When It's Not About You

by Jeremiah Sierra on February 26, 2015

This past weekend a very close friend of mine got married. I was a groomsman (there were two grooms, in this case, and my wife was a groomswoman), so I wanted to give him a toast.

I started thinking about the toast more than a week before the wedding. I made notes in a notebook and in my phone and wrote down stories and asked for advice. I was fretting about it for days.

Some part of me wanted to impress everyone. I wanted to demonstrate that I was funny and clever and an excellent writer. I was having a lot of trouble figuring out what to say.

That is, until I remembered that this wasn't about me. This was about my friend and his wedding and saying whatever reminded him that he was loved and supported in his marriage and that we were grateful to have him and his husband in our lives.

This lesson—that it's not about me—is a useful one in ministry and in many aspects of community life. In most things we do in our churches, the goal is to love and minister to others. It's not to demonstrate how good or clever or right we are.

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Beyond Vestries

by Greg Syler on February 25, 2015

A friend recently quipped “I don’t believe vestries are needed for the church today.” He said it as a hyperbole, something to spark conversation, and if for no other reason than it might do that – actually spark a conversation and actually lead us to seriously re-consider our conventional working model – I’ll go along with it. If you’d like a more palatable post, though, let me say that vestries, alone, are no longer needed for the church today.

The vestry is a great idea of the late-18th century. It was more formally instituted by the mid-19th century, and in fact it wasn’t until the early years of the 20th century that a denomination wide church canon was established to clarify matters. It’s Title I, Canon 14; Sections 1 & 2:

"Section 1. In every Parish of this Church the number, mode of selection, and term of office of Wardens and Members of the Vestry, with the qualifications of voters, shall be such as the State or Diocesan law may permit or require, and the Wardens and Members of the Vestry selected under such law shall hold office until their successors are selected and have qualified."
"Section 2. Except as provided by the law of the State or of the Diocese, the Vestry shall be agents and legal representatives of the Parish in all matters concerning its corporate property and the relations of the Parish to its Clergy."

We’ve not only created but, over these many years, we’ve honed and perfected a brilliant late-18th century model of church. It really is a stunning, absolutely creative solution to the problems people faced nearly 250 years ago. Bravo! The problem, however, is that it is now the 21st century.

Not only is the vestry a great idea but also even today, it remains a necessary instrument. It is as important now as it was when suddenly the ‘Episcopal’ churches in the American colonies found themselves with land and property but no clear idea who owned it or how to delineate who oversees the “corporate property” of the parish as well as the ways in which “the relations of the parish to its clergy” shall be managed. What that means in reality, today, is that the vestry of any given parish is an essential and a really great buildings and grounds / cemetery / personnel / liability committee which has ultimate fiduciary responsibility.

But the system of the Church of England, from which this creative solution emerged, did not merely understand the parish as being reduced – or reducible – to its “corporate property” nor simply to “the relations of the parish to its clergy.” Rather, the parish, as such, was understood holistically. It was seen as an expansive and varied place set in a particular time, an entire geographic area which, by definition, necessitated and involved all of its inhabitants whether or not they frequented the building(s) called ‘church’; whether or not they availed themselves of the services of the person called ‘clergy’; whether for that matter they professed an outright belief in Jesus Christ as their Lord. The parish, as such, was much more than what our American colonial forebears imagined when they created the managerial tool called ‘vestry.’ They gave us a good start, and it was an essential move on their part.

Now, however, it’s time for us to create new instruments and new organizations.

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Crossing the Street

by Anna Olson on February 23, 2015

I walk to church from my home, about a mile and a half away, a couple of times a week. Lately I've started using a new route, which led to the discovery of a small mystery.

Every morning, hundreds of people line up on the sidewalk of a side street just south of the main thoroughfare of Wilshire Boulevard. Literally hundreds, stretching all the way down the block. The line leads toward a nondescript large office building.

I first noticed the people around Christmas. I imagined a food or toy giveaway, of which there are quite a few at that time of year. But this morning, deep into January, there they all were.

I usually walk on the other side of the street. It's shadier, and there are too many people in the line to pass easily.

Today, something made me cross the street. I waded awkwardly, upstream through the crowd. Up close, I could see that most of them were clutching folders or envelopes full of paperwork. I made my way toward the back of the line, gathering my courage. I'm an introvert, after all, shy with strangers and crowds. Finally, I asked a group of women what one waited for in this place.

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Permalink  |  0 Comments Diversity, Outreach

3 Blogs on Stewardship #2 Just What Exactly Are We Funding?

by Bob Leopold on February 20, 2015

As I mentioned in my last post, Southside Abbey's funding is up. More accurately, my funding is up with the Episcopal Diocese of East Tennessee in August. It has really been on my mind of late that I am confusing these two issues. Nothing about the funding of Southside Abbey's ministry is jeopardy. The Holy Spirit doesn't call us to ministries without providing for them. No, the only change will be in my compensation.

If I think back to three years ago, I was perfectly willing to do this ministry for free as this was as clear a call as I had ever heard. It's fascinating to me just how quickly I got comfortable with the notion of full-time employment once it was offered through the diocese.

Without going too far down the rabbit trail, I am concerned about the two-tiered system of those who follow Jesus. There are “professional” Christians and “amateur” Christians. Before I spark a firestorm with this distinction, remember that Olympians are considered “amateur.”

This two-tiered system is less about lay and ordained as it is about paid and unpaid, but don't think that ordination isn't often a deciding factor in who is on what side of that line. I really have to face the fact that I am a professional Christian. I get paid to do all of the great and wonderful things to which Jesus is calling me everyday. Would I do the same if I didn't get paid? Does the pay merely free me up to do that which all of us should be doing anyway? What a blessing, right? Before the reader jumps up in arms over “the laborer deserves to be paid”-type cherry-picked bible verses, hear me out.

Recently, clergy from our portion of the Diocese of East Tennessee gathered for conversation, led by our bishop, George Young. When we were asked to share our anxieties, I spoke up. I do not think that the model of professional Christians is either sustainable or, truth be told, very biblical. Routinely the best Followers of Jesus I know are those who don't get paid for it. This shut the conversation down. It was too much for those who had dedicated their lives to this system. No more fears were shared and the conversation turned pretty pat-on-the-back-ish after that.

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Permalink  |  0 Comments Finance, Stewardship

“Crossing from Debt to Mission”

by Erin Weber-Johnson on February 19, 2015

St. Aidan's Episcopal Church recently completed a capital campaign for debt retirement. Pastor Anna Doherty describes some of the key lessons the community learned from their experience:

We chose the theme "Crossing from Debt to Mission" because we wanted to be about more than simply pouring our financial resources into a mortgage on our building. We wanted to use our resources, the gifts God has given us, including our building, for mission, not for mortgage. Following our feasibility study, we expected to raise approximately $136,000 for debt retirement. We actually needed $164,000 to completely retire our debt, so we held that out to the congregation as a challenge goal. By the end of our campaign we raised $195,000, far exceeding both our initial goal and our challenge goal! This capital campaign has been an incredibly rewarding experience for the church leadership and the congregation, and it has energized and mobilized St. Aidan's for mission.

Here is what we've learned from our experience, and what we would like to share with other congregations contemplating a capital campaign.

Don't be afraid to think big.

Based on our feasibility study, the leaders at St. Aidan's knew we could reasonably expect to raise $136,000 to retire our debt. We weren't sure that full debt retirement was possible, but we thought we'd try anyway by setting out an additional challenge goal, of trying to reach $164,000.

Our Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF) consultant asked us to think about how we might want to use any extra funds raised, over and above our debt retirement. We began to talk about and imagine what we might do with no debt. The conversation turned from mitigating our present circumstances, to getting excited about the future. We weren't sure quite how much money we would raise in the end, but we decided to take a risk and try.

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