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.”
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.
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).
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
By this time, the well-organized among us will have carried out our carefully laid stewardship campaign plans and will be reaping the harvest of generous pledge cards. The rest of us will manage somehow to keep things flowing for another year, using whatever combination of grit, habit, late mailings and frantic or low-key appeals.
In the pledge-driven madness, let us not forget the other half of good stewardship: faithful and realistic budgeting. Whether we have had glorious pledge campaign success or more of a white-knuckle experience, the church budget -- now under preparation in most of our congregations -- can elevate or sink the best efforts at generating support for our ministries.
To be useful, budgets have to be realistic. This might seem to go without saying, but I have seen many churches trim ruthlessly on the expense side, while taking a wildly optimistic (if not downright fantastical) approach to the income side of the church budget. Heck, I’ve done it myself in more than one place, on more than one occasion.
Here are a couple of guidelines to start with.
Throughout my career as a fundraiser, most people outside the profession seem to think that fundraising is about asking for money. Of course, money is part of the consideration, but it isn’t really what the conversation is about.
In the fundraising context, I like to think of the giving and receiving of money as a kind of sacrament – it is the outward and visible sign of a spiritual covenant between donor and recipient. This covenant is based on shared values, goals, and trust, and it signifies the coming together of donor and recipient in support of a purpose much larger than any one person or organization.
This month we offer five resources to help your vestry, bishop’s committee, or other leadership group take a productive and life-giving retreat. Please share this digest with your parish leadership and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.
1. The Vestry Goes on Retreat
The Vestry Goes on Retreat shares how retreats can be a time of fruitful work, relationship building and most importantly, honest conversations about the life and health of a church.
Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling. Psalm 43:3
We seek God's light and truth to lead us, and we envision that it will lead to eternal life. But what path to take? It's a question with which we grapple as individuals, and as faith communities joined in our church homes.
Grappling is a great reason to make time to consider more than what "our" most pressing needs are (deficit budget, leaking roof, etc.), but rather how well our faith community is following Jesus’ reminder to the church leaders of his day, challenging them to understand God’s Word: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” (Matthew 12: 7)
In the middle of my first ‘stewardship’ season as a new rector, now ten years ago, I was doing everything by the book and already feeling overwhelmed and unenthused. The congregational leaders appeared only mildly interested in doing a pledge drive. And yet it’s drilled into us, in most every way, that the fall is the time to do stewardship, be intentional, make sure you make the proper ask, but of course couch it in terms of God’s larger mission because you’re not just asking people to pay the church’s salaries and light bills – oh, and remember to do stewardship year-‘round so it’s not only an annual request for generous pledges.
At a local clergy meeting that fall, the wiser, more senior rector of a neighbor parish said to me, “I simply hate this time of year.”
With the frequency of hurricanes that have recently occurred it begs the question how prepared are our churches for any catastrophe. Whether its fire, flooding or a mass shooting we do need to have a Disaster Preparedness Plan to address the physical and emotional needs of our congregation.
The Church Pension Group in its monthly newsletter points us to the Facilitator’s Guide on the Episcopal Relief and Development website. There we find a number of resources to help introduce this disaster preparedness discipline as part of our normal church life. Their best practices suggests that churches have a focused meeting to assess and provide remedies for any type of disaster including identification of the primary person within the congregation that has the responsibility for preparedness. There are also resources at the diocesan, provincial and national levels to assist with this activity.
There is a lot of anger, confusion and just plain disrespect flying around in the world these days. One big chunk of it recently flew right through a newly refurbished and protected stained-glass window at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan, Kansas.
Earlier this year, the people of St. Paul’s gave generously to a capital campaign, exceeding their goal to accomplish much-needed restoration in their historic home of worship and ministry. Then one afternoon, someone threw a piece of concrete at a stained glass window featuring two fish. The blow shattered the protective glass and destroying several of the window’s colored panels and iron work.
I’m not a Houston Astros fan. Not at all. But, I realize how much this city is rallying around its championship-caliber baseball team. Watching this playoff run, I’ve seen many parallels to the City of Houston itself, and even one major lesson we in the church world can learn.
A recent sports blog wrote a great profile of this team and this city (I’m not linking to the profile, because the language is decidedly not family-friendly). The article highlights the fabled futility of many professional baseball teams, like the Red Sox, Cubs, and Indians. Stories are shared, movies are made, and identities are solidified around these loveable losers.
But you we don’t talk much about the historical struggles of the Astros. It’s not a part of the team’s identity.
Instead, this team’s identity - and this city’s identity - is in embracing failure and trying again.
Dear Robot Priest,
I have to confess: I began laughing the first time I watched the above video of you. And by laughing, I mean the embarrassing sort of full on, tears-streaming-down-my-face laughing. The kind where people around you wonder what on earth you’re laughing so hard about.
And so now I’m writing to apologize for that initial laughter. And also to let you know that I’m starting to think the joke is on me.
I was in an airport the first time I watched you raise your robotic hands, light emanating from your metallic claws, and utter a traditional blessing in a masculine German voice. Honestly, my first thought was how ridiculous this seemed. I couldn't imagine a world in which people would go to a robot for a blessing.
Family dinner comes rarely these days, with two teenagers on the go and two parents serving as taxi drivers (and working full-time). When we get to sit down together, it is treasured time.
A napkin company made it even better. We bought one of those jumbo packs of napkins from the local grocery store. We expected the cheap dimpled-white napkins. Instead, these napkins had quirky illustrations and conversation starters: Share your best joke. What was the most outrageous thing you saw today? Tell me about your day and what made it ok.
We’ve had fun with the napkins, asking the questions and then going down inevitable rabbit holes that have left us laughing and learning more about each other’s day—and lives.
As far as blogging goes, I’ve been quiet. I haven’t submitted a post to ECF Vital Practices since March of this year, which (not ironically) was around the time I accepted a new call as rector of a new congregation – Church of the Ascension in Lexington Park, Maryland. While that, in itself, would be good reason to be quiet(er) and focus more intentionally on the new community to which I’ve been called, I also didn’t leave my other job – rector of St. George’s, Valley Lee.
At a clergy conference a friend noticed my name tag gained an extra congregation. “Is this like a game of Monopoly?” he asked, wondering how many other ‘properties’ I could pick up along my way. That’s not at all my goal, but at the time I am curious how far we can push things in our church’s fairly outmoded business model. I’m not at all convinced we, the Episcopal Church, have arrived at a truly gospel-centered, ministry-first understanding of how and why we operate institutionally in the ways we do. Nor am I convinced that we really want to engage a prolonged and serious conversation about some of these fundamental ‘business’ assumptions.