An Annual Gathering Of Disciples, More Than An Annual ‘Meeting’

by Greg Syler on November 25, 2015

My memories are probably very slanted because even as a boy I was a pretty serious church nerd, but I remember how much I looked forward to one of the latter Sundays in January. Lots of people would turn out to the one worship service my church had that day. The social hall – through which we passed on our way to church and Sunday School – had lots of tables and chairs set up, and nicely decorated tables at that. By 10:00 am Mrs. Pitlock, the neighborhood caterer, and her crew were already bustling in our church kitchen getting the luncheon ready, and every year I knew I could look forward to her delicious glazed carrots.

It was the Sunday of our congregation’s Annual Meeting, and it was a big deal. The lunch was tasty and, even more remarkable, served to us at our seats …on real plates! But, mostly, the meeting was business and a series of people making committee reports. While I was in awe of the seriousness with which my parents participated in this assembly, I confess that I got bored with most of it really quickly; my friends and I would, by the second report or so, have already gotten permission to go play in the churchyard.

Annual meetings don’t get a lot of attention in our common conversation about becoming more mission-minded instead of maintenance-focused. I get it. Annual meetings are, perhaps, one of the last significant vestiges of ‘things congregations have to do,’ and there’s not a lot of imagination or creativity or, frankly, desire around them, in general.

But I’ve been thinking a lot about annual meetings, primarily for two reasons. First, ours is coming up. St. George’s Annual Meeting is on the first Sunday in December. (It makes Advent and Thanksgiving kind of crazy, but I’ve come to really appreciate having everything done – budget, vestry, officers – before the calendar year kicks in.) Second, because I’ve been looking very seriously at turning (most) everything we do into opportunities to form and send forth disciples of Jesus, I wondered if we couldn’t make our annual meeting something more, placing the emphasis instead on a celebratory, grace-filled annual gathering of disciples.

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Word Clouds: What Would Your Church's Say?

by Richelle Thompson on November 24, 2015

What do you talk about? Who (or what) takes up the most space in your conversations?

It would be hard to measure the content of our actual conversations but a popular Facebook app is providing some interesting insights. You have probably seen the word cloud pop up on the feeds of your friends. The app by vonvon pulls together a word cloud based on your most-used words on Facebook.

For some, the cloud is a happy reflection: words like love, thanks, great are the biggest (and thus, the most commonly used). For others, the app is revealing. Their most popular words include: I, annoyed, hate. (And these are just the people who have posted the results. I suspect the worst results are self-selected out. People just choose not to share the word cloud.)

A word cloud of the sermon preached by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry at his installation in early November is illustrative of his priorities. At the center: Jesus. God. World. Love, church, way, reconciliation, neighbors.

On the one hand, the word clouds are just fun. But I wonder if they might provide a window into our health and well-being. What if we ran our church’s Facebook page through the word cloud app? What would be at the center?

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When Having Difficult Conversations, Empathy Helps

by Jeremiah Sierra on November 23, 2015

About a week ago, I posted a video on my Facebook page about race and what white people can do to combat racism. A friend of mine found some aspects of the video a little upsetting, particularly the idea of being grouped together with other white people and told what to do.

We spent at least 30 minutes talking about it. Eventually, I realized that we understood the word “racism” to mean two different things. I was thinking about a system in which we are all implicated, even and especially those of us who are considered white and receive benefits we may not have asked for. I think racism is all about history and context and the way our institutions and assumptions disadvantage people of color. He was thinking of racism as the act of grouping people by the color of their skin.

Neither of us was being unreasonable, we were just talking right past each other. It’s like we were each consulting our mental dictionaries and the definitions didn’t match. This friend and I agree about many things, including, ultimately, about many aspects of racism, but we had to define our terms before we could have a productive conversation.

Even without this confusion, racism isn’t easy to talk about. We all know that. Recognizing that simply by the fact of being white you get all sorts of advantages you didn’t ask for isn’t easy. Neither, of course, is telling painful stories as a person of color about the subtle but very real forms discrimination takes. These confusions about language only make it harder.

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How Does Your Group Grow? Group Developmental Stages

by Kanuga on November 20, 2015

Just as a child grows in stages, a vestry or group with a purpose evolves in phases. Creating a high-performing team does not happen overnight. It takes care, nurturing and effort to create a successful group. 

Some have even named these group developmental stages. For example, Bruce W. Tuckman introduced the concept of “Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing” in 1965. A good explanation of this theory may be found in the most recent Vestry Resource Guide created by the Episcopal Church Foundation. 

It’s important to keep in mind that these stages may not progress in linear fashion. 

“You might jump from forming to norming, and the group ends its life cycle—such as a vestry member rolling off and a new one joining—before having the chance to enjoy the performing phase,” explains Christine Murawski, teambuilding staff member at Kanuga Conference & Retreat Center. “Also, every time a new member joins the group, the team will likely repeat these developmental stages.”


The forming stage occurs in the beginning when most members are amiable and eager. It’s important for the leader to be clear with roles and expectations at this stage, both with the group as a whole and with individual members. This is the time for ice breakers and other exercises that can build trust within the group and reveal the gifts that each individual offers. It’s also important at this stage to make sure the group knows why they are there and their purpose.

“This stage is a good time for the group to create a covenant regarding how they will treat one another and handle conflict as it arises,” says Murawski. “An example of this type of agreement occurs at Mountain Trail Outdoor School at Kanuga when a new group arrives. After settling in, the students are tasked with creating ground rules for their time at the school. It’s important for the group members to create the guidelines and not have the leader simply hand them out. If created by the group, they are more likely to follow them. Rules created by the students may include ‘We won’t yell at one another. We will not take things that do not belong to us.’ Of course, these are children’s rules and may not apply to adult vestries, but the idea is everyone agrees on what is acceptable behavior.” 


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by Anna Olson on November 19, 2015

My grief for this broken week in the world caught up with me during church on Sunday, as our associate rector led a beautiful and gentle children’s sermon about hearing scary news. The sermon ended with our kids carrying candles to place on the altar, a gift to many of us bigger folks who needed to let a few quiet tears flow.

So now what? For those who have lost loved ones in terror attacks, the grief is just beginning. For the rest of us, beyond the French flag on Facebook pages, and the verbal expressions of solidarity, what more can we do?

Here is one thing. Maybe not the only thing, but important.

We can consider the implications of the news that at least one of the Paris attackers may have arrived as a “refugee” from Syria. Many are already considering that very question. Twenty-six American states -- more than half of our country -- have announced that they are no longer willing to resettle Syrian refugees.

We can help our fellow Christians to think about this very real question theologically. We who profess to be part of a body. We who believe in a God whose reach is beyond the grave. We who believe that perfect love casts out fear. We who are commanded to love one another.

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