December 10, 2019 by Linda Buskirk

If you say, “We need to make some changes around here,” people get nervous. Less resistance may come if you ask, “What gifts/talents do we have that we can use in ministry?” But even with such an “appreciative” approach to change, congregations may not have the vision or confidence to try something new to serve others outside the congregation.

Let’s face it – inside ministry is easier. Inside our faith communities, we know each other. We have people among us who have needs and we know where to find them and, generally, they look and sound like us. Sure, we can love outsiders, increasing our welcoming to people who walk through our doors. We can give money to or volunteer with agencies who serve those with socioeconomic challenges.

But do these actions involve change to move us out of our comfort zones?

Continue reading...

Topics: Change
November 26, 2019 by Lisa G. Fischbeck

There is a growing movement of food awareness in our society and in our church. Fruit is being added to school lunches, soda machines now include water and juice. Movie theaters now provide information about the calories in every snack they offer -- a small popcorn often runs over 500 calories, and a soda more than 400. And then there is the sugar content…

But our growing food awareness isn’t just about calories and fat content. Nor even about healthy diet, though that is part of it. More and more, we are also becoming aware of the source of our food – where it comes from, how it is grown, the treatment of the laborers who harvest it. It is certainly a secular movement, with the health food stores of the 1970s becoming substantial chains, and leading grocery store chains without health food heritage are finding ways to get on board with the trend. Foods are promoted as organic or fair trade, and some small sections of the market are set aside for local products or produce.

Continue reading...

Topics: Hospitality
November 20, 2019 by Cathy Hornberger

This month we offer five resources on generous hospitality. Please share this digest with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practicesto receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.

1) Do you take notice of members who aren’t at church? How can we practice mindfulness in caring for our church family? In his blog, Who’s New and Who’s Missing, Peter Strimer shares his method for keeping everyone in the loop of ministry.

Continue reading...

November 15, 2019 by Melissa Rau

Whether you think it’s merely a fad or you know someone who has been severely affected by Celiac’s Disease, many Episcopal faith communities have made the decision to make certain accommodations for those who abstain from any food products made with gluten (wheat, barley, and rye). Though most coffee hours haven’t yet made the leap, many an Episcopal Eucharist boast they have gluten-free wafers upon request. Which is great. Sadly, though, the accommodations fall short.

Though I, myself, am gluten intolerant, I don’t feel ill if I ingest gluten. One of my daughters, on the other hand, has a severe gluten allergy and can get pretty sick. Consequently, Mama Bear pays attention. Since most of the internet traffic on gluten-free (GF) accommodations at churches were about how the Roman Catholic Church has banned gluten-free wafers (a non-wheat host is heretical in their eyes), I decided to share some best practices for our Episcopal friends who want to be truly hospitable to those with gluten allergies.

Continue reading...

Topics: Hospitality, Worship
November 12, 2019 by Annette Buchanan

In our congregations as well as dioceses we oftentimes have the opportunity to hire a new staff person whether a youth director, financial officer, musician, administrator or sexton. A question for us all is whether we are using good HR (human resource) practices to hire these individuals or are we filling these positions with “Family and Friends”.

Recently at our commission meeting we compiled a list of best practices for lay positions which are below. Do consider as leaders how well we are adhering to these items.

· Form search committees for appropriate lay positions across the church
· Utilize best practices for the job search process to maximize interest from lay people
· Determine whether positions being considered for clergy can also be performed by lay
· Determine whether lay positions being considered are for Episcopalians only or can be filled by those familiar with the Episcopal church

Continue reading...

November 5, 2019 by Demi Prentiss

A history day offers an opportunity to engage a group of leaders and perhaps even the entire congregation in recognizing and reflecting on how the faith community understands and uses money. This is an especially useful exercise early in a new pastor’s tenure or in conjunction with a capital campaign or other finance initiative, but can be enlightening anytime.

Depending on the number of participants involved and the number of years a congregation has been in existence, such an exercise requires anywhere from two hours to the better part of a day. The exercise can be constructed around a meal. The ground rules call for no history books to be used – the important information to be gathered is what the congregation remembers as its story.

Continue reading...

Topics: Finance
November 4, 2019 by Richelle Thompson

It’s not often a resource can be used by both children and adults, as a formation tool and a gift for visitors, and as a celebration of the arts and the gifts of parishioners. But one congregation struck the trifecta.

Grace Episcopal Church in Anniston, Alabama, created its own coloring book with art solicited from members of the congregation featuring different facets of the building and liturgical accoutrements as well as local traditions. Published by the Christian education department, the coloring book is offered for the simple enjoyment by children and adults as well as for formation. A glossary in the back explains each picture. So, for example, an image of the aumbry might be familiar to folks who attend the church but who may not know its function. The handy glossary explains (along with a key for pronunciation): “AHM.bri: The aumbry of Grace Church is recessed into the east wall of the sanctuary near the altar. It is used to store the reserved sacrament. A sanctuary lamp hangs over the aumbry to indicate that reserved sacrament is stored within. The aumbry was dedicated in 1961.” Other images include the chalice and paten, the baptismal font, the pitcher used to hold the water of baptism.

Continue reading...

October 31, 2019 by Greg Syler

Oliver J. Hart, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania from 1943 to 1963, confessed his struggles at one time with integrating churches in the Philadelphia area, telling The Philadelphia Bulletin: “It’s not just a question of Negro and white. It’s a problem of people moving from one place to another. If you could just put your churches on wheels, it would be much easier.” (Quoted in D. Contosta, This Far by Faith)

It’s a cute idea – churches on wheels. It’s also a compelling question. I wonder if we could at least find a way to put our buildings and received assets on foundations which are significantly easier to shift when, invariably, neighborhood demographics shift. One real asset of The Episcopal Church is our buildings. We have a lot of buildings – parish halls, rectories, other houses, chapels and churches. It may be that we have too many buildings, and too many aging, expensive buildings, at that, but we are quite rich in the asset-holding sector!

Continue reading...

October 28, 2019 by Lisa G. Fischbeck

On the Feast of All Saints, November 1, the Church gives us an opportunity to reflect on the faith and witness of those who have died in the faith of the Church. In prayer and song, we remember all the saints, “who from their labors rest.” In traditional practice, The Feast of All Saints is the day we remember the Saints with a capital “S”, those who have been recognized by the Church for their faithful life and death The following day, November 2, is the “Commemoration of all Faithful Departed”, when we are encouraged to remember saints with a small “s”, those who have inspired us personally — parents and godparents, teachers, clergy, mentors, and more.

In many churches, the two remembrances are conflated the following Sunday, in a celebration unofficially called “All Saints Sunday.” While the distinctions between the capital “S” Saints and the small “s” saints may be ecclesiastically significant, pastorally, the blending of the two is inspiring and kind. As the secular world recognizes and adapts the Mexican celebration of the “Day of the Dead” more and more — in schools, public libraries, and homes — we can see that we all, at some level, yearn to remember our ancestors in faith, family, and love.

Continue reading...

October 24, 2019 by Melissa Rau

There once were young parents who decided to find a church family with whom they might raise their family in the faith. Though they’d attend the occasional Christmas and Easter service, they wanted to be more intentional. They committed to attending regularly, and after a little, they began being recognized as regular church attenders. People began to learn their names and that of their little girl. They eventually met with the priest and decided to have their toddler baptized.

As their little girl grew, they began looking forward to when she could participate in Sunday morning formation. It was about that time when they learned they’d become parents to a second child.

Continue reading...

October 23, 2019 by Cathy Hornberger

This month we offer five resources on community outreach. 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. What does a New Orleans magician have in common with the early church? In Street Performers, Strangers, and Community, Alan Bentrup makes the connection that the early church drew people to it by virtue of what that smaller community was doing for the larger community – caring for the poor, feeding the hungry, etc. What could our modern church learn from that experience?

Continue reading...

October 21, 2019 by Greg Syler

A few years ago, I wondered aloud about whether, or when, The Episcopal Church would catch up to a growing phenomenon in Christian churches – multisite church planting and multisite church development. It was something I was reading about, especially because I was at the time serving one Episcopal congregation as rector while making plans to take on a second call with our neighbor church. That call developed and, as I’ve also written about, St. George’s, Valley Lee and Ascension, Lexington Park – two courageous congregations in the Diocese of Washington – have moved from conversations with one another to ‘yoking’ (an informal term for sharing everything, just not becoming one church) to merging.

I wondered a few years’ ago whether The Episcopal Church could borrow some multisite thinking. “We tend to see ourselves as one church,” I wrote, “at least theologically and spiritually as set in the landscape of other denominations. …Can this category apply to Episcopal congregations and communities in our church? And, if so, how? If not, why not?”

Continue reading...

October 17, 2019 by Sarah Townsend Leach

“Stewardship” is a word we hear often in the church, especially beginning at this time of year and ending before Advent. What we in the Episcopal Church often mean when we say “stewardship” is the annual pledge drive conducted each fall, which is designed to secure financial commitments from members to fund the following year’s mission and ministry.

While I was raised in the Episcopal Church hearing this language, and while I still slip into using it myself with my ECF clients and in my own church, I’m here to ask that we please change our ways. In the secular nonprofit world, where I received my fund development education and first ten years of professional experience, the word “stewardship” does not connote asking for money; asking for money is “solicitation.”

Continue reading...

Topics: Stewardship
October 11, 2019 by Jim Murphy

Believe it or not, it’s that time of year again. It’s time to start planning to encourage your donors to make gift before the end of the year! We hope that you have been encouraging giving throughout the year. Even so, many donors discover, due to summer vacations and various other reasons that they have fallen behind on their pledges. The last few months of the year are a great time to send giving statements to your donors as gentle reminders of their previous commitments and to remind them about additional ways to give.

Continue reading...

October 10, 2019 by Richelle Thompson

Sometimes a good idea comes in a pint of ice cream.

I live near Cincinnati where we put chili on our spaghetti and the hand-churned ice cream from Graeter’s reigns supreme. The regional company releases seasonal flavors and earlier this month began selling Elena’s Blueberry Pie. Except Blueberry only had one “e” on the front of the pint. Copy editors facepalm in unison.

I don’t know how many people reviewed the graphics for the pint container, but I suspect a bunch of people signed off. I can only imagine the stomach-dropping moment when the first person realized the company had printed—and already distributed—several thousand containers with a third-grade spelling error.

But here’s where the story takes an interesting turn. Instead of spending tens of thousands of dollars reprinting and replacing all the containers, the company announced that it would donate that same amount to a cancer research nonprofit The Cure Starts Now.

Continue reading...

October 7, 2019 by Linda Buskirk

Pleasant and effective. That is the positive description of the ongoing Stewardship Ministry of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan.

I wrote about St. John’s personal approach to stewardship in 2018. It started with writing different letters to people of different generations (Why Do You Give to the Church?).

St. John’s Stewardship Chair John Harberts said the experience of communicating differently with different people made their whole task more personal. They took it a big step further, with Stewardship team members committing to stay in touch with a number of parishioners throughout the entire year. (For more details, click here).

Continue reading...

Topics: Stewardship
October 1, 2019 by Lisa G. Fischbeck

From its beginnings, Christians have used metaphor to describe and teach about the Church. Most enduring is Paul’s metaphor of the Church as the Body of Christ, with each Christian a member of that Body. An eye, an ear, a foot, all important and contributing to the life of the whole. Cyprian and Augustine in the early church, and Luther and Calvin in the Reformation, notably referred to the Church as a Mother (to go with God the Father) and as the Bride of Christ. In the 20th century, Robert Farrah Capon wrote of the church as a hat on the head of a mystical body, allowing the mystical body to be located.

Metaphors usually don’t hold up under intense scrutiny. But they can certainly help us to see, to describe, to understand. Given that, and also the many examples of metaphors in the life of the faithful, I propose that to engage in metaphor is a vital practice of the Christian life. Doing so can teach and inspire in circumstances where literal descriptions fail or fall flat.

It is in this vein that I offer the metaphor of the Church as corgi. I refer to the little dog with short legs and cheerful spirit, popular on the internet, in photos, and household decor.

Continue reading...

Topics: Small Churches
September 27, 2019 by Alan Bentrup

The latest parochial report statistics are out, and the annual hand wringing over decline has started. With all of the questions being asked (and blame being placed) around the statistics and what it means for us as a church body, I was reminded of a book I recently read.

General Stanley McChrystal’s book, Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, discusses how he and his team redesigned Special Operations in Iraq to fight Al Qaeda, and how such lessons can be applied to all kinds of organizations in both the public and private sectors. He didn’t mention the church, specifically, but so much of what he wrote applies to us as well.

What Gen. McChrystal realized was that he was leading an organization that was designed to fight previous wars, and he and his team were wholly unprepared for the new context in which they found themselves.

Continue reading...

Topics: Change
September 24, 2019 by Annette Buchanan

In August 2019 we commemorated the Quadricentennial (400, 3:00 pm, in remembrance of this critical date. There were also events in Ghana celebrated as the “Year of the Return” encouraging visits to the place of origin for many African-Americans. I also visited Jamestown this summer and learned a lot more about our American history including the critical role of the church in the chaotic times of the countries’ formation.

Commemorations are also very important in our church life, regardless of whether we are celebrating a tragic or happy event or flawed or heroic individuals. The church has provided us with liturgical resources including Holy Women Holy Men, and more recently A Great Cloud of Witnesses to highlight the many individuals who through their lives have furthered the ministry and mission of the church. Many churches do commemorate their own patron saint, however so many more can be explored and utilized from our church history.

Continue reading...

Topics: Worship, Diversity
September 19, 2019 by Nick Sollog

In 2017, I had a client in the midst of a Feasibility Study when their beloved Rector was elected to be a Bishop in another Diocese. One would think this would mean the end of their hard work toward a campaign, but it came at the right time. The personal interviews had been completed but the majority of the parish had not been invited to respond to the survey. Because of this, their report provided a true picture and temperature for moving forward with the campaign.

While there was some concern, the overall theme of the report was that they could move forward and had the potential to raise just over $1 million for the projects that were under consideration. What the Vestry needed to do then was decide how they would move forward. They had the good fortune to have a strong committee and an outgoing Rector who both wholeheartedly supported moving forward into the solicitation phase of the campaign.

Continue reading...