On Easter morning, I will offer the short, sweet, three-point sermon that I’ve offered before:
We gather today to celebrate Easter, the Feast of the Resurrection.
And I want to say three things about the Feast of the Resurrection that we celebrate this day:
1) The Resurrection is a mystery that cannot be described in words.
2) The Resurrection can’t just be celebrated by our intellects and in our heads. It requires our whole selves.
3) The Resurrection is best celebrated with others.
So, rather than give any more words in response to the Gospel and the Feast of the Day, we will dance.
At that point, the feelings in the congregation are a blend of excitement, anxiety, curiosity and relief (for many are only occasional church visitors, and not particularly revved for a sermon). Then I call on a good sport of the congregation to help me show folks how the dance goes.
Is your church community putting its money where its mouth and mission are? This month we are highlighting five resources on mission-based finances. 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. Greg Syler, in Facing Financial Uncertainty—Testing and Re-testing the Budget, illustrates why having a nimble budget can help your community of faith live more fully and more intentionally in its mission. This article is packed with good resources to help your church be more flexible.
At a recent meeting, one of the assignments for our dinner conversation was to answer the question, “Name one thing that you cannot live without.” Given the occasion, many of the answers were frivolous and funny e.g. chocolate, hot water, the ocean etc. It is a question worth pondering seriously and also in turn asking in the context of our life as a congregation, “Name one thing that our congregation cannot live without.”
Personally, after we get past the life-saving items (food, water, shelter), the answers should reflect things that are truly important in our life: our family, friends, and yes, most importantly, our faith. Obviously, whatever we think we cannot live without is where we should spend our time and treasure. Experience shows that problems arise when these areas are not nurtured.
If you want to get better at something, you practice. That’s true for sports, or musical instruments, or spiritual disciplines.
Want to become more diligent in prayer? There’s no shortage of prayer practices that have developed through the centuries. Want to read your Bible more? We’ve got you covered.
But what if you want to get better at evangelism? You practice.
Napoleon is rumored to have reflected on the concept that “geography is destiny” before invading Russia in 1812…and the concept has become ingrained in geopolitical thought ever since.
And it can affect far more than simply politics. Camp Wingmann, a small Episcopal summer camp located in a picturesque setting in the Diocese of Central Florida, faced the daunting task of raising capital funds from across a Diocese spanning 15 counties and comprising nearly 1/3 of Florida’s 65,000 square miles. This Diocese includes small rural areas, such as Camp Wingmann’s Avon Park, as well as densely populated urban areas such as those surrounding Orlando (Disney/Universal) or the Space Coast (Cape Canaveral and Melbourne).
“We spoke to other capital campaign consultants,” comments Father Tom Seitz, Chairman of the Wingmann Board. “None expressed confidence in managing such a far-flung effort. That was when we turned to ECF and were so gratified that they took us on as a client.”
A member of the congregation asked if we might have pronoun buttons made for folks to wear in church -- simple pin buttons that would identify the pronouns with which people identify, such as he or she or they. Even though we don’t have non-binary or trans folks in the congregation (that we know of), Hannah explained, if any came to visit, they would likely feel more welcomed if they saw people wearing pronoun buttons. It would be a sign of hospitality. It would also help us all to be more aware of what gender identity is and how it varies. And it would cause us to be more mindful that we welcome all.
I knew the idea would be welcomed by many who truly want to broaden and make known our inclusive welcome. I was also aware that the idea would cause some to feel uncomfortable, or to question why it was necessary. And I had to confess my own ignorance of the nomenclature and terminology.
Sometimes, when my family and I have a Sunday off but we’re still in town, we pop into a local Presbyterian church for worship. They have great preaching and strong worship. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that very few people there know me or us. We slip in, enjoy worship, and go on with our day.
A traditional brick-and-mortar church, this congregation is known in our community as a strong, thriving church. They have great programs, a well-manicured campus, dynamic pastors, a good website – and it doesn’t hurt that their gym and nursery are top-notch!
But the one thing I really appreciate about them is their approach to Christian formation. They have Sunday morning classes, and youth group in the middle of the week. There’s a college-age group that meets in some kind of lounge space, and they pull together what they call a “Big Gathering” every now and then. But most of what they do in terms of formation and relationship-building happens Monday to Saturday … and not in their brick-and-mortar building.
April is Financial Literacy month.
At the Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF), we spend much of our time helping individuals and churches with their strategic, financial and leadership resources. We strive to educate and alleviate concerns around endowments, help seminarians navigate the transition out of seminary and into their first job or cure, coach clergy and lay leaders to be stronger, more effective leaders, and a whole host of other things. However, every April, we take some time out of our busy schedules and build on our own financial knowledge. Kate Adams, Project Director for the Lilly Endowment National Initiative, and I have looked forward to April when we get to put together a set of fun finance activities for our staff. Activities usually culminate with an end of the month gathering over food to share what we’ve learned over the past month. It’s a way for us at ECF to learn about ourselves but, more importantly, learn how our own relationships with money can affect the work we do every day. Here are a few exercises Kate Adams and I wanted to share with you in hopes that you mind find them useful for your own teams.
The husband and wife were regular participants in the life of the congregation. They were in church most Sundays, in the thick of the chatter in the entrance hall and coffee hour. When the woman began the decline into dementia, her husband took care of her and they still came to church. “Don’t you look lovely today!” she would say. “It sure is a pretty morning!”. She was very cheery.
In time, the husband talked to the clergy about his increasing inability to keep her safe. And eventually, after one too many wanderings or stove incidents, he determined that the time had come to place her in a care facility that could meet her needs better than he could. He came to church the following Sunday without her. Everyone asked where she was, and he told them. People were shocked. “I had no idea!” was the universal response.
After ten years of being a nomadic church, renting space from Sunday by Sunday, we finally had land. It took us three years to raise the money to buy it, three years of anticipation and longing. Then, it was finally ours. Fifteen acres of old farm land on the north end of town, with a pond and a 1960s ranch style house. We were like kids on a playground, discovering the trees, guessing what kind of flowers would bloom from bulbs planted decades before, watching the turtles race. We knew that soon we would also host a chapel. But that was still a ways off. We wanted to do something to celebrate, to claim the land, to ask God’s blessing on it, on us.
So we “beat the bounds.”
This month, we are highlighting five resources that can help your faith community invest in and maintain an endowment. Who else do you know who might appreciate these articles? Please share and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.
1. In Four Steps to Maintain and Increase Your Endowment, Jerry Keucher shares the Dos and Don’ts of how to use your church’s endowment. If your church in considering establishing an endowment or wondering how an endowment might be beneficial, this is a very helpful read.
Weeks or maybe months ago, someone asked you to consider serving on your church’s Vestry. You thought about it, prayed about it, talked with your family and friends about it. You know you have gifts to share, and you love your church. You want to serve God and help your congregation. But you’ve also heard stories from past Vestry members – the late nights, the struggles, the big questions, the anxieties, the mountains turned into molehills.
Serving on the Vestry is an amazing opportunity to grow, but like all opportunities it’s not without challenge and growth areas. Vestry is the place where faith meets structure, where character matters, where leadership counts. Serving on Vestry can help strengthen your walk with Christ. Instead of a Top Ten list for things to do or think about as a Vestry leader, I’m more concerned with ways in which Vestry service helps individuals thrive and a congregational culture take off. As I prepare to gather our new Vestry, here’s my Top Ten list of ways to thrive as a Vestry Leader.
Anxiety is a constant in leadership roles and in congregations who are stretching to accomplish something worthwhile. If there isn’t some anxiety, you likely didn’t reach far enough.
A great way to deal with anxiety is to bring it into the open – expect anxiety, and ensure concerns and ideas continue to be heard. Common worries include:
Episcopalians are big on discernment, which I have come to understand includes reflection on our questions in light of scripture, prayer, and the counsel of others. For instance, when someone gets a holy nudge to serve God in the church, we assemble a supportive group to help him/her “discern the call” to be ordained as a deacon or priest. We understand this is a big decision that takes time. We value praying about it in community with others.
In the Episcopal Church Foundation’s proven methodology for capital campaigns, the first of three phases is called “discernment.” During this time, which requires no deadline, the congregation is invited to discern its call as a faith community, and to determine which capital improvements would best support that call. Those who perform repeated emergency surgeries on the boiler, or the organist who keeps the music coming through skillful application of duct tape and screwdrivers, or the nursery attendant who wraps babies up like burritos to keep them warm – sometimes “hands on” folks like these get a little agitated about discernment. What’s to discern?! Let’s fix things!
It’s the season of congregational Annual Meetings, the time to pull out the reports, summarize the year, articulate the ways in which God is making clear God’s preferred future, and enjoy possibly one of the best potlucks of the year. Annual Meetings are an important part of congregational life, and one of the real highlights for church geeks and insiders.
But an Annual Meeting and, more to the point, the diminishing return on investment (time spent on the meeting versus the ways in which it ‘moves the needle’) points to a growing disconnect between a beautiful heritage and critical need. Our church’s representative democracy is a lovely thing, and a heritage I prefer to keep. At the same time, however, we need to admit that we’ve created a cumbersome and top-heavy institution. Simply to carry out the local parochial version of The Episcopal Church, year after year after year, requires a great deal of volunteer hours and oversight and coordination and management and communal good will. It’s been stated elsewhere, and this is no joke, that we’ve finally perfected the perfect version of an excellent 18th century institution. Only problem is it’s the 21st century.
In Romans 16, greetings are sent to a variety of people in this Christian community culminating with verse 16, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” Instructive in these verses is that the majority of greetings emphasize the positive works that the recipients have accomplished in their ministry.
Examples of these accolades include: “benefactor of many people”; “risked their lives for me”; “ hard work in the Lord”; “being chosen in the Lord”; “our co-worker in Christ”; “fidelity to Christ has stood the test”; “the first convert to Christ in Asia”; “my dear friend in the lord”; and "being my mother, brother or sister in the Lord".
The Commissioners of St. Mary’s County, Maryland recently undertook a study to identify the gaps between the services the County’s social service providers offer and those persons who lack access to resources. The ‘Gap Analysis’ revealed a host of hard-hitting facts and has spurred conversations across multiple sectors in our fast growing, economically prosperous (among a few) formerly-rural community.
For the past six months, I’ve been on a team of people commissioned by our elected leaders to make recommendations about how to translate into action what we’ve learned through the Gap Analysis. We are slowly drilling down near some root causes of the gaps, and truly helpful initiatives are beginning to emerge from our work.
Culture has completely shifted. I’d go so far as to say there’s a good chance that Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) for most of the last century was artificially inflated (and not just because the ushers double-counted).
People went to church because culture went to church. It was written into the laws of our cities, counties, and states. That’s why stores would close down on Sundays. That’s why so much of the whole world would stop on Sundays.
Because culture went to church, but now culture has shifted.
Serving on the vestry can be both rewarding and challenging. This month, we share resources that will help you feel more equipped to lead with confidence. Please share this digest with other members of your vestry and clergy, and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.
1. Have you or your vestry ever said that they wanted to do something, recognize the importance of doing it, but don’t really make any traction toward getting it done? In Overmaking Decisions, Anna Olson suggests things your vestry might consider in “right-sizing” your decisions and moving forward more intentionally.