I wouldn’t know what to do.

“When you’re outside, all those barriers are broken down. People can come and just be who they are. There’s potential for that in every community.”

July 20, 2011 by Anne Ditzler

Did you sense it? This past weekend marked the end of an era. I admit I didn’t notice at first. But as I sat around the kitchen table with our convent/farm interns last Thursday night, I began to realize that the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 – the final episode of the seven book story – was a big deal.

Over dinner the interns and I started discussing our weekend plans: watching HP 7 Part 1 again at home on Saturday, then heading to the theatre Sunday evening for the new movie. Shannon, a 22 year old Episcopalian from Minnesota, discussed menu options for Potterfest: butterbeer, pumpkin pasties, and treacle tart. She’s hosted parties for all the previous movie releases, becoming an expert cook of magical food. I took delight in the anticipation and activities they described.

But my interest was piqued in a new way when Shannon began describing this moment as “the end of an era.” She was 10 years old when Harry started at Hogwarts school at age 11. Shannon was 17 when Harry’s quest climaxed at age 18, altering his magical world forever. It altered Shannon’s world as well. This is, literally, the story of a generation.

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July 12, 2011 by Miguel Escobar

An English version of this blog post can be found here

El nuevo show de charla durante el día del Padre Alberto Cutié debutó ayer. ¿Lo vieron?

El debut de “Padre Alberto (Father Albert)" generó conversación en la página Episcopal Café en Facebook, con comentarios que variaron desde esperanzas hasta curiosidad y desdén. “Y nos debe importar… ¿por qué?”, escribió un sacerdote episcopal.

Conocí brevemente al Padre Cutié hace dos años y debo confesar que lo hice con ese último interrogante muy en mente. Ante todo, no miro mucha televisión y los programas durante el día me interesan todavía menos. Había oído hablar del Padre Oprah, había visto sus libros en Barnes and Noble, pero no había conectado con la idea de un padre célibe que dispensara consejos sobre las relaciones. Segundo, el Padre Cutié había entrado a la Iglesia Episcopal en un momento especialmente difícil en mi vida. Me acababan de rechazar del proceso de ordenación en la Diócesis de Nueva York y realmente me había dolido lo rápidamente que el Padre Cutié había pasado a ser un sacerdote episcopal en la Diócesis del Sudeste de la Florida. Recuerdo haber bromeado que probablemente las cosas hubieran sido diferentes para mí si hubiera sido una estrella de la televisión, más guapo, con millones de aficionados...

Aproximadamente un año después mi actitud había cambiado. Este fue el motivo:

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Topics: Diversity
July 12, 2011 by Miguel Escobar
Una traducción de este blog post es disponible aquí
Fr. Alberto Cutié’s new daytime talk show premiered yesterday. Did you watch?

The premier of "Father Albert" generated a bit of conversation on the Episcopal Café’s Facebook page with comments ranging from hopefulness to curiosity to disdain. “And we should care...why?” wrote one Episcopal priest.

I briefly met Fr. Cutié two years ago and I must confess that I did so with that last question very much in mind. First off, I’m not a big television watcher much less a fan of daytime television. I’d heard of Father Oprah, had seen his books in Barnes and Noble, but didn’t connect with the idea of a celibate priest dispensing relationship advice. Secondly, Fr. Cutié’s entry into the Episcopal Church came at a particularly difficult time in my life. Having just been rejected from the ordination process in the Diocese of New York, I was hurt by how swiftly Fr. Cutié became an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Southeast Florida. I recall joking that perhaps things would have turned out differently for me had I been a television star, better looking, with millions of fans...

A year or so later my attitude has changed. I’m a fan and I strongly believe we should care. Here’s why:

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Topics: Diversity
June 7, 2011 by Miguel Escobar

A number of ECF Vital Practices readers have recently requested resources on how predominantly white, English-speaking congregations can become more multicultural. I believe that the above video may serve as a great conversation starter about the gifts and struggles that are part of becoming a multicultural congregation. Even though it is 12 minutes long, it could easily be shown at a vestry meeting, after a worship service, or during a congregation-wide meeting on becoming a multicultural parish. As you will see, it raises more questions than answers making it an excellent way to get a conversation started on this important issue.  

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April 15, 2011 by Peter Strimer

An Asian-American, Native-American, African-American, two white women and I, all Episcopalian, walked into a bar.

What is this, some kind of joke?

No, just the end of our Lenten series at our church.

We spent Lent exploring the connection between social justice and spiritual practice and it was a rich season. One week, someone who has worked for 25 years at a Food Bank founded by Episcopalians shared his daily practice of prayer and action. Another week someone else showed us how the Book of Common Prayer can provide a guide to a life of balance, engagement, and reflection.

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April 13, 2011 by Richelle Thompson

We turn the corner and walk into a photograph.

All of my life, I've seen grainy photos of the Lorraine Motel, men hunched over, weeping, as Martin Luther King Jr. dies on the concrete. Today the motel in Memphis houses part of the Civil Rights Museum, and curators have taken care to preserve the look and feel of the motel's exterior, down to the 1960s cars parked in the lot.

A young man named Keenan takes our group through the museum. To accommodate another crowd, we start backwards, with the story of the assassination, including questions about James Earl Ray's guilt. Then we walk across the alley and start at the beginning of America's sordid history and enslavement of black people.

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February 7, 2011 by Richelle Thompson

Most of the time, building community happens in the background. But every once in a while, the connections are so tangible, the relationship building so apparent, that it’s as if the Holy Spirit employed bricklayers and brought the mortar. 

For five years, I’ve invited the women of our church for a brunch. We always have enjoyed the time together but yesterday, the gathering of 25 or so women was special.

The group was composed of women from two churches, about 45 minutes apart, in two states, two dioceses and two provinces. Some knew each other well, but for others, this was their first meeting.

After quiche and tea, we exchanged small gifts. Before each present was unwrapped, each person shared a short love story.

Almost instantly, the circle became a safe place. Some women shared the moment they met their spouse-to-be. Others talked about a special pet that kept them from being alone.

One woman talked about the recent death of her sister. Her nephew is 38, with the mental age of a six-year-old. The last of his eyesight causes him to cock his head to the side, so he can see fuzzy images through his peripheral vision. His mother laughed: “He’s got his eye on me.”

On the day of her sister’s funeral, the woman took her nephew out to dinner. Everyone had encouraged her to take him to a group home. The best place for him, really, they said. As they waited in the crowded room, the woman noticed her nephew searching frantically until his one good eye found her.

That’s when she knew. She was the one for him. He had his eye on her. This was her love story.

Another woman talked about a near-fatal accident. Her mother visited in the hospital every day for nine months. One woman talked of her sister, who was born blind. Their family always took special care of her.

But when the woman was diagnosed with breast cancer, it was her blind sister who took care of her, making sure there was food every day, supporting and encouraging her. This was her love story.

In that room, there were conservatives and liberals. Women just engaged, and women who had buried their husbands long ago. Conservatives and liberals, rich and poor. 

But by sharing their stories, they became a community. And that’s a love story too.

December 23, 2010 by Nancy Davidge

“May I borrow some water?”

Nine years ago, JT knocked on the back door of Christ Episcopal Church in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, a five-gallon jug in hand. JT lived in a Housing and Urban Development (HUD) apartment next to the church; the city had turned off his water and he hoped to fill his jug so he could flush his toilet. When the rector opened the door that day, he had no idea how this simple request would bring about radical change in the Christ Episcopal Congregation

Here’s their story, as shared by Robert Towner, rector of Christ Episcopal Church:

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Topics: Diversity, Outreach
December 22, 2010 by Richelle Thompson

Most of the time, there’s no room for a man-child like Brandon.

He’s been asked to leave two churches. He’s 34 but with the mind of a 6-year-old. He can only see a glimmer of light out of the corner of one eye. 

His mother died this fall. His aunt, who remarried five years ago and had settled into a full life of volunteering and church work, made room. 

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November 30, 2010 by Miguel Escobar
This past Sunday I trooped up to St. Mary’s Manhattanville in Harlem, New York to facilitate a conversation about the Anglican Covenant. But before this discussion ever took place, I found myself regretting that I’d ever agreed to do this.

Truth be told, conversations about the Anglican Covenant drain me. (Read more...)