On Shrove Tuesday evening, I carefully laid out my plans for Lent. Additional devotions, readings, and journaling each day, Sunday Mass and Rosary, increased giving to our local food bank. It was going to be a “perfect” Lent, beginning with a 7 AM Eucharist on Ash Wednesday.
My dog awakened me at 4 AM the next morning. He was unsettled because of a thunderstorm, and I couldn’t figure out why. He’d slept through plenty of them before without stirring. I finally gave up on the idea of going back to sleep and wandered into the kitchen to make coffee when I discovered why the pup was trying to pry me from my warm bed: I felt water dripping on my head. The roof was leaking.
My first thought: my plans for a “perfect” Lent are ruined!
Fundraising is on the long list of things that I never learned anything about in seminary. Or, so I would have told you several years ago. My congregation’s recent fundraising experiences have taught me that I learned a lot about fundraising in seminary, because the principles of effective pastoral fundraising are the same as the principles of effective pastoral care that I learned in seminary and that I continue to hone today.
Principle 1: Focus on the needs of the other person.
Effective pastors know how to keep the conversation focused on the other person, they know how to listen more than they speak, they know how to tolerate silence, and they know how to refrain from judgment. Effective pastoral fundraisers should display the same characteristics. Effective pastoral fundraising is not focused on the church, but on the giver. The goal is to make the giver feel good about her gift, and to create an opportunity for her to impact the future of her church.
Depending on when you’re reading this, Lent has either begun or is a few days away. Perhaps it’s the readings, but at this time of year, I always reflect on my life and on the state of the world. I’m writing this blog on Sexagesima Sunday – a term that is a throwback to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer – denoting the second Sunday before Lent.
I rather like the old terms for these three Sundays (Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima) because they give me time to transition from my Christmas and Epiphany mindset and prepare for Lent.
In some ways, they feel like the onramp to Lent, and, just like driving on a freeway, it’s best to come up to speed before you merge. I feel like I have a richer experience of Lent by observing these pre-Lenten Sundays.
After his baptism and his vision quest in the desert, Jesus encountered crowds wherever he went. Dozens or hundreds of people turned up in every little town, desperate for healing for themselves or their loved ones. He saw families struggling to survive, kids who went to bed hungry, adults worn out trying to care for others. There were broken-hearted people, grieving painful losses, and many struggling to find or keep their faith, wondering where God was in the midst of their troubles.
Jesus was filled with compassion for all those people; his heart must have been breaking for them. How did he manage to stay open and present in the midst of all their suffering? We know that whenever he could, Jesus slipped away to spend time in prayer. He looked for quiet places where he could sit with the Creator and replenish his spirit.
This year, Lent begins with Ash Wednesday on February 22 and ends on Easter Sunday, April 9th. Lent brings us to a time of self-examination and reflection about our relationship with God, and provides an opportunity for fasting from the behaviors, ideas and objects in life that pull us away from God. Below please find a collection of resources for Lent and Easter with ideas to help make good use of this time of reflection.
1. The Episcopal Church invites us to walk with Jesus in his Way of Love and into the experience of transformed life through Life Transformed: The Way of Love in Lent, which includes videos, adult forum curriculum, calendar, publicity materials, and quiet day curriculum available in English, Spanish, and French.
I believe God speaks to us in confluences. When people from diverse places and backgrounds come to similar conclusions on how a problem might be solved, I listen. When the burdens of a diversity of problems might be lightened by a single program or project, I pay attention to the possibilities.
Three years since COVID rocked our ecclesial equilibrium across the United States, a new confluence is emerging. Many cities and towns are experiencing an affordable housing crisis and a growing homeless population. A tiny homes movement is causing local governments to rework housing codes and permitting processes. At the same time, fewer people are involved in church, and fewer still are attending in person on Sunday mornings. Many parking lots that once were packed with cars now have easy access. Congregations are re-thinking mission in the community, considering anew how God might be calling them to share the resources they have, and realizing resources they had not considered before. Notably land.
Monday Night Football doesn’t often trigger an agenda item for vestries. But the match-up on January 2 between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills should. Most of you probably know the details by now: a few minutes into the much-anticipated game, Bills’ safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field, apparently suffering from a cardiac arrest. Although doctors are still determining what caused the often-fatal event, what is clear is that his life was saved by fast-acting medical personnel who delivered CPR and administered electric shocks from a defibrillator.
And here’s the agenda item for vestries across the church: schedule training for CPR AND buy a defibrillator. You may be thinking that this was a unique situation, and there’s no need to invest the money or time for such life-saving measures in the local congregation. You’re wrong.
I’m not a big fan of January. Ever since I was a child, January has been my least favorite month of the year. I’m not quite sure why. I guess it has something to do with the weather and the general let-down that comes after the Christmas holidays. My father always insisted on taking down the Christmas tree on New Year’s Day which I found rather depressing. As an adult married couple, my wife and I much prefer to wait until January 6th or beyond to perform this least favorite task of the year. I am even intrigued by those cultures and traditions that keep the tree up until February 2, Candlemas Day but imagine the pine needles that would have to be cleaned up. Maybe my problem with January is also the frustration about New Year’s resolutions that go unfulfilled, although I have been sticking to my diet so far. It’s not that interesting and even enjoyable things don’t occur in January. Also, in January, the days start to become longer by one or two minutes each day which will be rather noticeable by the end of the month. Nonetheless, I know that when February 1st comes around, I will breathe a huge sigh of relief.
We have all encountered peculiar churches. In fact, we have been seeing a lot of them lately and we need to see more.
The two churches that were featured in the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, Westminster Abbey in London and St. George’s Chapel at Windsor, are literally peculiar - royal peculiars. They have been carved out of the jurisdiction of their local diocesan bishops and placed under the direct authority of the sovereign, who oversees them in her or his capacity as the supreme governor of the Church of England.
How delightfully British. Or is it?
You may be surprised to learn that we have at least one peculiar here in the United States, albeit not a royal one. On the first floor of the Episcopal Church Center in New York City, our Presiding Bishop’s headquarters, you will find the Chapel of Christ the Lord. In its sacristy hangs two certificates from 1963 that serve to carve that little chapel out of the Diocese of New York and transfer it to the direct authority of the Presiding Bishop.
I remember, before we had digital clocks, when our kids had to learn how to tell time. It was challenging at first, but soon they began to catch on. Then we could give them a watch and say, “Come home for dinner when the big hand is at the 12 and the little hand is at the 6.”
Those days are gone for good. Now we all have phones which display the time whenever we touch the screen. Wrist watches talk to us and preview our text messages and display video clips. But even with all this technology, do we really know what time it is?
I don’t mean confirming the exact hour and minute, but recognizing a turning point that really matters, in God’s time. When the Apostle Paul told us, “It is now the moment for you to wake from sleep,” he wasn’t foretelling what alarm clocks would do someday. “The night is far gone,” he wrote, “the day is near.” He meant that a new era is dawning, and we need to meet it with our eyes open. (Romans 13:11)
Gleaning: It’s not just for ancient Israelites anymore!
The ancient Levitical practice of leaving excess grain for those who are experiencing hunger has found a new manifestation in modern-day Memphis.
Church of the Holy Communion’s newest outreach ministry began with a phone call from a nearby synagogue. They had started collecting unsold food from local farmers’ markets and turning it into meals for hungry neighbors. But, they faced a challenge: Too much food!
I attended law school in the 70’s and, at least during that period, the entire culture was permeated with a sense of competition and individual success. Other than your moot court partner and maybe your study group, there were few opportunities for collaboration or teamwork. There were winners and losers, students who got the top law firm jobs from recruiters who came to campus and those who had to pound the payment with their hard-copy resumes. Once you became a lawyer, the competition continued even more fiercely for plum assignments, bonuses and, the ultimate goal in a private firm - becoming a partner. While I never made partner, thank God, and decided to work for a nonprofit organization before coming to ECF, it did take me quite a while to embrace a style of leadership that emphasized collaboration, collegiality, and working together for the common good.
When I first became conscious of Jesus as a small child, I did not think or feel uncomfortable about his appearance or skin color. Then, as I got older, it occurred to me that Jesus was not like me, especially blond, blue-eyed Jesus, the surfer Jesus. Dark brown-haired Jesus was more comforting, but he still did not look like me. As an adolescent beginning the socialization process, I recall feeling not okay as I became more conscious of my skin color. The message was that there was something wrong with me and my Native people, but I could not understand it.
This was a painful time, not only because Jesus was white, but because I was not, and the white people seemed to either agree with or be influenced by this reality. This judgmental attitude was usually displayed by nervous, uptight behavior when these folks were around me and my family. Then, as I got older, pictures of surfer dude Jesus really pissed me off! By this time, I was conscious of racism and its reality and painful effects. I became defensive about this and angry at white people for what they did to my people and continue to do, via their judgmental attitude towards us. I began to think that Jesus was only in existence for white people and not us people of color.
As we prepare our Thanksgiving feasts and look forward to Christmas, we invite you to take the time to celebrate Advent. Advent can be a wonderful time to pause and reflect on the miracle that is to come. To help you celebrate this season, we’ve gathered a baker’s dozen of resources below. From all of us at ECF, we pray that your Advent is filled with peace, health and hopeful anticipation.
1. Find Advent and Christmas resources from The Episcopal Church here, including an updated Journeying the Way of Love Advent calendar and curriculum, weekly collects for Advent and Christmas Day, and Advent and Christmas Digital Invitation Kits. Most of their resources are also available in Spanish and French.
The importance of legacy is firmly rooted in the minds and hearts of the parishioners of All Saints Episcopal Church in Tarpon Springs, FL. I interviewed The Reverend Janet Tunnell, the rector, James Rissler, chair of the Funding our Future committee, and Ellen Lightner, chair of the Perpetual Light Legacy Society, to learn how creating a legacy society helped and is continuing to help All Saints grow the church’s endowment for the future.
Founded in 1892, All Saints Episcopal Church is in sunny Tarpon Springs, Florida, a historical fishing village on the Gulf Coast. Generations of families have attended the church, yet it’s also a welcoming place for newcomers. “We are just a very close tight-knit family. When you come the first time you're embraced and welcomed, and you feel like you've been there forever.” Ellen Lightner said.
Jesus was not a white guy. The paintings you may have seen, portraying him with sandy-colored hair and blue eyes, are figments of the European imagination. Jesus was a Palestinian, and he looked like one. If he were living in the U.S. today, we’d see him as a “person of color.”
That’s just the visual impression, though. In Jesus’ world, there was no such thing as a “nuclear family,” Mom, Dad and the kids. In those days, families were large and extended; kids growing up saw their aunts and uncles and cousins all the time. People didn’t move around if they could help it; local communities were close-knit.
“Fourteen parishes,” she told me that afternoon, noting that my jaw just about dropped. “Yes, I’m the Team Vicar of fourteen parishes.”
“Wow, that makes the two churches I serve as part of one parish, and the third as priest-in-charge kind of pale in comparison,” I responded.
My new colleague and I were enjoying lunchtime conversation in the refectory at Sarum College, just across the lawn from Salisbury Cathedral. The site of the former Salisbury & Wells Theological College, Sarum College is very much a working, albeit non-residential seminary. In fact, it’s a remarkable, vibrant center for theological formation and renewal for all orders of ministry! It’s a great place for anyone, including Episcopal priests on sabbatical like me, to spend any time, really. Simple accommodations, great staff, nice meals, a stone’s throw from one of the world’s great Cathedrals, and a dynamic, buzzing place where one can really get a sense of what life is like on the ground in the Church of England.
My seminary was a huge brick building circa 1960 or so. It was originally a seminary for Jesuit priests, and now houses a retirement community and nursing home for Catholic clergy, and functions as a large retreat center for many different groups.
One weekend a month for three years I would ride along as my friend Jan drove down the long, tree-lined drive. We’d park and lug a weekend’s worth of luggage inside, and before we were even in the doors our community would begin to form via shouted greetings in the parking lot and warm hugs in the lobby.
The Academy for Vocational Leadership is an Iona Collaborative school and is made up of many bi-vocational students and staff. On these long weekends we learned Church History, Systematic Theology, the Bible and literally dozens and dozens of practical courses, everything from music in small churches to Asset-Based Community Development.