Change is Possible

by Richelle Thompson on December 2, 2016

Call the papers. This is breaking news: An Episcopal church is ending a longtime tradition without gnashing of teeth or calling in a mediator.

My church has held a spring card party since at least folks in my generation (and I’m in my 40s) were children. I know that because some of these women were models in the card party fashion show.

I’ve written about this event before in Vital Practices – I’ve learned some important lessons about patience and change. To recap: The card party is a luncheon with ribbon sandwiches as the featured meal. For those who are unfamiliar with ribbon sandwiches, they are comprised of layers of salads—tuna, chicken, egg, pimento, with mayonnaise and white bread serving as the dividers. In past years, the ladies would play cards after the meal, but that pastime has dwindled to just a few tables trying to play euchre or hearts while the clean-up crew fold up the chairs around them.

As a fundraiser, it is still successful. Last year netted about $6,500, which is used by the Episcopal Church Women (ECW) for local mission projects and church improvements. But the work is immense, and with so many more women working full-time, the laborers are dwindling. Although many older women from the community come to the party, attendance is down. And many women in our church and community who would like to come simply can’t take the day off. 

For the past few years, we’ve been in a holding pattern. But new leadership and a revived sense of mission has led to the significant change that last year’s card party was our last (at least, the last of its kind. We might still host a luncheon and invite the community but it will be on a different scale and at a different time). 

The reason I wanted to share this story with you is not because we stopped a longtime tradition – although in Episcopal church circles where change seems to be an anathema, this is news -- but rather because of how the change was thoughtfully, carefully implemented. 

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Permalink  |  0 Comments Change, Stewardship

Fear of the "Other"

by Richelle Thompson on November 30, 2016

The news was frightening – and frighteningly familiar. An attack on students at Ohio State University. Accounts of an active shooter turned into active assailant who by all counts purposefully plowed into a group of students and professors, and then attacked them with a butcher knife. We learned soon that the attacker was from a native of Somalia and a Muslim.
Immediately, I heard calls for tighter immigration controls and see-I-told-you-so’s from people who support a mandate for the government to register (and restrict?) all Muslims. 

Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that announced yesterday the word of the year: xenophobia. The word has two definitions: 1) fear or hatred of foreigners, people from different cultures, or strangers; 2) fear or dislike of the customs, dress, etc., of people who are culturally different from oneself. What it really means is fear of the other. The other could be a Muslim. Or if you’re Muslim, perhaps a Christian. Other could be the Hispanic immigrant looking for work, the Indigenous person fighting for water rights, the Appalachian Anglo worrying about the heroin epidemic. Other could be the lesbian couple raising children across the street or the overweight woman sweating bullets on a treadmill. 

It’s easy to find others when we are so focused on what is different between us instead of what we share. The other could easily share the bond of mother or brother – or simply another. Another person trying to do his or her best, the best way he or she knows. 

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Permalink  |  0 Comments Conflict, Diversity

Take a Deep Breath and Make the Ask

by Diana Church Empsall on November 29, 2016

If you’ve never done it before, asking someone to contribute their money for a cause, however good, can seem scary or uncomfortable. As a philanthropy and fundraising professional, I’ve made numerous “asks” and written countless grant proposals. And yet, the first time I faced the challenge of making a face-to-face, personal request for financial support of a project to which I was deeply and passionately committed – my own parish’s capital campaign – I was incredibly nervous.

But I wholeheartedly believe that the asking for and giving of money is symbolic of something far deeper. The exchange is really about connection, trust and shared values and goals. When we ask for financial support for a cause, we are extending an invitation to join with others in expressing our values and goals. We aren’t asking for money because we need money for its own sake, but because of what that money will enable us to do, together.

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Permalink  |  0 Comments Capital Campaigns, Stewardship

Invitation to a Holy Advent

by Linda Buskirk on November 27, 2016

As sure as Santa Claus directed the crowds into Macy’s at the end of the Thanksgiving Day parade, we can expect to be swept up into the rush of the “the holidays.” 

On Ash Wednesday, we are invited, “to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word.” (BCP)

The invitation is just as real at Advent. Well, except for the fasting and self-denial. But let’s not simply surrender to the forces pulling us away from a holy observance. We are invited to journey with Joseph and Mary, considering their amazing calls to serve and how they responded in faith and obedience. We are invited to expect a great light and to find it lying in a manger.

From today onwards, let’s each RSVP in the affirmative to the invitation for a holy Advent. Resolve to make time for prayer, wonder, and contemplation. Invite your children to join you in lighting an Advent wreath at home. Seek new understanding through spiritual Advent resources available at Vital Practices or Forward Movement. Consider how you can bring the Light of Christ into the world of an aging neighbor, a grieving friend, or a Santa Claus ringing a bell.

The invitation of Advent is not about giving up merriment, but it does require intentionality to push back the crowds, catalogs and spiked eggnog. Create space for holiness and 
reverent attention. Accept the invitation to light and love.


Permalink  |  0 Comments Christian Formation, Worship

Looking Back and Going Forward

by Greg Syler on November 25, 2016

Almost like those moments that begin sometime late at night Christmas Eve and continue the next several days, the world begins to hush during Thanksgiving week. People re-connect and spend precious time with their loved ones, and there’s not much noise or commotion. I really like this time of year. I like it for so many reasons – great feasts among them – but I also like this pause, this hush.

A harvest festival, such as what we’re doing this week, does that to us – gives us pause to consider, encourages us to take stock, provides a moment to focus, even strategize about how we can best invest in what really matters. It’s significant that the Thanksgiving holiday and our own stewardship/fundraising practices in the church fall in the same timeframe. For one, they’re both connected to ancient harvest practices. On another level, though, they’re both about healthy practices of looking back and going forward, a dynamic, communal motion that is really one and the same – giving thanks for what God has already provided and, based on God’s good generosity, making sure we’ve put those resources toward where God is leading.

I was awfully intrigued, as I often am, when Tom Ehrich’s ‘Church Wellness’ blog dropped into my inbox on Tuesday, 22 Nov. In “Beyond business as usual,” Ehrich writes: “Events cascade into our plans and desires… What seemed okay and important yesterday now appears irrelevant or not so urgent. At that moment, the healthy church changes course.” Healthy congregations are those who are flexible, easier to pivot in a mission-focused direction. I suppose un-healthy ones are those more set in their preconceived plans and ways. I’d be equally as unimpressed as he was if the first message I received from my church following the recent national election was a questionnaire asking for my “opinions on capital improvements”! I take his point. It’s a good one.

But what if we just simply cannot get out of the way of our own messaging? What if all of these things as we’ve conceived them actually need to happen, and happen on our ready-made timelines? And what if we realize that what’s standing in our way is the house we’ve built? What then?

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Permalink  |  0 Comments Change, Leadership, Mission, Vision & Planning

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