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.
Thank you to everyone whose honesty invited me to share my truth. I've had a year that has reminded me of the long reach of sexual assault and harassment in my own life, the ways that years later those experiences can still creep up to steal my perspective, my patience, my creativity, my sense of humor. I mourn for the cost of all the healing that our world makes necessary and wonder what we all might do and be if that energy could be turned outward to building the world around us. I struggle to raise daughters who will be strong enough if they must join in saying, "me too" while my heart breaks with hope that they never will.
I posted this on Facebook today. It was harder than I thought it would be to bring myself to do it. Even with way too much company. Even having talked about my experiences to lots of people in lots of contexts over lots of years. I couldn’t have done it without a whole communion of saints who taught me how to do this, how to speak in a healing way about my own brokenness, how to keep the faith that God wants wholeness for all of us.
This is part two of a two part blog in which I address a question I hear frequently: “But, what will happen to our annual stewardship pledging if we hold a capital campaign? Won’t it go down? We can’t afford to have our annual stewardship pledging decrease!” This fear is common among so many congregations because, often, adequate time has not been spent talking and educating about the different ways we can give to the church.
In part one, I addressed annual stewardship. In part two, I will address capital giving and planned giving.
Last weekend, as I do several times per year, I was standing in front of a group of parishioners at an Episcopal church introducing the process ECF uses to guide a faith community in deciding if a capital campaign is in their future. As the rain poured down outside the window behind me and my PowerPoint presentation shined into the dim room, a man in the back row asked a question I hear from someone at almost every church I visit: “But, what will happen to our annual stewardship pledging if we hold a capital campaign? Won’t it go down? We can’t afford to have our annual stewardship pledging decrease!” This fear is common among so many congregations because, often, adequate time has not been spent talking and educating about the different ways we can give to the church.
The short answer to his questions is, if we (the campaign leadership from your parish supported by me, your ECF capital campaign consultant) do our jobs right, the total given through annual stewardship pledges will not decrease over the course of a capital campaign.
Already stores urge us to “prepare for the holidays” – as if the whole season depends on us choosing a new color scheme for our Christmas decorations. Right now.
Episcopal sensibilities resist this, of course. We are too busy getting back into the swing of Sunday School, reviving outreach ministries, and conducting annual giving campaigns. Before we know it, the last pot will be scrubbed after the annual community Thanksgiving meal. Dry your hands, sit down, take a breath. Welcome Advent.
Here are five ways to get ready to experience a meaningful Advent.
This month we offer five resources to help your congregation with different generational aspects to giving. 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.
My parish is a busy place. Multiple communities – with varying degrees of involvement and investment in the religious life of the congregation – use church space for a wide range of beneficial purposes. Kids play basketball and learn instrumental music and traditional dance. Korean drums vie with tuba-driven banda rhythms. The food for festivals and fundraisers is prepared in the kitchen – everything from specialized triangular tamales (the claim to culinary fame of one small town in the mountains of Oaxaca) to a Japanese American take on manju pastries filled with a delicious paste of sweetened lima beans.
It all sounds amazing and beautiful and it is… until someone leaves a mess. Dancers find crumbs on the stage. The basketball team finds discarded plates of tamales in the parking lot. A door gets left open. The trash doesn’t get taken out. In a place as busy as ours, it’s all bound to happen at some point.
In the midst of the tumult surrounding the NFL and whether to kneel or stand for the National Anthem, our priest quietly practiced his faith.
A former parishioner is in the midst of the Crucible, a grueling three-day endurance test required before becoming a Marine. Our priest offered special intentions on his behalf (and all the recruits going through the Crucible). During Morning Prayer, the priest wrote down the young man’s name on a card and laid it near a candle on the altar. And he shared the picture on Facebook with the parents.
Surely this is the type of kneeling that all people of faith, regardless of political opinion, can embrace.
All over Houston, private citizens pulled their fishing boats behind pickups. They launched their vessels at the water's edge, which could be anywhere that a street became a bayou.
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett put out an extraordinary call in the midst of the storm. He said the fire department, Coast Guard and police are overwhelmed — they needed people to help their neighbors. And folks responded.
The boat that evacuated my family belonged to four fishing buddies from Virginia, who drove through the night to come help. Ordinary citizens, they responded and teamed up with a county constable and starting rescuing people.
At my home parish, St. Augustine Episcopal Church, Asbury Park, New Jersey, we have been truly blessed to have a Music Director, Gladstone Trott, who began with the church as a child prodigy at age 13 and remained for over 45 years until his recent death after a long illness.
As a tribute to Gladstone’s long tenure there are many wonderful behaviors he practiced that congregations can embrace to ensure a successful music ministry. They are as follows:
The words we choose to discuss annual giving with our congregation can resonate obligation or gratitude. Or both. Kate Ferris wrote about this in her 2007 Vestry Papers article, Good Stewardship Addresses Hopes and Fears. She described a successful annual giving campaign at St. George’s in Clifton Park, New York, that “provided both practical and spiritual messages about pledging:”
We made an effort to balance the type of messages people received. Some people understand that unless they pledge, the church cannot meet its financial obligations. Others respond to the biblical teachings about giving first fruits or giving back to God.
This month we offer five tools to help with your congregation’s annual giving campaign efforts. Please share this digest with your congregation's stewardship or annual giving committee and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and this monthly digest.