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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October 29, 2018 by Linda Buskirk

When I saw a new book, Walk in Love: Episcopal Beliefs and Practices, promoted on the Forward Movement website, I ordered it as a gift for a Roman Catholic friend who is on his way to being received into the Episcopal Church. As soon as it arrived, I began reviewing its contents and quickly ordered a second copy to keep.

Reading Walk in Love is like enjoying a fireside chat with a good friend who knows a lot more than you do but doesn’t make you feel that way. Authors and priests Melody Wilson Shobe and Scott Gunn comprehensively reveal the “what and the why” of what we believe and do, in friendly, conversational style. There is familiarity in their explanations, but plenty of “ah-hah” moments as deeper understanding sinks in.

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October 24, 2018 by Melissa Rau

This month we offer five resources to help your congregation with church budgeting and finance. 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 his article, Church Finance—Where Endurance Matters, Robert Button shares his wisdom as a vestry member and a church treasurer. From stewardship and budgeting, capital campaigns, and internal controls and audits, to the long view, this is a great overview of why church finance matters and how it can be spiritually fulfilling to those called to steward church finances.

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Topics: Finance
October 23, 2018 by Sarah Townsend Leach

“How did it go?” My mom’s words came through the cell phone ear piece with equal parts excitement and apprehension.

“I have learned things about church design that had never occurred to me before,” I answered flatly with a tinge of exhaustion. I had just attended my first service with a six-week old baby, and I would see things with new eyes from now on in every church I visited thereafter.

You see, church design matters to me as a member and worshipper, but it also matters deeply to me as an ECF capital campaign consultant to churches around the country that are considering investing hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in renovations or new buildings.

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October 15, 2018 by Alan Bentrup

For the second time in just over a year, my work has focused on hurricanes. Last year it was helping my parish and the city of Houston navigate life during and after Hurricane Harvey. Earlier this month it was waiting and preparing for Hurricane Florence.

Needless to say, storms and flood waters have consumed much of my thinking.

Maybe that’s why I’m so struck by the picture at the top of this post. Something’s wrong there. Who would build a bridge in the wrong place?

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October 11, 2018 by Annette Buchanan

In my travels this Summer I had the opportunity to interact, albeit briefly, with Anglican churches in the Bahamas, Panama and London. What these experiences illustrated is that while sharing similar religious tradition and worship styles, cultural nuances are very important and offer an opportunity to learn, incorporate best practices and grow in our ministry.

As Episcopalians and Americans, oftentimes in our local and international travels we have a mindset of being more evolved and therefore enter into these interactions without a spirit of inquiry and discovery.

October 9, 2018 by ECFVP Editorial Team

In celebration of ECF Vital Practices’ eighth anniversary, we went back through our archives to bring you some of the most popular articles from our past eight years of being an online resource. Each of the following articles was among the most read during a specific year. We curated them to have a variety of topics and writers, and are happy to share them with you here. We hope you enjoy them!

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Topics: Leadership, Vestry
October 8, 2018 by Richelle Thompson

I’ve found a way to make Christmas last all year. Or at least a bit of the spirit of the season.

When I store the decorations for another year, I’m always faced with a dilemma: What should I do with the Christmas cards? It’s the one time of year that folks send a snail mail card, and even if most have a simple signature, they are still a tangible connection to a longtime friend, a faraway relative, neighbors, and fellow parishioners. I hate to throw them away but I also don’t want to become a Christmas card hoarder.

A few years ago, a friend (and Episcopal priest) sent me a handwritten note in the middle of the year and explained that she kept her Christmas cards for a special purpose. Each week, she would draw a card from the pile, add the person to her prayer list, and then write and mail a note.

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