Open Doors

by Richelle Thompson on January 19, 2017

What are you doing on Friday during the inauguration?
More importantly, what will your church do?

Many of us have probably read about the debates within the Episcopal Church: Should we pray for the president-elect by name? Should Washington National Cathedral host the inaugural prayer service? Should the cathedral choir sing?

People of deep faith and strongly held convictions have expressed a variety of answers to these questions. I am not going to offer my opinion here. It isn’t the place.

Instead, I’ll repeat the question: On Inauguration Day, what will your church do?

Every congregation has people who both support Donald Trump and despise him. Every congregation has people who wept for Hillary Clinton’s loss and celebrated. Many congregations will have people who travel to Washington, D.C., some for the inauguration and others for the Women’s March or other protests.

What’s happening in Washington is worthy of serious discussion, and these conversations won’t be easy, especially with the pervasive attitude of “you’re either with us or against us.” We need—we must—talk with one another about what’s happening in our country.
But I’m wondering if our conversation on Friday should be directed not toward each other, but with God.

What if our churches opened their doors on Friday for prayer? What if the invitation was for anyone and everyone to come? Red and blue. Trump supporters and haters. Members of the Pantsuit Nation and the Make America Great Again faction. What if the doors were simply open and all were invited to spend time in prayer? Isn’t our God bigger than all of this Sturm und Drang?

The invitation for prayer must not be prejudiced. It can’t read, “Come pray because our nation’s going down the drain with Trump.” Nor can it read, “Forget about your concerns and pray because Trump is president and there’s nothing you can do about it. Support him and move on.”

Neither attitude is helpful or respectful to people who feel worried, wounded, excited, or victorious.

Open the doors. Light a few candles. Give space for people to pray what’s weighing their hearts. We don’t have to second-guess or stage-manage the outcome. God can handle that.

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ECF’s 5 Things for Vestries to Start the Year Strong

by Brendon Hunter on January 19, 2017

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.

1. Why Team Building Matters

What does a group need to be strong and successful? “Why Team Building Matters” shares resources for how you might cultivate strengths in an annual retreat and your regular meetings.

2. Commissioning New Parish Leaders

Commissioning New Parish Leaders” shares a simple liturgy that can be incorporated or adapted for use in your Sunday liturgy.

Continue reading...

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Vestry Introductions

by Linda Buskirk on January 18, 2017

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.” 

In advance of the meeting or retreat, ask each person attending to bring an object that represents why he/she loves or appreciates your faith community. No hints or examples about what to bring - just a request to prayerfully do it. 

When assembled, to begin ask each person to explain the significance of his/her object. You might be quite surprised at what you learn, such as… 

Someone had cancer and appreciated the visits and prayers by members of the congregation. Someone’s daughter found the courage to say no to a dangerous relationship because of the support received from youth group members and leaders. Someone experienced the greatest joy he’d ever felt when he delivered food baskets to shut-ins. 

As people explain their objects, assign someone to record the essence of what each person’s object represents about his/her relationship with the church. The recorder should ask permission before putting words in someone’s mouth. For instance, a hospital visit might mean “family” or “belonging” to some, but might mean, “I saw Christ” to the person who experienced it. Do not worry about whether the significance relates to your congregation, the Episcopal Church overall or God/faith in general. Just record the essence of the object’s significance. 

After everyone has explained his/her object, say a prayer asking the Holy Spirit to reveal what the list says about the group. Silently review the list. Then, whoever is leading the discussion asks: What does this list say about what we value about our faith community? Are their trends in our answers? 

The facilitator should record the group’s responses on a new flip chart page – one to two words is plenty for each response, such as “family,” “caring service,” or “beautiful liturgy.” This new list is a narrowed down version, focusing on the things most valued in common. 

Through this exercise, group members identify their shared values, as demonstrated by the objects. Bonus: stories about the inanimate objects can draw the leaders closer together. Hopefully, if controversy or dissention arises in the future, people will remember the tender insights they learned about each other, and remember how they hold in common values that are much more important than their differences. 

Have you found an activity that works to build greater understanding and trust among a team? Please share!

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Words Create Worlds

by Alan Bentrup on January 16, 2017

On Christmas morning a few weeks ago, we turned from the infant in the cradle to give our worship to the mighty God who came among us as that baby. We read these words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

The Word: this is one of our most holy names for Christ, the second person of the Trinity, the Beloved Child of God. Christ is the Word of God. And, as John tells us, Christ the Word was present with God in the act of creation—all things came into being through the Word, just as it is written in the book of Genesis. God speaks, and worlds are created.

Words create worlds.

So what worlds shall we create? What shall we do with this powerful tool each of us has, the ability to speak truth into the world? In our reading from Isaiah this past Sunday, the prophet is grappling with just this question.

He recognizes that God has called him to do something, God has made his mouth like a sword, and made him like a polished arrow. In other words, you could say that God gave the prophet the ability to send out words that hit their mark, that find their target.

This week, our strained political discourse is surely to continue, with words flying every direction. On Friday, about half of the country will be excited about our new president. And about half of our country will be marching in solidarity with those who rightly are nervous or fearful in this moment.

But before we get to Friday, we as a nation will remember something else. This week our nation remembers Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. At a time when our country was torn apart by the painful issues of segregation and discrimination, he sent out powerful words that are still resonating with us today.

King had strong opinions on the necessity of well-chosen and well-timed words. And he was passionate about exactly what the content of those words should be. He said this; “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Words create worlds, so we must be sure that the words we use are words that heal, and not words that wound.

So what words will we use, on Facebook, in the comment sections of news articles, and with our neighbors?

What worlds shall we create with our words? I pray that they a worlds of hope and not despair. Worlds of reconciliation and not division. Worlds of healing and not pain. Worlds of light and not darkness, that reach to the end of the earth.

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Bearing gifts, hosting parties

by Richelle Thompson on January 11, 2017

For years, I hosted a Rose Tea for the women of the church on the weekend of the third Sunday in Advent (Rose Sunday, hence the name). It was always a lovely occasion with great conversation, delicious food, and sometimes a few carols. But after everyone left the house, I flopped onto the couch, a cartoon effigy of a woman sapped of every morsel of energy.

Who throws an extra party into the pre-Christmas mix? What kind of glutton for punishment am I? Over the years, we’ve gotten much wiser (at least on this account). We host gatherings for the church and staff during the actual Christmas season – or in the first few days of Epiphany. This year, the church staff enjoyed a Christmas luncheon on the day of Epiphany. Vestry members (as well as spouses/partners or family) came to our house for dinner on the first Sunday of Epiphany, and last night, the staff of my workplace (a faith-based organization) held its holiday gathering.

I encourage congregational leaders to consider this type of schedule for Christmas parties. I think there are many benefits:

· It separates the church’s celebrations from the secular frenzy of December. You’ll enjoy it more. Really. When you’re not running from event to event or trying to bake and wrap and buy and visit, you’re able to settle in for conversations and enjoy each other.

· It honors our liturgical year. This type of schedule gives the expectant season of Advent its due. And all too often, we see Christmas Day as the conclusion of the holiday, instead of the beginning. Christmas doesn’t actually start until December 25, and the liturgical season is twelve days. Celebrating during that period – or during the next liturgical season of Epiphany – offers a tangible reminder of our theological principles.

· The holidays aren’t joyful for everyone. Hosting a gathering after Christmas Day seems to change expectations a bit and give some space for those who struggle during the holidays.

· You can re-gift. Didn’t like the socks from an aunt or the singing bass fish plaque from a neighbor? Wrap it back up for the white elephant exchange! Take the first step in your new year’s resolution of waste not – and want not.

· You don’t have to rush to take down the Christmas tree and all the decorations. You have a solid excuse (as if you really needed one!).

Be early adopters of this Epiphany party trend. After all, the Wise Men brought their gifts in Epiphany; that should be good enough reason for us.


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