I recently visited a parish that was considering embarking on a capital campaign. During our conversation, members of the committee shared that they had engaged in a series of visioning, clergy search, and strategic planning initiatives over the last several years. The initiatives included one-on-one meetings, group conversations and surveys. In two cases they hired consultants to facilitate these initiatives, each of which included some form of discernment. However during our conversation it became very apparent that the committee’s level of clarity regarding the processes they used and the practices they engaged in were unclear. So were the outcomes they had hoped to achieve. Given that, there was a general level of frustration as well as a strong desire to bring something tangible to the congregation that showed forward progress. Moreover, there was a reluctance to engage in what they perceived to be another redundant process of discernment. With deference to the best intentions and heart-felt contributions of everyone involved, their collective efforts proved to be less productive than expected. Hope and enthusiasm shifted to frustration and caution, and I felt a genuine feeling of concern for their predicament.
As a millennial clergy woman, I’ve been approached by folks when I’m visiting churches about “what millennials want in church.” My usual response is, “well, I can tell you what I look for in a church, but that’s not necessarily what my husband looks for, or my friends.” Despite what the media may lead us to believe, millennials are not a solid mass of young people (the oldest of us are in our late thirties) who all want the exact same thing. As every generation that has gone before us, we’re a diverse group of people who have different needs and desires in our lives, and that extends to church as much as to anything else. Thus, my advice to those asking the question about how to reach millennials and bring them into church is this: Be yourself (in my head, in true millennial fashion, it’s the Genie from Aladdin as voiced by Robin Williams saying this right now). It’s advice I give to the young people with whom I work all of the time, and it’s a guiding principle in my marriage and in my parenting. But these are good words to live by when it comes to being church as well.
When a holy nudge of an idea comes along and starts to take root in your faith community, how can it be tended to grow with the support of many? Or when your community feels a bit weary, uncertain of its future, or just plain bored with its status quo, how can you liven things up to engage people in seeking answers together?
One way is as old as the Christian church itself: gatherings in homes to explore faith and pray for guidance, today frequently called “Cottage Meetings.”
The idea is to invite people to sign-up to participate in an informal gathering for conversation in someone’s home. Figure 10 to 15 people per gathering to determine how many home hosts are needed.
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!
Every so often the leadership of a congregation decides that it is necessary to spend some valuable time discerning what needs to be addressed. The motivation to discern could be related to the growth of the parish, the outreach component of the church’s ministry, or how the building structure is impeding the mission of the church.
Unlike most nonprofits the church includes God in the conversation concerning next steps. “What is God calling us to do?”
One of the more unlikely recent stories in the business world is the resurrection of Microsoft. Once thought to be out of touch with the modern tech industry, the corporate giant has become (at least for a time) as big as Apple.
There are many explanations given for how that shift has taken place. But, you’re not here for business analysis. Why would we, as the Church, care about a revitalized business?
Karl Barth once famously said, “Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.” I think what he realized is that, when put through theological reflection, there’s much we can learn as Christians from the news around us. Including business news.
A new calendar year brings renewed resolutions to do things right. When it comes to diet and exercise, common sense generally is the answer (sigh): eat less, move more.
Recognizing a “common sense” for a congregation can be more complicated, especially if you’ve done a good job of gathering a diverse leadership team bringing varied experiences, values and convictions to the table. There may be several options for every issue, from the budget to determining new ministries to advance justice or serve the poor. Oh, why can’t the answer be obvious?
The Discernment phase of a capital campaign is as important as either the Feasibility Study or the Solicitation phase, and it is a unique part of ECF’s capital campaign method.
During Discernment, information is shared, questions are raised, discussion happens, and a consensus for a vision for the future is crafted by the entire community. The fact that everyone is personally invited to participate, and everyone is listened to not only creates a vision for the community, but it also inspires individuals to buy into the vision and feel it is their own.
It’s still Ordinary Time in the church calendar – that long season after Pentecost so rich with stories of Jesus’ miracles, run-ins with authorities, and teachings about how he is the bread of life, our truth, light and way to God.
For many of us, it’s also a time of return to ordinary… back to the routine of school and less play, of church activities and less heading out of town most weekends. If your coffee hour now returns to speakers or discussion groups, this might be a good topic: Why are we here?
Perhaps this sounds scary to ask. It’s not meant to present a challenge. It is offered as a way to infuse the return of busy-ness with a bit of inspiration. So you might ask it like this:
This month we offer five resources on discipleship. 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 is discipleship? In Discipleship Matters, Richelle Thompson explains what the word means to her and challenges her readers to consider what it could mean to them. Are you growing as a follower of Jesus Christ?
We are now in the season of Lent. As the Book of Common Prayer reminds us in the Ash Wednesday service:
… I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature …
Many of us make genuine efforts to follow the practices suggested for Lent but in our humanness many times fall short. I especially remember one story where a parishioner fell in the parking lot of the local bakery right after the Good Friday Service in her haste to buy the cake she had given up for Lent. Though our efforts are not always successful I believe they are certainly worthwhile.
Luke and Acts are thought to have been written primarily for a Gentile audience. This means that from the very beginning, Luke has a challenge. How does one “set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us” when the listening audience does not share a common language of hope and fulfillment? For a Jewish audience, the question, “What are we waiting for?” would have had a fairly clear answer, even if individuals and groups would have argued (and certainly did) over what shape the Messiah’s coming would take.
For a Gentile audience, the question of “What are we waiting for?” is a much tougher one. So Luke starts with hope. For a people who have not imbibed the promises of the Hebrew Scriptures with their mothers’ milk, Luke lays out a number of interlocking statements of hope. In a few chapters, the gospel introduces a whole new people to centuries of shared history and commitment and faithfulness – on the part of both God and the people.
I’ve become the chief obituary writer for the family. It started nearly twenty years ago when my husband’s grandfather died. I was a reporter for the metro newspaper, and it was a natural ask. Over the years, even as my jobs have changed, I am still the go-to person for obituaries for the family.
It’s not that I have a golden pen or some magical way with words. Rather I spend some quiet, reflective time thinking about the person, about the qualities that endeared them to others (and the ones that drove others crazy). I work to paint a picture of the person, to suss out those key details that give insight into personality and heart. Here’s a bit of the obituary I recently wrote for my husband’s grandmother:
There is a scary sense of the unknown at the start of a period of congregational discernment, whether for a potential capital campaign or for strategic visioning. I have to admit, as a facilitator the anticipation is part of the thrill – like when the safety bar clamps shut on a roller coaster and you know the ride is about to begin. Oh, what will the listening, prayer and Holy Spirit will reveal?
At St. John’s Episcopal Church in Canandaigua, New York, an obvious need to renovate the former rectory building turned out to be secondary to the congregation’s spiritual need to experience and share worship and music with the community. Organ replacement and stained glass window preservation moved to the top of the priority list. A successful capital campaign to address those issues is now being followed by new ministry possibilities for the old house.
This month we offer five resources to help your vestry, bishop’s committee, or other leadership group take a productive and life-giving retreat. Please share this digest with your parish leadership and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.
The Vestry Goes on Retreat shares how retreats can be a time of fruitful work, relationship building and most importantly, honest conversations about the life and health of a church.
Sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with friend or stranger sounds a bit scary. To make it less so, we are advised to prepare what we would say whenever the opportunity arises. Writing one’s faith story is a powerful experience when done in prayerful partnership with the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the resulting words on paper seem so compelling, the would-be story teller transforms into a would-be author. Or at least dreams about it.
Recently, dreams found paths toward reality at a Writing for Your Life conference in Nashville, Tennessee. More than 100 spiritual writers – some would-be and some already published – gathered like pilgrims at a hallowed place. No candles in this grotto - just inspiration from best-selling authors Barbara Brown Taylor and Rachel Held Evans, and information from other writers, teachers and editors about the craft and business of writing for publication.
This past weekend I went out with a group from my parish to serve with 249 & Hope, a ministry for and with our brothers and sisters living along the local highway. This was my first time to go along with the group, and I was struck by the question the ministry leader asked me. “What are we going to learn today?”
I didn’t have an answer.
Too often, I think the church goes out into its neighborhood to solve problems. Let’s feed the homeless, or tutor in the local school, or visit the sick and lonely. These are all good things that we, as Christians, should do! But we don’t do them because we can provide solutions to other people’s problems.
Today we claim the song as ours, belting it out full throttle, especially today as we celebrate All Saints Day.
“I sing a song of the saints of God, patient and brave and true, who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew. And one was a doctor and one was a queen, and one was a shepherdess on the green: they were all of them saints of God—and I mean, God helping, to be one too.”
(If you’re primed to sing the rest, go ahead and turn to page 293 in the 1982 Hymnal of the Episcopal Church).
Years ago, in a pastoral liturgy class at General Seminary, I learned what is still one of my favorite words. Anamnesis is the name for the part of the Eucharistic prayer where we tell the story of how we came to be saved through Jesus’ death and resurrection. An- is the Greek prefix for “not” and amnesis is a close cousin of the English word “amnesia.” Anamnesis is the “not-forgetting.” It is the not forgetting the price that was paid, the not wiping away the uncomfortable parts of the story, the not protecting future generations from how bloody the whole thing really was.
I spent several weeks in Germany this summer. It was mostly just a really fun family trip, full of adventures and good laughs and beautiful views and a certain amount of beer drunk before noon (totally socially acceptable in Munich, I swear). There was the time when my daughter was convinced there was a snack car on the train and it turned out to be a toilet. There were the creepily large day-glow paper mache bunnies wearing shorts and holding soccer balls that adorned our low budget rental apartment. So many family inside jokes to last us until we get to travel together again.
"Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness." Many Episcopalians strive to accomplish that with each use of our beloved liturgy. We enliven the treasured words with beautiful music that inspires us to, "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord!"
In between our soaring Sunday worship services, how is your congregation helping people become familiar with Individual spiritual practices designed to draw us closer in relationship to our triune God? The power of these practices was discovered hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years ago.