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.
During this time of quarantine from the COVID-19 virus many are reflecting on its meaning for the church. Concerns abound: the doors of our churches were barely open, now they are shut; our attendance was dwindling, now it’s zero; our income was falling, now it’s further decreased; our pastoral care was spotty, now it’s non-existent; our community outreach was fragile, now it’s shuttered. This is a pessimistic view and thankfully creative church solutions are already being deployed to address these unusual times. We can further explore.
For many homebound on Sunday mornings the televangelist on the religious television stations have been a source for worship. Many televangelists have been vilified for questionable activities, however for some their popularity and longevity demonstrate success in ministry. Below are some observations.
The emerging and ever-changing challenges of the coronavirus are really quite daunting. The entire landscape of human gatherings has been changed in rapid succession. And yet COVID-19 has encouraged amazing creativity on the part of Episcopal worshipping communities, clergy, and lay leaders. We’re not normally early adapters, we Episcopalians, nor are we the quickest when it comes to innovative technology, but we’ve leaned hard into some new territory – connecting people who cannot be together in person. No one wanted to learn adaptive leadership and remote technology in this way, but many have learned – and learned it on the fly and really quite well.
YouTube channels have been created or, in some cases, more populated. Zoom is the tool I’ve been using, and we experienced this past Sunday the struggle of getting so many Zoom accounts to go live on Facebook at the same time! Facebook live is another popular option. The good news is that we’re learning together how to do church in a virtual space. Many can see what’s going on in other faith communities as well as share pro-tips and horror stories.
Below you will find resources we’ve gathered from across the Church, designed to inform and support us through the current COVID-19 pandemic. Included are the most recent messages, resources and recommendations from the Episcopal Church, recommendations from the CDC and WHO (in English and Spanish), and various worship, prayer, and community resources to use during this time. We hope you find them helpful. We join in prayer with our siblings around the world, as we navigate this difficult time together.
Note: We will update this list as new resources are made available. If you have a relevant resource to share, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
“Where can I buy that study guide?” a parishioner asked me ten years ago when I launched St. George’s Sunday morning bible study. There was not then, nor is there now, a bookstore in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. There was a used book store in our County seat, but I wasn’t sure they had multiple copies of the study guide for Romans; in fact, I was certain they didn’t have a single copy.
“Amazon,” was the answer I had in my head, but instead I offered to pick up a bunch of copies the next time I was up the road at the Virginia Seminary. Now, even that Seminary doesn’t have a bookstore!
Well-functioning vestries are critical for healthy, vibrant congregations. Whether the issues are financial, building maintenance or clergy related, unfortunately many vestries are unprepared for their role. There are vestries that are not informed, others overwhelmed and those who are in many ways dysfunctional.
At a recent all day “Vestry Best Practices” retreat, we tackled a few of these issues and shared some practical solutions for moving forward.
We have often discussed how important it is to tell our story, whether personal, congregational or denominational.
We have made telling our story a priority at General Convention in years past and many dioceses have adopted this message including the Diocese of New Jersey that has used it as a convention theme for many years. Today we are also using the process of storytelling in our Evangelism initiatives across the church.
However, while well intentioned, we all have anecdotes about the Episcopal Church being the best kept secret, including our own congregations. Thank God for Presiding Bishop Curry, who enabled us to now say, that we belong to the church of the preacher at Megan and Harry’s wedding.
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.
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.
This month we offer five resources to help your congregation with communication challenges. 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.
In my work with congregations, I frequently find faith communities challenged by “communications.” Roles such as weekly e-news writer, monthly newsletter editor, or managing platforms of e-mail distribution, website and Facebook, etc. go unfilled. Or, if the priest is young and tech savvy, s/he just does it all – in addition to everything else.
When I come across an active communications ministry, I ask lots of questions, hoping to pass on ideas to others. That’s just what I did when I met the talented and dedicated Communications Commission Chair for St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Christina Connelly.
What got my attention about St. Alban’s was a video on its website and Facebook home. The video features several church members sharing their journeys and their discoveries of a loving congregation and denomination. Their statements reveal both the diversity and similarity of where they’ve been, what they have found and what they love about St. Alban’s.
The local public radio station allows sponsors 24 words for each ad. The name of the sponsor counts as one word. But if a website is given, “dot” is one word, and “org” is another. 24 words.
Like a tweet on Twitter, the word limit makes us consider what is most important to communicate and to whom. A good exercise. It is similar to articulating a mission statement. But a mission statement is meant to guide and inspire the people who are already part of the congregation. This was for those beyond our walls.
So, how do we describe ourselves in 24 words or less?
When was the last time a delegation of 5 or more people from your church attended an event that addressed an area of vital importance to your congregation? These important areas may include: 1) Evangelism 2) Stewardship 3) Formation 4) Anti-racism 5) Vestry Leadership Development 6) Church Planting/ Replanting 7) Outreach or 8) Communication.
These events may have been sponsored by the Diocese, the Episcopal Church or a national Episcopal organization. These entities have invested much time and effort to be a resource in the areas listed above and others not mentioned. Additionally the National organizations have dedicated their whole ministry to deep expertise in these areas. Examples of these organizations are Forma, Episcopal Church Foundation, and Church Pension Group.
Reading through Luke this Lent is like sitting with an old friend in front of a fire, reminiscing about people and events that have touched our lives. We smile as we remember the willing Virgin Mary, grateful Elizabeth, awestruck shepherds, spirit-filled Simeon and Anna, and on and on.
Luke’s story full of stories provides ideas for how to communicate to and about our congregations. Newsletters, annual reports, bulletin boards, Facebook posts, can be transformed from the basic “who, what, when and where” to creative reflections that people will enjoy writing/creating, and other people will actually want to read/view.
“Why can’t we just ask people what they want to do?”
Sounds so simple. Logical, even. Why spend months in conversation about history, gifts and values to determine “what God is calling this congregation to do to next” when you could just ask people in one parish meeting for suggestions?
Here’s why. We live in community. Think of your congregation as a microcosm of the Body of Christ, which overall is more diverse than we can imagine. People flow in and out of the microcosm. Let’s think first about those who’ve come. Some have been there a long time – decades perhaps. Others arrived ten years ago, or one year ago, or last month.
Parishioners and visitors staying in touch with our church community and each other is a critical component of a welcoming and vibrant ministry. In the past and also very much today the primary means of communication within our church is by word-of-mouth. Through a chance meeting at a grocery store or social event, a telephone call to a parishioner, or a planned visit, those absent for a Sunday or months of Sundays are given an update on the church happenings in these interactions. While these means of communication are great and necessary they can sometimes lead to inconsistent or wrong information being conveyed. Sometimes the messenger does undermine the message especially if an unhappy or gossip-filled parishioner.
On Christmas morning a few weeks ago, we turned from the infant in the cradle to give our worship to the mighty God who came among us as that baby. We read these words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
The Word: this is one of our most holy names for Christ, the second person of the Trinity, the Beloved Child of God. Christ is the Word of God. And, as John tells us, Christ the Word was present with God in the act of creation—all things came into being through the Word, just as it is written in the book of Genesis. God speaks, and worlds are created.
Words create worlds.
In my corporate work, I used to facilitate a workshop called the M.A.G.I.C .of Customer Relations, which emphasized communications and relationships as two of the keys to delivering exceptional customer service. Early in the program we pondered a quote by Virginia Satir, the American social worker and author who is widely regarded as the pioneer of family therapy. According to Ms. Satir, “Once a human being has arrived on this earth, communication is the largest single factor determining what kinds of relationships he makes with others and what happens to him in the world about him.”
What does it mean to communicate in a way that models Christ? How do we share good news with our friends, neighbors and strangers? In this issue of Vestry Papers, we invite you to consider how the sharing of stories can take on many different forms – conversations, pictures, videos or even performances. What they have in common though, is inviting others into fellowship, community and love.