May 22, 2020 by Alan Bentrup

On January 15, 1941, at the Stalag VIII-A prisoner-of-war camp, in Görlitz, Germany, a crowd of prisoners and Nazi guards gathered in a freezing hall to listen to a performance.

The make-shift orchestra, made up of four prisoners performing the four instruments available at the camp – a worn-out cello, piano, clarinet, and violin – became one of the most famous compositions to come out of the war years.

At the outset of World War II, French composer Olivier Messiaen was drafted into the French army and assigned to a non-combatant role. Nevertheless, in May 1940, as France was succumbing to the Nazi invasion, he was captured at Verdun and taken to a war camp in a town near the border of Germany and Poland.

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Topics: Mission, Worship
May 20, 2020 by Victor Conrado

Every month ECFVP offers five resources on a theme. This month we've asked Victor Conrado, Canon for Congregational Vitality and Formation in the Episcopal Diocese of New York, to share five resources that resonated with him. Please find his choices below. Please share this email with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and this monthly digest.

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Topics: Leadership, Change
May 20, 2020 by Victor Conrado

El Canónigo Victor Conrado, Canónigo para vitalidad y formación en la diócesis episcopal de Nueva York nos comparte los recursos que encontró en la Fundación de la Iglesia Episcopal que pueden usar con sus congregaciones y juntas parroquiales. Estos recursos nos ayuda a vivir nuestra fe y liderazgo durante esta pandemia.

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Topics: Leadership
May 19, 2020 by MaryBeth Ingram

I’m studying Matthew 9:35 – 10:23 for lay preacher school and Jesus is filled with compassion for the crowds because “they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” He calls for laborers to help with the harvest at hand and sends out the disciples to proclaim and heal. Jesus did not call for biblical scholars, grand speech-makers, top-notch administrators, or anything other than ‘common laborers’.

I’m content to be a laborer and it’s from this place that I find such disappointment in the church’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. All denominations come under my disappointment, none is singled out.

What you are about to read is my sense of things and mine alone, although I did see a glimmer of solidarity in a video from Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes (CEEP), Mourning Our Changing Church, when I heard the comments of Micah T.J. Jackson, President, Bexley Seabury Seminary in Chicago. In any case, I know this is a minority view. Here goes.

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May 18, 2020 by Linda Buskirk

This morning just after sunrise I watched and listened to a fellowship of cardinals gathered high in a maple tree. I could hear them chirping, “The Lord be with you.” “And also with you,” as they hopped among branches, munching on the tasseled buds. Sure, they get to come together for communion, I thought enviously.

Envy aside, I am grateful for opportunities – more than ever, actually – to participate in worship with hundreds of others, even with thousands on the National Cathedral’s Sunday morning live stream. There, after the bread and wine are blessed, we are led in the “spiritual communion” prayer by St. Alphonsus de Liguori (1696-1787):

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Topics: Worship
May 14, 2020 by Liz Perraud

There was that summer when a small construction project at our church and a burned-out Vacation Bible School (VBS) director meant we shifted from a traditional week of morning VBS to Wednesday evening intergenerational gatherings. And then there was that summer of major reconstruction when we couldn’t use the building or grounds and we opted to skip VBS altogether. Then along came COVID-19 in the spring of this year and the conversation and creativity took a whole new spin. Are we done spinning yet? Likely not.

I am a Christian education volunteer in my church and also serve as executive director of GenOn Ministries. For 60 years GenOn, a nonprofit organization, has partnered with churches to nurture, grow, and deepen intergenerational Christ-centered community. Excellent Vacation Bible School does that well. And so, in mid-March, we discussed how to support churches for at-home faith formation this summer.

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May 12, 2020 by Ken Howard

True confession: in my pre-COVID days, I always had good intentions about being a good neighbor. I thought about joining the neighborhood association, had casual conversations like “wouldn’t it be great to have a block party” but never made it happen, met people whom I intended to get together with but never did, but mostly, I would raise my hand and speak when passing, pick up trash when I saw it, and disappear into my backyard sanctuary for solitude, gardening, and fellowship with friends (most of whom are not neighbors).

This kind of describes a lot of pre-COVID 19 churches I know, too. They are friendly to their neighbors (the people and business owners), they care about the appearance of the neighborhood, they offer assistance to those in need… but often, friendly church members park in front of the church, enter the church doors, and find meaning, and fellowship with people like them inside the walls, and work to grow and nurture what they find there.

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Topics: Outreach
May 11, 2020 by Annette Buchanan

As Episcopalians one of our primary roles are to be evangelists spreading the Good News of Christ near and far. By the example of our lives and in conversations with family, friends and strangers we share the message sometimes awkwardly and are all on a journey to improve our witnessing. We have sometimes encountered interpretations of the scripture that are in opposition to what we have learned and have had to reconcile and address the misinformation. Examples are the biblical justification for slavery and the role of women in the church. Corporately and individually as church leaders we tackled these issues within our conventions and congregations and have successfully changed the narrative to align with our biblical teachings.

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Topics: Communications
May 7, 2020 by Ken Mosesian

The Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris has always held a special place in my heart. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit her more than 20 times, beginning when I was 17 years old. I’ve been there for prayer, for Mass, for quiet reflection from the park behind the Cathedral or the plaza in front of it. My sister and I took my dad there for his 90 birthday, where he was in awe of the fact that he was worshipping in the same place where Christians had worshipped for 850 years.

After the visit with our dad, I reflected on how much the Cathedral had given to me. I felt compelled to give back, beyond what I put in the offering plate when I visited. I checked out the Cathedral’s website, and I was shocked to discover how much work needed to be done to restore the structure. Gargoyles were falling off the façade. There was a question as to the stability of some of the flying buttresses. The central flèche (spire) was in disrepair.

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Topics: Change, Leadership
May 5, 2020 by Linda Buskirk

Did you ever think there would be a day when nearly everyone would acknowledge that “we’ve always done it this way” is no longer a valid excuse? I think it’s today.

Those who resisted live online communication are now regular attendees of Zoom worship and meetings. Those who never tried morning prayer are now regularly experiencing it in their home, often with their priest as their guide and prayer leader. Churches that were slow to offer online giving are now scrambling to make it available.

All over the church, creativity and courage are overcoming pandemic fear and isolation. Some examples:

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May 4, 2020 by Ken Howard

“Zoombombing” is when an uninvited person joins a Zoom meeting, usually for the purpose of gaining a few cheap laughs at the expense of the participants.

Because Zoombombers sometimes use racial slurs, profanity, pornography, and other offensive imagery, faith communities have begun to password protect their online worship services in order to prevent univited Zoombomers from entering.

I would like to suggest that password-protected online worship services are a huge missed opportunity for evangelism.

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April 23, 2020 by Lisa G. Fischbeck

It’s been nearly 40 years since the 1979 Book of Common Prayer was adopted for use in The Episcopal Church. This means that nearly two generations have been raised in the church experiencing the “exchange of the Peace.” A large number of today’s Episcopalians were raised in other traditions, or in no faith tradition at all, and for them, the exchange of the Peace is part and parcel of being an Episcopalian.

The practice emulates the greeting of Jesus in the post-resurrection gospel stories. Extra-liturgical evidence can be found in the Epistles, as Christians “greet one another with a holy kiss” (I Cor 16:20), and baptismal liturgies as early as the 2nd century record the ministers exchanging the Peace with the newly baptized. It spread from there. But the practice pretty much disappeared from the liturgy in the Church of England in the 16th century, returning in the late 20th century, and in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer of The Episcopal Church. While it took a few years for many Episcopal congregations to get the hang of the practice, after nearly forty years, we are pretty good at it. We shake hands, hug, or nod. “Peace be with you,” we say, or “The Peace of the Lord be with you.”

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Topics: Change, Worship
April 22, 2020 by Cathy Hornberger

This month we offer five resources on outreach during this time of COVID-19. 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.

1) Has your church ventured online? In Evangelism, Connection, and Our New (Virtual) Reality, Alan Bentrup shares tips and guidelines for connecting to online congregants old and new.

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Topics: Outreach
April 21, 2020 by Ken Mosesian

On Easter Eve, the United States of America passed a milestone: peak resource use as a result of COVID-19 infections. Every state has a unique peak resource use date. Some have already passed them. Others have yet to. But as a nation, we are starting down the mountain. This according to The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).

There is no “on” switch to be flipped. Scientists and other health care professionals continue to warn us that restarting a nation as big as the United States will have to be done with great care, in stages, over time. Balancing health concerns and economic recovery from a pandemic will be one of the most extraordinary challenges that our nation, and, in fact, the world, will ever face.

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Topics: Change, Outreach, Worship
April 17, 2020 by Linda Buskirk

“Nearly every morning, I enjoy morning prayer time with a group of friends.”

Three years ago, those words began my Vital Practices blog post about a virtual community of faithful people who regularly read and comment on Forward Movement’s daily prayer meditations published online at Forward Day by Day.

Today there is a new dimension to my gratitude for this ministry and my friends who meet me there. The constancy of this place keeps me grounded while my home church is closed. Thanks be to God for new platforms for community worship such as YouTube, Zoom and Facebook. But let’s face it, it’s been a learning curve to find them and get used to them.

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April 17, 2020 by Carsten Sierck

Most Episcopal organizations rely on generous donors to support their mission and ministry. Stewardship can be deeply spiritual, rooted in a desire to reorient our lives towards God, but it also has a practical side. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, signed into law on March 27, 2020, includes several provisions that may affect charitable giving this year. We encourage churches to talk about these opportunities with their congregations.

New charitable deduction for taxpayers who do not itemize. Beginning in 2020, individuals can deduct $300 in charitable contributions from their gross income even if they do not itemize their deductions. Donations must be made in cash to a charity. Gifts of appreciated securities, and gifts to a donor advised fund or supporting organization, do not qualify. Although the permissible amount is modest, it is a new benefit available to many of your donors.

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April 17, 2020 by Carsten Sierck

La mayoría de las organizaciones episcopales dependen de donantes generosos en apoyo de su misión y ministerio. La mayordomía puede ser profundamente espiritual, enraizada en el deseo de reorientar nuestras vidas hacia Dios, pero también tiene su lado práctico. La Ley Asistencia y Alivio del Coronavirus y de Seguridad Económica (Coronavirus Relief and Economic Security Act, abreviada como CARES), promulgada el 27 de marzo de 2020, contiene varias disposiciones que afectan las donaciones caritativas de este año. Estimulamos a las iglesias a que hablen sobre estas oportunidades con sus feligresías.

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April 13, 2020 by Ken Howard

Church pastor dies a week after contracting COVID-19
This article was published on the Chicago Sun Times Wire Service on Monday, March 30. In this short but moving piece about assistant pastor Angel Escamilla, assistant pastor of the local Assemblies of God church, the lead pastor describes Angel as having had “the spirit of a dove, the strength of a warrior, the faith of Abraham and when he prayed you knew he was talking to Heaven.”

What the first article didn’t say is that he contracted COVID-19 after two weeks of the entire worship team gathering at the church’s worship center to livestream services. It didn’t report that the pastor had told the team that livestreaming from the church was an essential service, and those who didn’t feel that they were essential were welcome to stay home if that made them feel more safe. It didn’t convey the fact that several members of the worship team had also tested positive for COVID-19 and were sick or that the lead pastor had encouraged them to withhold this information from the congregation out of “pastoral concern.”

All of that news was broken by a local investigative reporter in a piece published the very next day.

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Topics: Change, Worship
April 9, 2020 by Alan Bentrup

I am in awe of the work I see happening across our diocese and around the country to reshape the central gathering of our church. I’ve had the privilege of engaging with some of these leaders and congregations as they map out what this looks like and how this happens. Some thoughts around evangelism and connection as we continue to redefine this work in the coming weeks and months:

Make sure people can find you online.

First things first, make sure people can find your congregation online. Maybe it’s a website, or a Facebook page, but now more than ever, our online presence is essential. We also must make sure folks can find our online worship gatherings easily. For many, this will mean redesigning some pages on our websites so that the landing page and gatherings pages point to both the times and the ways in which people can engage.

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April 7, 2020 by Ken Howard

Never let a crisis go to waste.
- Winston Churchill

What do you do when you can’t pass the offering plate? How does congregational giving happen when a pandemic has shut our doors?

Our traditional ways of congregational giving are just one more of our paradigms of church crushed by the COVID crisis. And like our other congregational paradigms that have fallen before COVID19, they are probably gone for good. At least I hope so, because when paradigms collapse in the face of crisis, that means that they are either based on false assumptions or did not adequately address the full reality of human experience.

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Topics: Stewardship, Change