February 18, 2019 by Janet Lombardo

I serve a lovely church on top of a hill in a vacation community. The church is surrounded by lakes, and almost doubles its attendance in the summer. I serve as their part-time interim Rector. The church community has been declining, they have lost two thirds of their members in the last 10 years, and much of their energy has been spent caring for their aging buildings.

There are three buildings on the campus, the church building, the rectory and the parish hall. The church is beautiful. It was built in the 1840’s and is a typical New England white church with red doors, stained glass windows and a steep pitched roof. The church is beloved by the community and has been well cared for. The rectory has not been used as a rectory for decades; it is used mostly for office space and meetings, and is in very poor shape. The parish hall is almost as old as the church, is poorly designed and lacks function. The congregation has talked for years about renovating the parish hall, there are plans that date back to the 1960’s, but nothing has been done. These three buildings consume most of their energy.

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February 14, 2019 by Alan Bentrup

I hope you’ve kept up in our reading of Romans. If so, we’ve been in Romans 12 this week. As I read through this chapter, I’m struck by what Paul is pointing out. He lists several gifts that may be given to some of us: Prophecy, preaching, exhortation, ministry, giving, leading, compassion.

That list isn’t exhaustive, but it is interesting. We’d agree that not everyone has the spiritual gift of preaching or prophecy. But giving? Compassion? Those seem like qualities all followers of Jesus should have. But Paul seems to be saying here that some folks will be particularly gifted in those areas.

But that’s not even the most interesting thing to me in this chapter. After we get through that list of qualities that some folks might have more than others, Paul then hits us right between the eyes with a quality he assumes all followers of Jesus will have in abundance: Love.

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February 11, 2019 by Greg Syler

When I first arrived at one of my parishes, St. George’s in Valley Lee, Maryland, I found in the center drawer of the desk in the rector’s office a bunch of 3 x 5 index cards, scrawled with handwritten notes. “Visited Mildred X,” read one note, detailing the date and time of visit, location, and how she was feeling. “Took Holy Communion to Cedar Lane,” went another, summarizing the scripture lessons and number of persons present at that afternoon service of worship. The interim priest, a clergyperson evidently gifted with pastoral care, had nourished a rather extensive pastoral care network, and he had developed a fine system of reporting, back and forth, such that he was in the loop but wasn’t the sole caregiver. It was an old-fashioned approach, and the filing system left somethings to be desired (they were just cards shoved in a desk drawer, after all), but it was a beautiful testament to a lovely way of doing church together.

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February 5, 2019 by Richelle Thompson

I don’t imagine Paul had any idea that his letters to the people in Corinth or Rome or Galatia would become part of the Christian canon. His focus was not to become a famous author whose words would guide and inform Christian thought for centuries. Rather, he was reaching out to friends, to communities, to urge them through personal invitation to come to Jesus, to learn about mercy and grace, salvation and sanctification.

I’ve been reading Paul’s Letter to the Romans during the Good Book Club, an initiative sponsored by Forward Movement and supported by partners across the Episcopal Church, including the Episcopal Church Foundation. The goal of the Good Book Club is to encourage a daily habit of reading scripture, believing that encounters with God’s Word are transformative. I’m learning a lot from Paul—in part, realizing that I still have a lot to learn. This missive for the Romans is not for the faint of heart; it is profound and complicated and sometimes confusing (Paul might have done well to call upon the assistance of an editor!).

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January 30, 2019 by Linda Buskirk

In my work with congregations, I frequently find faith communities challenged by “communications.” Roles such as weekly e-news writer, monthly newsletter editor, or managing platforms of e-mail distribution, website and Facebook, etc. go unfilled. Or, if the priest is young and tech savvy, s/he just does it all – in addition to everything else.

When I come across an active communications ministry, I ask lots of questions, hoping to pass on ideas to others. That’s just what I did when I met the talented and dedicated Communications Commission Chair for St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Christina Connelly.

What got my attention about St. Alban’s was a video on its website and Facebook home. The video features several church members sharing their journeys and their discoveries of a loving congregation and denomination. Their statements reveal both the diversity and similarity of where they’ve been, what they have found and what they love about St. Alban’s.

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Topics: Communications
January 24, 2019 by Anna Olson

I sometimes surprise people by loving Paul. People expect me – as a woman, a feminist, a lifelong fan and (I hope!) practitioner of liberation theology – to squirm at least a bit at the mention of Paul’s name. So I figured that as we as the Episcopal Church embark on reading Paul’s longest contribution to the Biblical canon, I might just share all the reasons I love Paul, just in case your enthusiasm for reading the letter to the Romans needs a little boost.

I’ll start by clarifying that I subscribe to the widely held academic view that the seven letters properly attributed to Paul himself are 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 Corinthians, Philippians, Philemon, most of 2 Corinthians and Romans. If Paul was the credible author of some of the later epistles written in his name, we’d need to have a further conversation.

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January 23, 2019 by Melissa Rau

It’s that time of year again when many vestries are orienting new members. This month, we are offering five resources to help vestries start the year off strong. Please share this digest with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and this monthly digest.

1. Has your congregation shared ECF’s Vestry Resource Guide with every one of its vestry members? Whether you are a vestry veteran or an initiate, this guide will help you clearly understand your role and help the vestry and clergy leadership become a cohesive team.

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Topics: Vestry, Leadership
January 17, 2019 by Annette Buchanan

I had the opportunity to help plan a very small funeral for my grand-aunt in Florida this month and concluded it would have been so helpful if there was a template or process that we could easily reference. I am hopeful this exists in many congregations especially with the frequency of funerals. For congregations without permanent clergy, the leadership surely needs guidelines on how to proceed.

Whether the funeral is in a chapel for a few family and friends or larger with full church and clergy engagement we seem to be starting from scratch for each planning. I had one helpful source, which were the many funeral bulletins my mother had at her home of family, friends and church brothers and sisters that have passed, not sure why she kept them all. Given this source and additional conversations, suggestions for a process are as follows:

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January 14, 2019 by Mike Chalk

Every so often the leadership of a congregation decides that it is necessary to spend some valuable time discerning what needs to be addressed. The motivation to discern could be related to the growth of the parish, the outreach component of the church’s ministry, or how the building structure is impeding the mission of the church.

Unlike most nonprofits the church includes God in the conversation concerning next steps. “What is God calling us to do?”

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Topics: Discernment
January 10, 2019 by Alan Bentrup

One of the more unlikely recent stories in the business world is the resurrection of Microsoft. Once thought to be out of touch with the modern tech industry, the corporate giant has become (at least for a time) as big as Apple.

There are many explanations given for how that shift has taken place. But, you’re not here for business analysis. Why would we, as the Church, care about a revitalized business?

Karl Barth once famously said, “Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.” I think what he realized is that, when put through theological reflection, there’s much we can learn as Christians from the news around us. Including business news.

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Topics: Change, Discernment
January 8, 2019 by Linda Buskirk

In his letter to the Christian community already established in Rome, Paul provides deep insights about God’s plan for the salvation of all people and its fulfillment through Jesus. Paul longs to travel to Rome to continue teaching in person. But early in the letter, he humbly states that he would benefit from such a visit too: “That is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” (Romans 1:12)

Mutual encouragement through our faith is a beautiful thing to experience, and to witness. I see it each time I train a congregation’s capital campaign “gift ambassadors” – the volunteers who will meet one-on-one with fellow parishioners to invite them to give to the campaign.

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January 4, 2019 by Linda Buskirk

A new calendar year brings renewed resolutions to do things right. When it comes to diet and exercise, common sense generally is the answer (sigh): eat less, move more.

Recognizing a “common sense” for a congregation can be more complicated, especially if you’ve done a good job of gathering a diverse leadership team bringing varied experiences, values and convictions to the table. There may be several options for every issue, from the budget to determining new ministries to advance justice or serve the poor. Oh, why can’t the answer be obvious?

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December 28, 2018 by Jeannette McDonald

It’s that time of year when we are making decisions about how much we give to our church. Will I pledge annually or just put it in the collection plate when I attend church? Do I give what is left over or do I “give until I feel it?”

If we truly are following our Lord’s teachings, then some of us might have a guilty conscience. We may give regularly to our church but often it doesn’t have the same priority as mortgages, utilities, college, car or recreational loans. We think those have bills come first, then food, clothing, entertainment follow – there it is, there is what I can give to the church - the crumbs, the leftovers.

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Topics: Stewardship
December 19, 2018 by Melissa Rau

This month we offer five resources to help your congregation prepare for Christmas. Please share this digest with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.

1. This Advent Parish Checklist by Cathy Carpenter is a great tool for churches preparing for Christmas, ensuring they are ready to receive and welcome visitors (among other useful ideas). Check out this handy resource and learn new ways to be better prepared for this festive and important time.

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December 18, 2018 by Linda Buskirk

Make room! Clear the way! Jesus is coming, so let His car into your traffic lane.

And onto your calendar too. Make room for good, like baking cookies to deliver to shut-ins, buying gifts for Angel Tree children, staging the chancel for the Christmas pageant, and a hundred other acts of love and joy.

We who are active in the church do this because we made room in our hearts for Jesus some time in the past, and He stayed. When we think about this as we hustle and bustle, we might say, “Now Jesus, there is plenty of room. You sit and keep me company as I finish wrapping these presents.”

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December 10, 2018 by Linda Buskirk

Do you have a date set for your next Vestry/leadership retreat?

In our goal-oriented society, it may sound odd, or even dereliction of duty, to replace a monthly decision-making meeting with a retreat to “vision” about “the big picture.” Yet the very difficulty of setting aside pressing issues is what makes a retreat so important. Simply put, if we don’t designate time to think about the big picture, we generally won’t. Here are three ideas for planning a retreat that will help your congregation move forward:

First, set the expectation that an extended annual retreat is important, and all leadership team members should attend. Set the date and far enough in advance for calendar commitment to be made. This expectation should be discussed with potential Senior Wardens and candidates for Vestry.

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December 6, 2018 by Annette Buchanan

This Thanksgiving I visited my young cousin who was hosting his first dinner. Just before leaving he said to me, “I now really appreciate all the dinners you’ve hosted over the years. I did not realize what happened behind the scenes as I always arrive in time to eat and then leave after an evening of fun. It’s a lot of work!”

For many years at our church, five large containers of bread and pastries are donated weekly by a local restaurant to our Feeding Outreach Ministry. A new vestry member was surprised on discovering that behind the scenes each week someone had to pick up the containers and bread, and others had to sort and bag the bread and clean the containers, in addition to completing an annual application. We laughed and asked if she thought the “Bread Fairy” did all the work.

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November 28, 2018 by Melissa Rau

This month we offer five resources to help your congregation manage conflict. Please share this digest with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.

1. In this webinar, First Steps in Understanding Church Conflict, Christy Shain-Hendricks reminds us that conflict is relational and natural. Watch and learn about a few elements that contribute to conflict and how it’s possible to make our way toward reconciliation and peace-building.

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Topics: Conflict
November 20, 2018 by Linda Buskirk

Is there an emoji for “feeling reflective?” If so, that’s me this Thanksgiving week. Here are some reasons I am grateful for the work to which I’ve been called as a capital campaign and Strategic Solutions consultant for the Episcopal Church Foundation.

As Episcopalians, we’re big on community – on worshipping and praying in community with the faithful around the world. Most of us do that mainly through our local congregation. I get to do it with faith communities around the Midwest and beyond.

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November 15, 2018 by Alan Bentrup

We go to great lengths to welcome people in our homes - but those folks we invite all too often are people that we know and love already. Most folks who come to my house know me, and understand my worldview, and we probably get along socially.

And I think too often we do the same thing with our congregations?

That’s being nice; that’s not hospitality.

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