November 7, 2011 by Richelle Thompson

By the end of the baptism, confirmations, and receptions, Martha leans like a book against a shelf.

She has stood this whole time, while 10-day-old David enters into the household of God. Her walker sits in the aisle, and she clutches onto the pew while the bishop confirms Brandon, whose body is nearly 40 and whose mind rests at age seven. She begins to wobble a bit when the bishop lays hands on a couple, high school sweethearts who married, then divorced other people and renewed their love 35 years after the first kiss. 

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October 20, 2011 by Peter Strimer

It was hard to choose which class to take of the three offered this fall at our Center at St. Andrew’s. Dr. Ann Redding who was defrocked by Bishop Wolff of Rhode Island for becoming a Muslim is offering, “Making Peace with Islam: An Introduction.” Two parishioners with long backgrounds in the field are teaching, “Not If but When: A Class on Emergency Preparedness.” But the one that caught my imagination is “Kids, Parents - Exploring Questions of Faith: A Class for Adults.”

In my role as pastor I am constantly approached by parents about how to talk with their children about religion, spirituality, and belief. It was not a topic that was well covered in seminary and I have had little training in this area except what I have learned on the job. So this fit one concrete need I have and besides it is so nice to take a course at my church rather than teaching one.

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October 12, 2011 by Melissa Rau

The new youth minister is finally arriving!

I know it can feel like such a relief when the new person is starting after your church has spent months, and in some cases more than a year, searching for the perfect youth director. But before you hand everything over to the new guy or gal, there are a few things you should consider before throwing them to the wolves. And yes, that’s what it’s comparable to if you don’t heed some good advice.

First, the newbie needs support, and a lot of it.

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October 4, 2011 by Miguel Escobar
Does your congregation welcome doubt? What’s being taught about sexuality from the pulpit and in formation classes? Do your youth and young adult groups explore the deeper questions of faith, or do these tend toward superficiality?

While many Episcopal congregations have been addressing these issues for years, new research is showing the extent to which a few key characteristics are linked to young adults staying connected to church - or leaving.

As summarized in the following blog post, the Barna Group has just completed a major study on why young adults who were regular churchgoers during their teen years disconnected from church later on. “The research project was comprised of eight national studies, including interviews with teenagers, young adults, parents, youth pastors, and senior pastors. The study of young adults focused on those who were regular churchgoers during their teen years and explored their reasons for disconnection from church life after age 15.”

These six reasons are described in detail in the blog post as well as in a new book called You Lost Me, so I will simply list them here. The young adults who were interviewed left when churches were perceived as overprotective, offered only a shallow experience of Christianity, were antagonistic to science, were simplistic and judgmental in their views of sexuality, and did not welcome doubt. In addition, these young adults described serious reservations about many of Christianity’s claims to exclusivity.

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September 9, 2011 by Melissa Rau

Many volunteer youth workers are left with this question when their youth director/minister has been fired or has resigned unexpectedly. This time of transition can be sad, confusing, and frustrating. It’s often a time for grieving. And though every church going through transition needs to discern the issues leading up to the youth minister's departure, it’s not a time for panic. In fact, now is the time to reflect and contemplate. A time to re-evaluate and…breathe.

First, smart churches are honest and transparent churches. Mistakes have probably been made, and now would be a good time to debrief what led up to the youth director’s exit. Have an open and honest conversation between the entire youth ministry leadership team, the clergy, and other church leadership. It’s important to admit when things could’ve been handled differently, rather than simply blaming the departed.

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August 15, 2011 by Richelle Thompson

Some stories we hold close, keeping them in our mental keepsake drawer.

Others we keep in the wings, waiting for the perfect moment: meeting of the daughter’s first boyfriend, revenge when she’s acting like petulant teen.

This story has both elements.  

I’ll share it with you, on this, the feast of the Dormition of Mary – the day that commemorates Mary’s “falling asleep” – her death and rebirth into the kingdom of heaven. It'll be a few more years before our daughter hears the re-telling.

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August 8, 2011 by Richelle Thompson

Episcopalians aren’t the only people God trusts to take the summer off.

At our church, the nursery attendant goes home from college, and the kids join the congregation for the whole service.

During the program year, the nursery is staffed with a friendly undergrad who brings her young charges to the service during the peace. This gives the kids a time with the priest during a brief children’s sermon. They partake in the Eucharist or “God bread” as my children call it. The shorter time period means that most children stay relatively church-behaved – solemn and relatively quiet.

But an entire Rite II service tests the sit-still-ability of even the most sedate child. Goldfish crackers and crayons only satisfy for so long.

Today, a whole retinue of princess dolls lined a pew, with an adorable 2-year-old playing and laughing. In another row, Lego blocks spread across the seat, with a child (truth be told, he was my son) sitting on the kneeler and creating a castle creation. He set aside the Legos to listen to an amazing solo and started clapping until he realized he was the only one. A young toddler wandered the narthex, squealing as he made a break for the communion rail.

It will be nice when the nursery attendant returns, and the kids have a place to run off their energy, to imagine stuffed animals into a flock of friends, to laugh without being shushed. And to be sure, it will be of some comfort to the parents who worry that the noise of their children distracts others from worship.

But I love when we are all together, all ages, gathered for church. And in my opinion, a giggle here and there only makes the worship more sacred, more alive.

August 2, 2011 by Miguel Escobar
Summer is novel reading time. Trapped by the heat, I try to stay as still as possible, book in-hand, under a tree or nestled up to my AC wall unit. Two weeks ago I survived one of New York’s hottest days by reading Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad.

Oddly enough, I found myself thinking a lot about the Episcopal Church while reading this novel. To me, it’s a book about finding (and losing) one’s self and sense of purpose amidst the astonishing changes of the digital age.

The last chapter, in particular, has led me to think about what sort of role and witness the church might have in the very near future. In it, Egan portrays the world just 15 years down the road, at a point in time in which the social media revolution we’re currently experiencing has permanently changed how we relate to one another.  

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July 28, 2011 by Peter Strimer

When we picked a theme for our Vacation Bible School this summer we naturally gravitated to Green. Our parish has made ecology a major theme during my five years in charge, so it was only natural that we took our young people down that path this summer with Back to the Garden: Renewing God’s Earth. 

This follows on our Green and Growing Capital Campaign and our City of Seattle-funded effort Taking Green Home. Each of these initiatives has deepened our commitment to being good environmental stewards. It has also given us a great, green brand in the community.

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July 25, 2011 by Nancy Davidge

(All is well…..I have goodness in my heart.)  

Today, I want to share the story of Grace Art Camp, a ministry offered by Grace Memorial Episcopal Church in Portland, Oregon. 

For me, growing up, summer meant camp. Among my earliest memories are glimpses of the day camp my grandmother ran: swimming at the lake, the inside of the main cabin, and pine trees carpeting the ground.  Camp was where I tried new things and first met people who came from different cultural contexts than mine. It prepared me for life at a large state university and shaped my leadership skills. From being a ‘tag-a-long’ at age two until serving as a day camp director in my early 20s, camp was an important part of my life and shaped the adult I have become.

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July 21, 2011 by Peter Strimer

I am writing from New Orleans where I am chaperoning a youth mission trip through the Beacon of Hope program founded by St. Paul’s, New Orleans. It is my fourth trip to the city to help rebuild after Katrina. Once again this incredible, tragic, brilliant city has captured the hearts of our young people.

There is no place on earth like New Orleans. Its people are more rooted in place than most anywhere else in America. That is yet one more reason this hellish storm that uprooted so many has left such painful scars.

On this trip we have heard the stories of Glenda, Pastor Kornen, and Sheila who each spent years away before returning home. All three are now back, Glenda and Sheila into their familiar neighborhoods and the pastor back to his hand-built church. But six years later their lives are not yet their own.

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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 5, 2011 by Nancy Davidge
One of my earliest memories of church is of the kindergarten room in the basement of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Wakefield, Mass. It is Epiphany, and there is a large felt board on the wall with figures representing the Magi’s visit to the baby Jesus. Among the felt figures are Mary and Joseph, various shepherds, the three wise men, and of course the baby Jesus. Also represented were a donkey, sheep, camels, and other animals. In the background was the manger, the stable, some palm trees, and the star. 
The characters taking part in this Bible story represent the diversity of our common life. Parents and children. Young shepherds. Older sages from foreign lands. A variety of animals. Each character contributes to the richness of the story; if one were missing, we would feel the void.
Our common life continues to be enriched by the diversity among us. The July/August issue of Vestry Papers explores ways that congregations and dioceses bring people from different generations together in common purpose, creating opportunities for meaningful connection.

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June 22, 2011 by Richelle Thompson

I want to Super 8 the church experience of my youth.

J.J. Abram’s cinematic homage to Stephen Spielberg relishes in nostalgia without overdoing the saccharine. We caught the flick on date night, and it prompted many a tale over dinner about the movies of our youth, E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and even Star Wars.

So I got to thinking: How would I tell the story of the church of my youth? How could I begin to pay tribute to the ways it shaped me, helped to craft my moral compass, and cement the types of relationships I still seek?

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June 8, 2011 by Richelle Thompson

The nursery renovation began with a 5-year-old.

Our church is nearly 200 years old, and some of the toys in the nursery surely witnessed the first service. We even considered carbon-dating.

But to be honest, our attention was on the adult stuff – updating the bathrooms, re-painting the choir room.

So it was a surprise to learn that our 5-year-old daughter had organized a bake sale to raise money to buy new toys for the nursery. She had made the rounds in coffee hour and had a sign-up list of treats. She made signs -- Bake sale 4 kids – and hung them around the church. She recruited other kids to help, called the adults the week before the sale to remind them, and made cookies with her grandma as her offering.

On the morning of the bake sale, she directed the placement of the tables and arranged the treats for optimal sales potential. If anyone failed to stop by the table, she made a polite inquiry, asking if they’d like to help buy new toys for the kids. I don’t think anyone turned her down.

At the end of the morning, the Sunday crowd of about 80 had donated nearly $500.
We organized a nursery committee, including the 5-year-old, to talk about renovating the nursery. Another couple who had lost a child earmarked the memorial money for the project. As a group, we talked about priorities: Safety, cleanliness and fun.

We pitched most of the toys and old furniture. We decided to use part of the money to hire an artist who painted a magnificent and inviting mural. And we purchased a pager system so parents could be contacted immediately.

And of course, we shopped for toys. Actually, I served as chauffeur and chief bag carrier, while the 5-year-old headed the shopping brigade.

Led by the determination of children to have their place in church, we celebrated the new nursery with cookies and milk.

May 19, 2011 by Peter Strimer

Guess who is running Vacation Bible School at my church this summer? Yours truly. It gives me the opportunity to get back to basics on marketing that I used to advise other churches to use when I was the Missioner for Communications Ministry at the Diocese of Olympia. Here goes.

Theme. We picked Back to the Garden: Renewing God’s Earth because an environmental theme will be very attractive in our area. The RENEW curriculum from the Lutheran Church will provide great support materials as well as good graphics for our marketing.

Audience. Who do we want at VBS? We decided on 90 children spread out across grades Pre-K through 5th grade. We want to reach about 60 of our own children and 30 newbies. For the new ones, we want them to have a positive experience of St. Andrew’s that gives them an honest feel for our parish. Again, this is where the environmental theme is key since it is such an important part of our DNA at St. Andrew’s.

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May 18, 2011 by Anne Ditzler

When I saw Ephraim taking pictures of Ms. Scott, my heart just melted,” said Lisa, the organizer of my congregation’s second annual “Ginormous Flea Market.” We were standing by a tree in the small garden watching a neighborhood boy run the “Photo Booth.” Ms. Scott was an active parish leader in her day, but now shows up to church with her walker, home health aide, and a smile. Seeing her on the garden bench getting her portrait taken by Ephraim was a precious sight.

Running the photo booth was supposed to be my volunteer role for the day, but I couldn’t resist handing over the camera, printer, and money jar to a curious, eager kid who happened to show up on Saturday. We’d never met before, but Ephraim hung around by the craft tables for a while in the morning, asking lots of questions about how to make the beautiful paper bowls and recycled plastic tote bags. As I sat on the ground making a sign for the photo booth, he gave advice on design and shared his hope that mom would buy him a camera soon.

“Want to be my assistant photographer today?” I asked. “Sure!” he replied.

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May 16, 2011 by Richelle Thompson

My daughter was only four months old the first time I truly understood the challenge of raising PKs – priest kids.

I held her in my arms as we waited by the door for my husband to lock up the church. Her little face peaked out from a caterpillar costume. Across my back stretched butterfly wings. A Martha-Stewart idea brought to reality by my sewing whiz of a mother-in-law, the costume won first place at the church contest.

Like every mom, I was happy that she won – though she had no idea and was perfectly content with her pacifier. The ribbon will go in her baby book, I decided.

Another family walked out. The mom looked at us and under her breath, she muttered, “Figures she won first place. She’s the preacher’s kid.”

It was a sucker punch.

I’m not prone to casual weeping, but the tears welled up right away. I cried, not over a silly costume contest but rather for a new understanding of the thin space in which we would raise our children.

If they won a contest at church, it would be because they were priest’s kids. If they knew a Bible story, it was because they were priest kids, and if they didn’t, then something must be wrong. If they misbehaved, they would be judged more harshly. If they sat like angels, it would be taken for granted.

When I was five years old, my parents moved to a new church, and I lost a bet with a fellow Sunday School classmate. He told me that Wesley’s dad was the preacher. I didn’t believe it. In my small view of the world, preachers didn’t have families. They weren’t real people with obligations and relationships.

Preachers were on a pedestal.

I don’t want my children to be there too.

May 4, 2011 by Richelle Thompson

I’m a firm believer: Children should be seen and heard in church.

About eight years ago, we started an Episcopal church in a fast-growing area with few community buildings. Our only option for a meeting site was a small, one-room township hall with a mini-kitchen and restrooms. We couldn’t tuck the young children into a nursery, making the experience easier for both parents and kids, so we spread out a quilt in front of the altar. The toddlers played with cars and books. They colored and rolled around and jabbered, their noise woven into the movement of the liturgy.

I’ve been in many Episcopal churches where the only sounds are the high whine of a hearing aid battery and the thump of a walking cane.

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April 21, 2011 by Peter Strimer

My earliest church memory is from Easter 1960: I sang in the Cherubs’ choir at both the 9:00 am and 11:00 am services at William Street Methodist Church in Delaware, Ohio. I remember distinctly the musty smell of the basement room where moms handed around yellow choir robes to find ones to fit a roomful of variously shaped five- and six-year-olds.

I also remember clearly the wonderful breakfast we shared with the youth choir and chancel choir in the parish hall between services. We were worship leaders.

Built in 1888, our church building was a towering structure in town. It was a neo-Gothic castle where we young people ran wild and played mightily. A long-standing joke went that the Methodist’s waited until the Catholics completed St. Mary’s, then built their steeple three feet higher.

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