January 19, 2018 by Alan Bentrup

This past New Year’s Eve, as I was awaiting the countdown with my family, I was able to pray with more than 1,000 people just by opening up Facebook.

Ever since Hurricane Harvey, my parish has been hosting morning devotions and Compline every Monday through Saturday on Facebook Live. While it was still raining and streets were impassable, we started offering up these times for folks to come together and pray, with my rector and I taking turns officiating.

When I lead the prayers, I’m usually joined by parishioners, family members, colleagues in ministry, elementary school classmates, and (more often than not) a bishop or two. It has been a wonderful example of how technology can be used to bring people together, which we’ve talked about before in this space.

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Topics: Evangelism, Outreach
January 15, 2018 by Mike Chalk

One purpose of the Kick-Off Celebration in a capital campaign is to create a memorable event in the life of a congregation. Such an event requires hard work by many people of the congregation. Special invitations are mailed to parishioners and if the RSVP is not returned, individuals are called to encourage them to attend.

During this period of preparation, the Advance Phase of the campaign is conducted that requires Gift Worker training and calling on people to make a major pledge to the campaign. The Gift Workers make personal calls on members of the congregation with a brochure that has been carefully prepared. At the Kick-Off dinner a dramatic announcement is made to reveal that between 50% and 80% of the campaign has pledged toward the goal. Often the announcement is welcomed with great applause and hope that the campaign goal can be reached.

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January 13, 2018 by Greg Syler

Sometimes, the grass does look greener on the other side. When I was a curate in an urban Episcopal congregation, I wanted to serve as rector of a smaller, rural parish. When I was serving on a multi-staff congregation, I wanted to be the solo priest-in-community.

And yet, ironically, the apparent differences between curate and rector, between big urban church and smaller country parish haven’t been all that different, not in my experience. The skills I learned in seminary, the training I received as a parish priest, my formation as curate, and the expectations of how (Episcopal) churches run have been the very same skills, tools, and expectations I needed in every call, regardless of the job, size, or location.

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January 9, 2018 by Annette Buchanan

The year 2017 has ended and many of us cannot wait to continue to jump into 2018. Like children at Christmas I guess it is natural to reach out for the new shiny toys and discard the old and used ones without consideration. Now that we are all grown up I think it is worthwhile to do some reflection on the passing year as we prepare for the new. Many congregations do this reflection in the form of Mutual Ministerial reviews, primarily with the Vestry and Clergy. However, I think these reflections should be expanded to the total life of the congregation. Asking the simple questions, should we do more of this or less of this, with the answers helping to make the positive adjustments needed to enhance our corporate lives together. For example:

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January 5, 2018 by Linda Buskirk

Strategic planner that I am, I love it when a plan starts coming together with results. One of the readings for Epiphany, Ephesians 3: 1-12, reveals some pretty amazing aspects of God’s plan already in the works.

First, there is Jesus’ role: to bring humankind together into one big family where Jews and Gentiles alike are heirs in God’s Kingdom (verse 6. Accomplished).

Verse 10 explains God’s plan also includes an amazing role for the church. I gasped when I read it:

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January 4, 2018 by Alan Bentrup

My wife and I really love New Orleans. The art, music, food, and atmosphere are the perfect place for us to get away. But it’s also a place that makes me think deeply about my work and my call to follow Christ.

I’m a photographer, so I like to get up early and walk around the city taking photographs. When I do so, I inevitably strike up conversations with people. On this trip, I met a jazz musician who plays bars at night, plays in his church band on Sundays, and spends his days playing Gospel music on his trumpet outside Cafe Du Monde. At the end of our conversation, we hugged and prayed with each other...because it is hard to stay strangers too long in New Orleans.

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Topics: Mission, Outreach
December 27, 2017 by Greg Syler

Wanting to better prepare in the wake of November’s church shooting in Sutherland Springs, TX, I recently attended a meeting of faith leaders with the Sherriff of St. Mary’s County, Maryland. As you might imagine, it was a well-attended meeting.

As sobering as the afternoon’s conversation was, the Sherriff drove home our need to be prepared and to regularly reinforce safety plans. Given the specific purpose of our gathering, he shared insight about active shooter situations. But, even then, the Sherriff reminded us, preparing for something as harrowing as that should be grounded in the same kind of thinking that guides our total commitment to safety and survival, no matter what. Knowing primary entrances and secondary exits, having situational awareness, and knowing how import our leadership is in public gatherings were some critical take-aways. At one point, the Sherriff mentioned that the cumulative experience of his many decades of law enforcement, a career which has brought him face-to-face with all manner of life-threatening situations, has made him understand how powerful it is to believe, truly believe that no matter what might happen he is going to do everything in his power to ensure that every person in his care will ultimately survive.

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Topics: Pastoral Care
December 23, 2017 by Richelle Thompson

The priest’s prayer was unusual: “Please God, don’t let anyone code during the Christmas services.”

A year ago on Christmas Eve, our pianist was a few bars into “Away in a Manger” when he slumped over. No pulse. No respiration. Thankfully the AED—automated external defibrillator—was in the narthex, and people were trained how to use it. The congregation stayed calm and collected as parishioners strapped the AED onto Dale and the electric charge brought Dale’s heart back to life. The children were ushered into the choir room, the font was moved so EMT’s could bring in the stretcher, and people prayed in the pews.

Today, Dale is a healthy, vibrant octogenarian, tickling the ivories at churches across northern Kentucky and southern Ohio.

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December 22, 2017 by Linda Buskirk

You just can’t beat a Christmas pageant for rousing up “the Christmas spirit.” Children don scratchy robes, wooly onesies with ears, or sparkling tinsel halos, transporting them into what is likely the first Bible story they know by heart. Not as in memorizing the first chapters of Luke, but, as in their hearts.

Pageant participants’ pure belief ripples through the congregation. Together, we are corporately living up to what we promised we would do when we witnessed these child actors being baptized: supporting them in their life in Christ. As delighted as we are with the performance, we are warmed by the knowledge that they are learning about Jesus.

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December 20, 2017 by Brendon Hunter

This month we’re sharing five of the most popular posts in 2017 on ECF Vital Practices. Help your parish leadership get connected to more great resources by sharing this digest and an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.

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December 19, 2017 by Greg Syler

In part one of this post, I asked us to think theologically and, indeed, ecclesiologically about technology, specifically how and whether an emerging technology or media platform may (or may not) align with our self-understanding as Christ’s Body and whether in its core assumptions it might magnify or diminish Christ’s Good News.

That’s how theology works. Nothing is what it seems; nothing is innocuous, merely mechanical, purely technical, alone. When we use the language of theology – the church’s only language, in fact – we learn that things are only what God reveals them to be. This is no less true for the bible as for how we approach Facebook and our Twitter feed.

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Topics: Change, Mission
December 18, 2017 by Jeannette McDonald

Capital Campaign. These two words conjure up all sorts of thoughts. For some it can mean more .. more that you are asking of me, more money, more time, more sacrifice. For others it may mean more .. more opportunity to give, more opportunity to support, to receive, to hear what God is asking of us.

A helpful way to receive the word of God is through indifference. While some take pause with that word, the perspective that Ruth Haley Barton attaches to it in her book Pursuing God’s Will Together is to remain indifferent to anything but God’s will. “We ask God to bring us to a place where we want God’s will, nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.”

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Topics:
December 16, 2017 by Linda Buskirk

If you are discouraged about the long-run sustainability of your congregation, or the overall Episcopal Church, or even if you’re not, give yourself an early Christmas present and read My Church is NOT Dying; Episcopalians in the 21st Century, by Greg Garrett.

Garrett, a professor, writer, and licensed lay preacher, weaves an uplifting review of the most enduring traits and values of the Episcopal tradition. Part history, part love letter, part review of our blessings and challenges, Garrett points us to our strengths as a people united in prayer, community, beauty, evangelism, and justice.

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December 15, 2017 by Richelle Thompson
There’s no stink in most Christmas pageants.
There’s none of the droppings from the sheep and cattle that were lowing, as we romanticize in song. If you’ve been in a barn lately, you know that they’re stinky, dirty, cobwebby places. Even freshly cut hay smells, much less after it’s mingled with the leavings on the dirt floor.
Our sweet Christmas pageants are sanitized versions of the nativity story. Children dressed in sheets, kings’ crowns sitting cockeyed on small heads, young Mary holding a wriggly, pacifier-laden infant (or a plastic baby doll).

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December 14, 2017 by Greg Syler

Technology, and being able to use it well, is vital to the core operations of parish life in the 21st century. I’ve often wanted to undertake a more comprehensive study, both historical and theological, of Christian congregations in America and their use of technology – a book which would be read only by my obliged parents, I’m sure – but I have the hunch that, by and large, Christian congregations in America have always been late adapters to the contemporary technology of their day.

We’re still late adapters. Most of our websites, I’d guess, are text-heavy and insider-focused. Most of our pictures still feature empty buildings and serene churchyards. But, kudos to us, we have websites and email addresses and smart phones and Facebook pages. We’re far from Snapchat and Instagram, and we move slowly. But we’re moving nevertheless.

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Topics: Change
December 11, 2017 by Anna Olson

All my ministry has been bilingual ministry. My whole Christian life has been lived in both languages, since before my baptism at age 20. English and Spanish are woven so deeply together in my faith that they have become difficult to untangle. In Advent, however, I know that my spirituality is shaped in great part by a simple grammatical fact of Spanish.

The word for “to wait” is the same as the word for “to hope.” Esperar.

In Spanish the two words are distinguished by context and usage, but also related. Waiting is tinged with hope through the linguistic connection and hope becomes in part an exercise in patience, an awareness that more is still to come. That is how it works in my mind, anyway, through the lens of a first-language English speaker who has nonetheless discovered quite a few things for the very first time in Spanish over the last thirty years.

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December 8, 2017 by Richelle Thompson

I’ve become the chief obituary writer for the family. It started nearly twenty years ago when my husband’s grandfather died. I was a reporter for the metro newspaper, and it was a natural ask. Over the years, even as my jobs have changed, I am still the go-to person for obituaries for the family.

It’s not that I have a golden pen or some magical way with words. Rather I spend some quiet, reflective time thinking about the person, about the qualities that endeared them to others (and the ones that drove others crazy). I work to paint a picture of the person, to suss out those key details that give insight into personality and heart. Here’s a bit of the obituary I recently wrote for my husband’s grandmother:

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December 7, 2017 by Alan Bentrup

A dear friend recently celebrated 10 years of ordained ministry. As part of his reflection on the role of the priest today, he asked me what qualities I thought priests needed to have today.

I loved this exercise, and I think the qualities that came to mind are true for all Christians, not just those ordained.

So, here they are:

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December 4, 2017 by Annette Buchanan

Many churches have just completed their annual Commitment or Stewardship programs where the congregation is asked to recommit to their church giving including their time, treasure and talent. There are many available resources, experts and programs to address this critical activity. Some are well executed and others have mixed or failing results. My observation is that often times it is the follow-up that is the weakest link that undermines these programs.

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Topics: Stewardship
November 30, 2017 by Linda Buskirk

There is a scary sense of the unknown at the start of a period of congregational discernment, whether for a potential capital campaign or for strategic visioning. I have to admit, as a facilitator the anticipation is part of the thrill – like when the safety bar clamps shut on a roller coaster and you know the ride is about to begin. Oh, what will the listening, prayer and Holy Spirit will reveal?

At St. John’s Episcopal Church in Canandaigua, New York, an obvious need to renovate the former rectory building turned out to be secondary to the congregation’s spiritual need to experience and share worship and music with the community. Organ replacement and stained glass window preservation moved to the top of the priority list. A successful capital campaign to address those issues is now being followed by new ministry possibilities for the old house.

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