May 17, 2022 by Lisa G. Fischbeck

As churches emerge from pandemic practices and take a fresh look at the way we used to do things, many are pondering what aspects of the past two years might carry over or influence our liturgies ahead. Some are committed to continuing worship online one way or another, some are challenged by the thought of returning to the common use of a common chalice. Some are wondering how they will exchange the Peace. The hand sanitizers that appeared in abundance in 2021 are sliding into the shadows. In all these things, the church is being given an invitation to enrich and expand its liturgical practices and understanding. Will we accept the invitation?

Ablutions, ceremonial washing of the priest and people, have been part of worship, or preparation for worship, for centuries. Jews, Christians, and Muslims, all have traditions of washing hands, face, and even feet, before prayer. Many Episcopal Churches maintain the ancient custom of keeping a bowl of baptismal water by the entrance to the church for people who want dip their fingers and sign themselves with the cross upon entering the nave. In addition to reminding worshippers of their baptism, this practice is a remnant of the medieval hand-washing before the Eucharist. Another tradition is the use of a lavabo bowl, held by an acolyte who then pours water over the celebrant’s fingers after the altar has been prepared and before the Eucharistic Prayer. Often, while engaging in this symbolic washing, the priest recites a verse from the psalms, “I wash my hands in innocence, and go around your altar, O Lord” (Psalm 26) or “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” (Psalm 51).

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May 13, 2022 by Carsten Sierck

Do you believe in the mission and work of your church? Would you like to help your church ensure that it can serve people for years to come? If you answered yes, then you believe in the benefits of an endowment. An endowment provides financial support that can impact your community far into the future. It can build the vitality of your church and create stronger bonds with your surrounding community through the ministries your church creates and supports.

If your church wants to discuss if this is the right time to start an endowment, contact ECF’s Endowment Management program at endowment@ecf.org

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May 12, 2022 by Linda Buskirk

What does it take for a community of faith to see itself in a new way, or to believe that its neighbors could find value inside old red doors?

Episcopal churches in Indiana, small and large, are finding that it takes a type of boldness rooted in knowledge of the good they have to offer: Good mission, good faith, and good space. Self-awareness about these assets is being awakened through the Church Buildings for Collaborative Partnerships project (CBCP).

Funded by a Thriving Congregations grant from Lilly Endowment, CBCP is underway through a partnership with the Episcopal dioceses of Indianapolis and Northern Indiana, along with two other organizations: Partners for Sacred Places and Indiana Landmarks. All 82 Episcopal faith communities in Indiana have the opportunity to participate, each with a team of three to seven clergy and lay leaders.

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May 9, 2022 by Annette Buchanan

Congregations within the Episcopal Church tend to be loners. We seldom interface with our neighboring Episcopal churches and are often detached from our diocese. While we celebrate similar milestones and struggle with the same challenges, it is rare for congregations to collaborate continuously for ministry.

In 2015, a collaborative ministry was formed within the Diocese of New Jersey to address the challenges and the unique needs of the ten historically Black congregations. The members of this ministry include clergy and lay leaders from these congregations and a Diocesan staff liaison. This ministry was named the Commission on Black Ministry (COBM).

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May 3, 2022 by Sandy Webb

“This can be the next rector’s problem,” I said to myself.

A silk dossal curtain hung behind the altar at Church of the Holy Communion in Memphis. It measured almost twenty feet tall and fourteen feet wide – a royal blue damask field with gold bands and appliqued image of the ascending Christ. Wippell made the curtain for us in the early 1950s, shortly after Holy Communion moved to its current site. The dossal presided over every Eucharist, offered hope at every funeral, and appeared in every wedding and graduation picture for three generations. But, it had begun to show its age: The fabric was threadbare and the porcelain tone of Jesus’ skin reflected the artistic sensibilities of a former age.

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May 2, 2022 by Donald Romanik

My wife and I had the pleasure of spending Holy Week and Easter in Abilene, Texas, where our son, David, is rector of Church of the Heavenly Rest. In addition to spending delightful time with our three granddaughters, we attended multiple church services with moving liturgy, inspiring preaching, great music, and lots of people. Everyone seemed so happy to be together and, after two years, have “normal” celebrations. Due to the ruling of a federal judge, the mask mandate was lifted on our flight back to New York – yet another indication of normalcy.

Based on anecdotal evidence, it seems as though Heavenly Rest was not unique and that most Episcopal parishes enjoyed robust holiday services which has generated some excitement, enthusiasm and even optimism. Was this just an Easter “flash in the pan” or an indication of new vitality? Might this mean that the pandemic slump in church attendance is finally behind us, and people will be coming back to church as before? Might we even be turning a corner when it comes to numerical decline?

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April 21, 2022 by Michael Carney

Eugene Peterson spent most of his adult life serving as a pastor. He was also a scholar and was best known for The Message translation of the Bible, but that came out of his struggles to help people pray. “Getting started is easy enough,” he wrote. “The impulse to pray is deep within us, at the very center of our created being. ‘Help’ and ‘Thanks!’ are our basic prayers.”

Over the years, Peterson found that people often seemed “awkward and out of place” as they tried to deepen their conversation with the Creator. When they felt inadequate, Peterson would “put the Psalms in a person’s hand and say, Go home and pray these. They’re the real thing: honest, true and personal in their response to God.” (The Message, Introduction to the Psalms)

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April 20, 2022 by Cathy Hornberger

This month we offer five reflections on hybrid church and digital ministry. Please share this digest with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers, blogs, and the monthly digest.

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April 12, 2022 by Sandy Webb

A few years back, the Episcopal Church made an intentional change in its language: “Clergy Deployment” became “Transition Ministry.” The shift was generally a good one and it led to an impressive amount of reflection on lay leadership, congregational life cycles, and the strategies that can support healthy arrivals and departures.

Yet, we still need to be talking about clergy deployment. We still need to be talking about how we get the right people into the right chairs. (Or, to use a more sacred version of that same metaphor: The right people behind the right altars.)

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April 7, 2022 by Ken Mosesian

In Part 1 we reviewed where to have the retreat and the importance of setting the proper tone with meaningful passages from scripture. In Part 2, we’ll look at some essential components to create a successful experience.

First, begin with making agreements with each other for the day. As with everything that will follow, you can create whatever makes sense to you; you are also welcome to use what is provided here.

Essential Agreements for Meetings:

Confidentiality.
I always state the request and ask people to audibly answer yes. This immediately creates trust and allows people to share more deeply than they otherwise would.

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April 5, 2022 by Sandy Webb

The Episcopal Church needs to ask bigger questions.

Pastoral training has long taught us to look for the bigger questions: Is this person really upset about the color of the new carpet or does this person feel that too much is changing too quickly? Is this person really angry about last week’s sermon or is there something going on at home?

We are more effective pastors when we identify underlying issues and address them directly. The same principle applies when we take our place in the councils of the church: If we ask the bigger questions, we will get better results.

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April 4, 2022 by Ken Mosesian

Recently, the Vestry of All Saints’ Phoenix gathered for a one-day retreat that I was honored to lead. Without discussing any specific comments, I’d like to share with you the essentials of the retreat, and invite you to gather with your Vestry to create a vision for the future.

Now, more than ever, as we emerge from a pandemic that still lingers and face the prospect of an expanding war in Europe, we must create a powerful vision for the future that calls our congregations forward into new life.

In Part 1, we’ll discuss the logistics and the way we framed the conversation. In Part 2, we’ll review the structure we used to guide our visioning.

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Topics: Vestry
March 31, 2022 by Sandy Webb

“In today’s world, if your church needs to choose between a youth minister and a communications minister, you should probably choose the communications minister.” I wish I could remember who said this at a conference I attended long before the COVID-19 pandemic, because I would like to thank him.

This provocative statement shook me loose from an outdated assumption I had made about church staffing. In a culture with an insatiable appetite for the quick exchange of information, we need to consider church communication to be a ministry in itself, not just the infrastructure that supports other ministries. And, we need to prioritize it.

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March 24, 2022 by Michael Carney

Twenty years ago, I heard such a powerful sermon that it’s still vivid today. Bishop Mark MacDonald, now the Indigenous Anglican Archbishop of Canada, invited us to picture Jesus and his followers through the eyes of an eagle, soaring high above them. Imagine the “great multitude of people” gathered to hear the Sermon on the Plain in Luke’s Gospel (6:17).

An eagle looking down would have seen Jesus right in the center, with “all in the crowd trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.” Peter and the other eleven were right by Jesus’ side, surrounded by “a great crowd of his disciples.” Luke makes it clear that all kinds of people were on the road with Jesus: women and men, elders and kids, folks from every walk of life. Jesus connected with all of them, regardless of their backgrounds.

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March 23, 2022 by Cathy Hornberger

This month we offer five reflections on the upcoming Easter holiday. Please share this digest with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers, blogs, and the monthly digest.

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March 21, 2022 by Linda Buskirk

ECF’s Vital Practices’ recent focus on “transformative tools” got me thinking about what really makes transformation possible within a faith community.

ECF provides wonderful tools that hold transformative power, including the Finance Resource Guide, Racial Justice Resources, the Congregational Vitality Assessment, and the entire Vital Practices website.

As a congregational consultant, I carry a toolkit jampacked with means for exploring mission, vision, values and strategic priorities, for developing stewardship ministry and even for conducting successful capital campaigns.

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Topics: Change
March 18, 2022 by Ken Mosesian

In my previous blog, we discussed the absolute importance of eliminating gossip as the first step to transforming ourselves, and in so doing, our parish communities. I mentioned at the close of the blog that engaging the work of eliminating gossip was itself transformative.

If you’ve taken on the challenge of improving parish-wide communication, congratulations. This is a truly significant accomplishment that will yield extraordinarily positive results. As I reflected on the next logical step to help us advance, it occurred to me that perhaps we’ve not fully understood how limiting the past two years have been, and in some ways, continue to be.

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Topics: Change
March 15, 2022 by Robert B. Townes, IV

With the consulting work our firm performs across the nonprofit philanthropic spectrum, my involvement as an active volunteer for the Diocese of Atlanta, and the changes wrought by the last two years of COVID-19, a number of my worshipping friends have inquired about what my predictions are for the Church. With both “fear and trembling” and wild abandon, I offer the following.

First, I think there will be a growing demand for churches to raise the funds necessary to increase the production value of their virtual presentations. As with retail companies, both the storefront and online platforms combine to sustain their business model. Similarly for churches, both physical structures and virtual offerings will work together to feed the members of faith communities. And particularly with regard to the younger, “digital native” members and prospective members, virtual attendees will not long tolerate bad connections or poor visuals before moving to a video game or social media site. It will be a challenging assignment for The Episcopal Church to maintain one’s virtual attention. As an example, standing in line for the Eucharist during worship is not “made for prime time” viewing at all. But interesting, informative pre-recorded virtual segments can hold viewers’ attentions until, say, the choir re-enters the worship service picture. None of the production changes needing to be made will come cheaply.

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March 15, 2022 by Ken Mosesian

Transformation. From a cynical perspective, it’s nothing more than another buzzword that’s been overused by consultants like me.

Yet when I read how various dictionaries defined transformation, my heart softened. When we talk about being transformed, we’re talking about a making a significant change – a radical change – as some sources say, for the better.

As we begin to emerge into a post-pandemic world that will most certainly still include COVID, the church is right to consider what being transformed will look like. How do we transform as a church writ large and as individual parish communities?

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March 10, 2022 by Lisa G. Fischbeck

Episcopalians know that words matter. Words in our liturgy express what we believe and form who we become. The same is true of the words we use to tell our particular church’s story.

When telling the story of our congregation, parish or mission, do we refer to the year in which we were founded? Planted? Maybe we just say “started”, or, “We began worshipping together as a community in 1928.”

To be founded or established suggests something set in stone, unshakable. How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord. Christ is made the sure foundation, yes. For an establishment church, the language of establishment and foundation seems fitting. But for a church that is the Body of Christ given for the world, to be launched may be far more accurate.

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