January 31, 2017 by Linda Buskirk

I don’t know all of the particulars about who and how the lessons of the lectionary were chosen, but it seems to me they must have been thinking about Annual Meetings when they chose the ones for Sunday, January 29, this year.

From Micah: “O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

From Psalm 15: “Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right, who speaks the truth from his heart. There is no guile upon his tongue; he does no evil to his friend;”

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January 19, 2017 by Brendon Hunter

Are you a vestry member or other church leader interested in practical, spiritually grounded resources for your congregation?

Subscribe for free to ECF Vital Practices for articles, tools, and resources by and for congregational leaders. With a subscription, you’ll receive 12 issues of Vestry Papers as well as the monthly digest delivered to your inbox.

This post introduces you to our digest for January, featuring 5 ways to help your newly forming vestry get off to a strong start.

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Topics: Vestry
January 18, 2017 by Linda Buskirk

Teams that work well together understand that each member must respect the others’ opinions and priorities. Together, they find and honor what they value in common.
As you plan the first meeting with a “new” vestry, consider this exercise that helps identify shared values. It also serves as an ice-breaker that goes much deeper than, “Please state your name, how long you’ve been attending St. Swithens, and your favorite liturgical color.”

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January 2, 2017 by Linda Buskirk

New year, new vestry, same old issues. If that sounds familiar, consider your 2017 time together as opportunity to create a holy balance of prayer, formation, vision-level strategic thinking and routine business. It’s so easy to let the rush of life and issues of the day rule vestry agendas. Making a commitment to keep spiritual growth a part of your time together will prove more beneficial than just meeting the basic needs of “the business of the church.” Here are some ideas for creatively planning your meeting year:

February is an Ideal time for a Vestry retreat, particularly to incorporate new members into the leadership team. If you can swing it, take a road trip to the 2017 Church Leadership Conference at Kanuga Conference and Retreat Center in western North Carolina, February 17-19, 2017. Click here for more information and registration.

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Topics: Vestry
November 23, 2016 by Annette Buchanan

Annual meetings are being held in many of our congregations in the next few months. We will have the opportunity to elect leaders to include wardens, vestry members and delegates to diocesan conventions.

It is important for us to reflect on how we select leaders within our churches.

For many the criteria is to have someone from the “inner circle”, which may mean being from the right family or having the right status in the community. For others selection is by default, they are the last person standing, no one else wants the position or they do not want to give it up and others are afraid to wrestle it away from them. For some their names were selected while absent, others were pressured into taking the position even though their hearts were not in it, and for a few their egos were stroked – you are the only one that can do this job.

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Topics: Leadership, Vestry
October 19, 2016 by Brendon Hunter


In the October Vital Practices Digest, we offer 5 resources for planning a spirit-filled retreat for your vestry or other leadership team, with the 5th a resource to help establish 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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Topics: Vestry
April 21, 2016 by Greg Syler

At St. George’s, we have a worship committee. Actually, it’s in our by-laws, so I suppose it’s a capital ‘W’ – Worship Committee. Perhaps that’s not so strange, considering all the various things we’ve turned into committees over these many years – we have been very busy perfecting the fool-proof institution called church.

For the most part, however, it’s a committee that never meets, at least not consistently with an eye toward some goal or focus. They’ve met sporadically, here and there, and I’ve even called for meetings in the past when I’ve had something I needed to wonder about, aloud. While we were going through the early stages of transition in our music ministry, I asked the vestry to endorse a broadly representative group I helped assembled. Together with them, we came up with the name ‘Music & Arts Exploratory Group,’ intentionally avoiding the word ‘committee’ because a ‘group’, as such, can do its work well and with intentionality and then, in its own time, disband organically.

If for nothing else, I’m troubled by having something encoded in our by-laws, something established in our (allegedly) common self-understanding that we simply don’t do. Why have a worship committee at all?

To show my true colors, here, it’s my view that the Canons of the Episcopal Church don’t envision anything resembling worship committees. Worship is the very lifeblood of who we are as Christian people and, more so, the church is careful in passing along the deposit of faith. Local variants always exist, of course, and always have existed, but the Canons don’t seem to grant equal measure to those particular expressions. To that end, the Canons are expressly clear about who has oversight of worship and music: in music, it’s the “Member of the Clergy” (who “shall seek assistance from persons skilled in music”), Canon II.5*; for worship life, in general, it’s “Rectors and Priests-in-Charge, …subject to the Rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer,” Canon III.9.6(a)(1)** In order to uphold what we believe is distinct and life-giving about the mission of the Body of Christ, namely that we exist, first, to offer “our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving” to God, there must be sound doctrine and, on that basis, clearly articulated practices of worship. This is not a matter for the local congregation; this is the mission of the church universal.

That said, however, (and before I get accused of sounding like my interest is in preserving the hierarchy!) I believe that the church is encouraging all of us to get quickly beyond questions of power and decision making authority and, instead, focus on what we should be doing on the local level, in each of our congregations and communities of faith. If we can’t, ultimately, re-write Eucharistic prayers and come up with our own orders of worship, we should be regularly reflecting upon how and in what ways our worship life makes us more engaged, more thoughtful, more justice-oriented, more receptive, more curious women and men; more like disciples of Jesus, and less like curators of this precious institution. Together in our congregations and communities of faith we should be digging more deeply into our walk with Jesus, and how we are trying and succeeding and, sometimes, trying and failing to be disciples of Jesus. Removing the question of who decides what about worship frees us up to do this vastly more important work.

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Topics: Vestry
January 18, 2016 by Linda Buskirk

If your vestry is planning an annual retreat, make sure you include some time for prayerfully affirming or discerning one or more of these key elements of your congregation’s identity: Ministry Strengths, Mission, Values and Vision.

Ministry Strengths are gifts for ministry. God gave you these, whether they are talents, a location, or a heart for a particular cause such as homelessness. Identifying strengths is strategic because it helps leadership recognize what naturally makes sense for you to do.
After all, since God assembled your strengths in your church, it’s wise to take some time to discern what he wants you TO DO with them.

That means, defining your Mission – what you DO – what you are called to do. Your congregation’s mission is the second part of its identity. Maybe you articulated a Mission Statement years ago. It is healthy to pray about it every year. It is still valid? Does it align with your ministry gifts?

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Topics: Vestry
January 7, 2016 by Brendon Hunter

What was trendy in 2015? The most helpful tools available?

As part of ECF Vital Practices’ celebration of the 12 Days of Christmas, we “unwrapped” one of the twelve most popular posts that were added to the site in 2015 on our Facebook page and Twitter feed. Did you miss one of them?

Here is the complete list for your enjoyment and reference:

#12
Coffee in Church?




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Topics: Vestry
December 25, 2015 by Brendon Hunter


Merry Christmas! Are you ready to celebrate for all 12 days?

On ECF Vital Practices, we’re keeping the celebration of the 12 days of Christmas with our very own ECFVP Christmas Special - all without commercials or small parts and instructions attached, just click and enjoy!

Here is our lineup:

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Topics: Vestry
December 16, 2015 by Brendon Hunter

Top Ten Resolutions for Church Leaders in 2016

ECF Vital Practices, after taking a look back at the questions you asked us in 2015, has pulled together a top ten list of resolutions for congregational leaders to consider in 2016. If you find this list helpful, please subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive updates twice a month with recources for your congregation.

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Topics: Vestry
October 23, 2015 by Kanuga Camp & Conference Center

Even the most well-intentioned person can grow weary during a meeting. We’ve all experienced it. Your attention gets distracted, you start thinking of other things that need to be done and then WHAM you’re called on in the meeting, and you don’t know the topic. For some, this is just a bad dream from which to awake. For others, it could be an embarrassingly real situation, but one that might be avoidable.

As the leader, you want everyone to pay attention and contribute to the meeting. But, the reality is that people’s energy levels—and attention spans—waver during a meeting, especially a long one. What can you do as the leader to keep your team’s energy levels up? What steps can you take to manage your team’s needs so they can be at their best?

“You can take action before you meet to help your team’s energy remain high during your meeting,” explained Bethany Frazier, one of Kanuga Conference & Retreat Center’s teambuilding experts. “It all begins with the agenda.”

Is this necessary?

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Topics: Leadership, Vestry
October 9, 2015 by Kanuga Camp & Conference Center
Walking into your first meeting as a new leader of a group can be unnerving. You may have known the members for years as part of your church community, but this new situation may feel like you are entering a room full of strangers. According to Kanuga Conference & Retreat Center’s teambuilding expert Christine Murawski, there are five principles to consider to help your first meeting go smoothly.
Be Authentic
You have been called to serve in this leadership role, and your true self is what is needed. Behave otherwise and people will notice. 
“There are times when a new leader knows the previous leader and his or her personality style. It’s tempting to try to match their approach,” said Murawski. “However, the key to your success is to relax and be your authentic self. Your team will acknowledge your leadership differences, pick up on your confidence and will want to follow.”
Prepare
Get ready for your meeting well in advance by creating an agenda. This exercise helps you set clear goals and envision how the meeting will go. Plus, having an agenda allows you to be organized and confident during your meeting. Allow extra time in your agenda for participants’ thoughts or extra topics your team may believe are important to bring up. Share your agenda with the group at the beginning of the session. Doing so sends the message that you respect their time and desire their input. 
Be Flexible

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Topics: Leadership, Vestry
July 27, 2015 by Anna Olson

I've always been a little uncomfortable with approaches to church that draw directly from the so-called corporate world. The idea that gospel witness offers an easy parallel with marketing is downright creepy, frankly. And I'm increasingly suspicious of the conventional wisdom that we won't accomplish anything if we don't have "measurable goals" to work towards.

In this time of tremendous cultural change for the church, expecting that we are going to shape the future by our ability to envision "outcomes" seems the height of arrogance, and also a sadly impoverished approach to our call to be faithful. A part of the legacy of mid-twentieth century church success (as measured by market share) is limited imagination. The scope of what most of us can imagine church to be is simply too small for the era we inhabit.

In our ministry here in Los Angeles, we are experimenting with other ways to envision our part in shaping the future. We refer to our approach as "ten steps."

We have identified several areas of our church and community life where the Spirit seems to be on the move. In each of those areas, we have worked out ten steps that we will take to strengthen relationships, train leaders, reach out the community, offer space, plan creative liturgies, offer opportunities for spiritual growth and Christian formation, and so on.

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Topics: Vestry
March 16, 2015 by Linda Buskirk

Have the two energy-zappers of vestry meetings, Routine and Re-hash, drained your creative juices? Even in the early church, Paul advised church leaders to persevere:

“So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.” - Galatians 6: 9-10 (The Message).

No matter what organizational structure is used, governance/leadership meetings can become boring and frustrating. With some intentional searching, vestries can find resources to enliven discussions and get creative juices flowing with new ideas and enthusiasm. Here are some ideas: 

First, look for congregational development books that provide insight-producing discussion questions around some big issue(s) your congregation is facing. There are many excellent publications regarding governance, outreach/mission ministries and stewardship.

One of my favorites is People of the Way; Renewing Episcopal Identity, by Dwight J. Zscheile. What I like most are its discussion questions designed to refresh the routine way of examining effectiveness and approach to mission. Here are some examples from the book:  

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Topics: Vestry
March 2, 2015 by Linda Buskirk

Top 5 answers to the question: Does your church have a mission statement? 

5. Yes. We post it in our bulletin and affirm or revise it in our annual Vestry retreat. 4. Yes. Well, maybe. No, I don’t think we do. 3. We created one a couple of priests ago, but it isn’t really relevant today. 2. No. Should we? 1. Yes. But please don’t ask me what it is because I can’t ever remember it. As a strategic planning facilitator, I suppose I should care deeply whether a congregation has articulated its own, unique statement of mission. Frankly, I don’t. 

Statements of Mission are wonderful, strategic tools, when carefully crafted and effectively used. They assist leaders in appropriately allocating resources to accomplish what the mission says they do. Therefore, these statements also help donors assess whether an organization, including a congregation, really puts its treasure where its heart is. 

A statement of mission is part of your congregation’s identity. It describes what you are called to do. This is vitally important to consider, to pray over, to use in decision-making. If your church has created a mission statement after deep reflection on your ministry strengths or based on a call to service, great! 

If you have not, my assertion is, don’t sweat it. The really important exercise is the aforementioned deep reflection. Rather than word-smithing the right mission statement, take time to consider how well your congregation is following ample direction offered in God’s Word. There’s the Great Commission, Matthew 28: 18-20:

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Topics: Vestry
February 18, 2015 by Brendon Hunter

Vestries: Five Things for February

Looking for practical, spiritually grounded resources for your congregation? Subscribe to ECF Vital Practices for articles, tools, and resources by and for congregational leaders. With a subscription, you’ll receive 12 issues of Vestry Papers as well as the monthly Vital Practices Digest delivered to your inbox, all for free.

This month we’re featuring 5 ways to help your newly forming vestry get off to a strong start, the 5th being a resource to aid in developing year-round stewardship in your congregation.

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Topics: Vestry
February 9, 2015 by Linda Buskirk

Celebrate. Listen. Be inspired. Plan.

The old congregation had been rocked by the priest’s resignation. Those who loved him sensed that those who wanted him out were silently gloating, even two years later. Some members left. Many who stayed were bitter and suspicious.

As he entered this environment, the new rector called for a vestry retreat. An interesting exercise was designed to help these lay leaders know each other on a deeper level, regardless of what “side” they had been on in the previous controversy.

Each person was asked to bring to the retreat an object that represented their love of the church. No hints or examples about what to bring - just a request to prayerfully do it.

At the retreat, each person explained the significance of his/her object...

“This was my mother-in-law’s crucifix necklace. I wear it now, and it reminds me of our family’s long ties to this church.” “This is the Prayer Book I received when I was confirmed.” “This prayer shawl got me through some dark days of cancer. I will always be grateful to the women in the knitting ministry who brought it to me and prayed with me.” “This is my daughter’s wedding photo.” “My son drew this picture of Jesus in Sunday School.”

Reactions also offered insights…

Topics: Vestry
December 17, 2014 by Brendon Hunter

Top Ten Resolutions for Church Leaders in 2015


ECF Vital Practices, after taking a look back at the questions you asked us, has pulled together a top ten list of resolutions for congregational leaders to consider in 2015. If you find this list helpful, please subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive updates twice a month with recources for your congregation.


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Topics: Vestry
November 10, 2014 by Linda Buskirk

“Man plans and God laughs.” 

Has this wonderful Yiddish proverb ever been uttered in your vestry meeting? We can spend months planning a project or a new ministry, but sometimes it just doesn’t get traction. The wheels of our motivation and creativity get stuck, or some new priority rises up to block our path, or no one volunteers, so the church chugs along in the same ol’ ruts of the road. 

We intuitively understand that getting people involved in the early stages of change creates support, buy-in and ownership. But how do we get folks to pay attention, let alone volunteer to help?

For the next few months, my ECF Vital Practices blog posts will offer ways to engage people in prayerful discussions about the ministries and direction of their congregation. Four key practices will be explored: Celebrate. Listen. Be inspired. Plan. Most importantly, as each practice is employed, pray.

There are many ways to build consensus once you get a group together. Vestries, like many boards of directors, often sequester themselves away in annual planning retreats where the brainstorming is fun, team-building thrives and priorities become obvious. In a company, executives leave the retreat and start implementing with employees who are paid to follow. In a congregation, leadership leaves the retreat and hopes that the next newsletter and coffee hour forum will entice one-fourth of the one-third of the members who came on Sunday to help. 

Okay, so it’s hard. But we hold to God’s Word, “For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2: 10). Since God created each of us to do His work, how He must delight in bringing our diverse gifts together in His church! Begin your congregational planning by celebrating the gifts God has gathered together in your congregation. 

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Topics: Vestry