Every month ECFVP offers five resources on a theme. This month we've asked Paul Klitzke, Rector at Church of the Ascension in Dallas, TX, to offer a vlog sharing how he uses the different resource types on Vital Practices. 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.
Who could have imagined the upheavals 2020 has brought upon us? Along with every other institution, churches have been turned upside-down. In many cases necessity has been the mother of invention, as with the explosion of online worship. In other parts of our common life, such as youth ministry, it’s been tempting to throw up our hands and wait for a better time.
We’d like to share two experiences of adapting to the pandemic, with the hope that they’ll open up some possibilities in your setting. The first arose from young people and their youth leader responding to needs in the community and making an impact. The second explores the question of how a youth group can safely gather in person again. We’ll begin by describing the unique setting in which these experiences took place.
This has been a trying year. The Church in 2020 has gone through major adjustments in light of the Pandemic. Even with Facebook Live services and Zoom Bible Studies, many miss participating in the Eucharist, the singing of hymns, coffee hour, and other rituals that bind communities of faith.
Yet, there is a bright side to the present circumstances. This is a great opportunity to strengthen our spiritual lives in ways that often come when our lives are still. Here are some practices we can implement as we also practice our social distancing and our quarantines.
1. Reading the Bible: Ok. Ready for this? Some of us attend churches where both Word and Sacrament are pillars of worship, but if we are honest, the actual practice is Sacrament over Word. We love the beauty of the Eucharistic rituals, yet there is not a bible to be found in the pews: only prayer books and hymnals. Some of us need to brush up on the Word of God and meditate on it day and night (Joshua 1:8).
July and August are normally vacation time for many within the church. Attendance by parishioners decreases and there is a scramble to find supply priests while the clergy are away. We fret about tithes and many committees including vestries suspend their meetings and deliberations. We share our vacation plans, are thankful for the much needed rest, and hopeful that we will be reinvigorated for the work ahead. The good old days!!
With the public health issues of COVID-19 and systemic racism raging across our country, this summer’s vacation plans are different, and in many cases nonexistent. Practically, it may not be safe to travel or congregate with groups including family members. Others may be fearful given the continuous broadcast of civil unrest.
In a world before the pandemic, many of us may have felt that our glass was half full or that our cup runneth over. But for many of us engaged in the ministry of faith formation, it now feels like we are trying to drink from an empty cup while trying to fill up the cups of others. And once we are aware of our cup's emptiness, we can take steps to fill it.
This is the conclusion of a two-part article. The first part described a survey created and sent to faith formation professionals and volunteers asking them to rate their level of functioning. You can read more about how the survey was conducted and the results here.
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.
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.
As I walked into All Saints’ Phoenix for the 11:00 AM Mass this past Sunday, something felt palpably different. I spoke with our Rector, Father Poulson Reed, the Bishop-Elect of Oklahoma. Plans were in full swing for next week’s going away party and final celebrations of the Holy Eucharist after a decade as our Rector.
But we both had a sinking feeling that things were about to change, and change rapidly. It was as if the walls were closing in, and there was nothing that could be done about it.
During the Mass, I recalled stories I had read of Europe at the onset of World War II. People in church, knowing that it would be the last time they would gather as a community for months or years, because the enemy was fast approaching.
In the Great Litany, prayed by many on the first Sunday in Lent each year, we ask God to deliver us from dying “suddenly and unprepared.” And while our culture seems to value a quick and painless death, the church understands the grace and the opportunity made possible by a prolonged dying process. Tortuous as slow decline and diminishment can be, it can allow for a faithful preparation — reconciliation with friends and family, a time to express fears and to be offered healing, a time to get financial and legal affairs in order, a time to celebrate the life given. Much of this is to be done by the person who is dying and by the closest members of their family, when possible. But the church can help. Indeed, sometimes the church can take the lead.
Tom told me of his cancer diagnosis on a beautiful sunny afternoon over a cup of coffee and a sinfully delicious cookie. If he went with the chemo, his doctor had told him, he’d maybe have six months to live.
Tom had been a founding member of the Advocate. He was our first senior warden, and our seventh. He was a steady presence in our rocky first decade. The congregation reeled at his diagnosis. And we wanted to honor him before he died.
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.
When I first arrived at one of my parishes, St. George’s in Valley Lee, Maryland, I found in the center drawer of the desk in the rector’s office a bunch of 3 x 5 index cards, scrawled with handwritten notes. “Visited Mildred X,” read one note, detailing the date and time of visit, location, and how she was feeling. “Took Holy Communion to Cedar Lane,” went another, summarizing the scripture lessons and number of persons present at that afternoon service of worship. The interim priest, a clergyperson evidently gifted with pastoral care, had nourished a rather extensive pastoral care network, and he had developed a fine system of reporting, back and forth, such that he was in the loop but wasn’t the sole caregiver. It was an old-fashioned approach, and the filing system left somethings to be desired (they were just cards shoved in a desk drawer, after all), but it was a beautiful testament to a lovely way of doing church together.
I had the opportunity to help plan a very small funeral for my grand-aunt in Florida this month and concluded it would have been so helpful if there was a template or process that we could easily reference. I am hopeful this exists in many congregations especially with the frequency of funerals. For congregations without permanent clergy, the leadership surely needs guidelines on how to proceed.
Whether the funeral is in a chapel for a few family and friends or larger with full church and clergy engagement we seem to be starting from scratch for each planning. I had one helpful source, which were the many funeral bulletins my mother had at her home of family, friends and church brothers and sisters that have passed, not sure why she kept them all. Given this source and additional conversations, suggestions for a process are as follows:
I’ve found a way to make Christmas last all year. Or at least a bit of the spirit of the season.
When I store the decorations for another year, I’m always faced with a dilemma: What should I do with the Christmas cards? It’s the one time of year that folks send a snail mail card, and even if most have a simple signature, they are still a tangible connection to a longtime friend, a faraway relative, neighbors, and fellow parishioners. I hate to throw them away but I also don’t want to become a Christmas card hoarder.
A few years ago, a friend (and Episcopal priest) sent me a handwritten note in the middle of the year and explained that she kept her Christmas cards for a special purpose. Each week, she would draw a card from the pile, add the person to her prayer list, and then write and mail a note.
Wanting to better prepare in the wake of November’s church shooting in Sutherland Springs, TX, I recently attended a meeting of faith leaders with the Sherriff of St. Mary’s County, Maryland. As you might imagine, it was a well-attended meeting.
As sobering as the afternoon’s conversation was, the Sherriff drove home our need to be prepared and to regularly reinforce safety plans. Given the specific purpose of our gathering, he shared insight about active shooter situations. But, even then, the Sherriff reminded us, preparing for something as harrowing as that should be grounded in the same kind of thinking that guides our total commitment to safety and survival, no matter what. Knowing primary entrances and secondary exits, having situational awareness, and knowing how import our leadership is in public gatherings were some critical take-aways. At one point, the Sherriff mentioned that the cumulative experience of his many decades of law enforcement, a career which has brought him face-to-face with all manner of life-threatening situations, has made him understand how powerful it is to believe, truly believe that no matter what might happen he is going to do everything in his power to ensure that every person in his care will ultimately survive.
I’m back home preparing for my father’s funeral at the end of this week, and I’ve learned quite a bit being on the receiving end of pastoral care from a local church.
My dad, Dale Bentrup, is a lifelong Lutheran and a stalwart at the two churches he’s attended in my lifetime. His pastor, a dear friend of mine, has been a source of great comfort for my mom and family. And the outpouring of love and support from parishioners has taught me more about the role of the church than three years in seminary ever could.
Of all the word pictures and metaphors used to describe the church, one has always stuck with me: family. But as I’ve thought about it some this past week, I’ve decided that “family” isn’t a very good metaphor for the church.
It has been proven numerous times that contact with a compassionate and caring person in many cases can be the antidote to this despair. As church members and leaders, caring for others, especially those in our church community, should be our number one priority and the space where we excel above all institutions because we have the example and teachings of Jesus as our guideline.
A week ago Sunday, churches around the country participated in Social Media Sunday (#SMS16). This day provided an opportunity for people to “use digital devices intentionally to share their life of faith with the world.” If your Facebook feed was anything like mine, you saw plenty of selfies, check-ins, and short videos of worship, formation, and fun.
My background is in journalism, marketing, and public relations. I love that churches around the country are trying to reach out and share the Good News in new ways. From stained glass to the printing press to instrumental music, the Church has a long history of using new technologies and mediums to proclaim the Gospel. Our interactions with Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter should be no different.
“As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we pray and fast with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated.”
Justin Martyr, First Apology
She’s been going through a particularly difficult time – “rough,” I’m sure any of us would say. A significant death in her family, struggles with her job and making ends meet, and add to that internal strife within the remaining members of her family have left her nearly broken. “I’m not nearly as bad as where I was some time ago,” she said, referring to an even darker period, “but I’m not well, either.”
Sometimes four generations of family sit together in my church. Even after nearly five years, I’m still learning who is related. New priests for this congregation should get a family-tree chart as part of their welcome package!
Honoring those who came before us is an important tradition for this congregation. And soon, we will have another way to incorporate this value.
Our church building was built in 1910, and there is no churchyard cemetery. Given its location in the heart of town, there’s no practical way to start one. But we will soon install a columbarium in the chapel, providing a way for the ashes of loved ones to be placed in holy space.
The first (and second and third and ongoing) step was education. While some people appreciated the concept of a columbarium, others were completely wigged out about it. The idea of sitting next to cremated remains on Sunday morning didn’t seem all that appealing. But it’s not such a strange idea. After all, we believe that when we come together for worship and gather around the altar, we’re all there together, the church past, present, and future. And it’s not like the ashes are sitting out, waiting for a brisk wind to dust folks’ Sunday best. The ashes are placed in individual niches, which are then locked.
After some time spent in educating the congregation, a committee chosen by the vestry and rector moved forward with research. Would it be inside or outside? How many would we need? Would people buy into it?
I had asked my 14-year-old if she wanted to stay home (or go out with friends) on Saturday night, while her dad and I entertained the bishop and his wife. On the next day, she would be among a fantastic group of fifteen teens to be confirmed into The Episcopal Church. I had (wrongfully) assumed she would rather hang out with friends, binge-watch Grey’s Anatomy, or Snapchat.
But she made dinner with the bishop and his wife a priority because over the past decade, they had told her time and again, through word and example, that she mattered. True, I worked with this bishop on diocesan staff, and my husband was a priest in the diocese for many years. But the bishop and his wife were intentional about valuing our whole family—children too. When they traveled to Russia on a mission trip, they bought small dolls to give to the children for Christmas. When they made their way to the Dominican Republic, they found a perfect keepsake for the children of diocesan staff members.
When they saw Madeline and our son, Griffin, they talked with them, asked them questions, and remembered things about their lives. How is your horse? What are you painting? Do you still like ice skating?
They treated our children as important members of the Body of Christ, and so when it came to dinner with these longtime friends, the children wanted to be there too.