June 7, 2019 by Nelson Mendoza

Earlier this year Netflix released a binge-worthy series called Tidying Up With Marie Kondo. In short, the show presents itself as a voyeuristic dive into different people’s homes and attempts to declutter their spaces. Since debuting, it has quickly risen to the top of social media and buzzworthy notoriety due to a variety of reasons ranging from memes about Marie Kondo’s personality and practices to unfavorable discourse involving microaggressions around racist and classist undertones. Kondo has left a significant mark on the ecosystem of online chatter which has left many people curious and eager to find out more.

Interestingly enough, I believe Kondo delicately captures a hunger for joy and happiness that many of us seek beyond our secular domains of our homes. That hunger reaches deeper into our spiritual houses. You see, throughout the series, the individuals who come from a robust background of races, ethnicities, social locations, marital statuses, and sexualities quickly learn that what Marie is sharing with them is not just a practice to “get rid of stuff” but rather a way to find out what really matters to them as they move forward in their respective journeys.

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June 3, 2019 by Nicole Foster

Old Testament Lesson | Isaiah 62:1-5

For Zion's sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest,
until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
and her salvation like a burning torch.
The nations shall see your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.

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May 10, 2019 by Jimmy Abbott

When my father was teaching me as a young boy how to play golf he passed along one important adage: “golf is simple but not easy.” Truly, it is a simple game. Get the ball into the hole using the fewest number of shots. But anybody who has picked up a golf club knows that the game’s simplicity lures you into a false sense of security. Golf is anything but easy. One small miscalculation or error has tremendous consequences on where the ball goes, what your score will be, and if you ever choose to play this beguiling game again. Simple, not easy.

I am an old millennial (born in 1985) and a priest, which somehow makes me an expert on the religiosity of a whole generation. Usually the questions about millennials directed at me are veiled angst (“is the church going to survive?”) or latent anger (“why is my granddaughter having a destination wedding?”). The answers about millennials and our relationship with the church are simple, but not easy to swallow.

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April 20, 2019 by Lisa G. Fischbeck

On Easter morning, I will offer the short, sweet, three-point sermon that I’ve offered before:

We gather today to celebrate Easter, the Feast of the Resurrection.

And I want to say three things about the Feast of the Resurrection that we celebrate this day:
1) The Resurrection is a mystery that cannot be described in words.
2) The Resurrection can’t just be celebrated by our intellects and in our heads. It requires our whole selves.
3) The Resurrection is best celebrated with others.
So, rather than give any more words in response to the Gospel and the Feast of the Day, we will dance.

At that point, the feelings in the congregation are a blend of excitement, anxiety, curiosity and relief (for many are only occasional church visitors, and not particularly revved for a sermon). Then I call on a good sport of the congregation to help me show folks how the dance goes.

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Topics: Worship, Evangelism
December 19, 2018 by Melissa Rau

This month we offer five resources to help your congregation prepare for Christmas. 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. This Advent Parish Checklist by Cathy Carpenter is a great tool for churches preparing for Christmas, ensuring they are ready to receive and welcome visitors (among other useful ideas). Check out this handy resource and learn new ways to be better prepared for this festive and important time.

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October 29, 2018 by Linda Buskirk

When I saw a new book, Walk in Love: Episcopal Beliefs and Practices, promoted on the Forward Movement website, I ordered it as a gift for a Roman Catholic friend who is on his way to being received into the Episcopal Church. As soon as it arrived, I began reviewing its contents and quickly ordered a second copy to keep.

Reading Walk in Love is like enjoying a fireside chat with a good friend who knows a lot more than you do but doesn’t make you feel that way. Authors and priests Melody Wilson Shobe and Scott Gunn comprehensively reveal the “what and the why” of what we believe and do, in friendly, conversational style. There is familiarity in their explanations, but plenty of “ah-hah” moments as deeper understanding sinks in.

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April 3, 2018 by Greg Syler

“How do you do Sunday mornings?” That’s perhaps the most common question I get when someone realizes that I serve as one rector of two congregations. The question makes perfect sense, actually, and figuring out the Sunday morning worship schedule was among the most important things we did before launching our new, shared venture between Ascension and St. George’s – the two communities I serve.

In order to develop the fullness of Sunday morning worship, as well as make sure that neither church ‘lost’ a service, we wanted to develop two Sunday morning services at both churches. Both Ascension and St. George’s, each, have worship at 7:30am – one at St. George’s, one at Ascension.

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March 30, 2018 by Greg Syler

“How do you do Sunday mornings?” That’s perhaps the most common question I get when someone realizes that I serve as one rector of two congregations. The question makes perfect sense, actually, and figuring out the Sunday morning worship schedule was among the most important things we did before launching our new, shared venture between Ascension and St. George’s – the two communities I serve.

I need to state, up front, that we put out a survey. We mentioned it online, but we very intentionally surveyed the actual Sunday morning worshippers. We stuck in the bulletins a hard-copy half-sheet insert for four Sundays. We ran it well before we had to make the actual decision. We listened carefully to the feedback.

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October 2, 2017 by Annette Buchanan

At my home parish, St. Augustine Episcopal Church, Asbury Park, New Jersey, we have been truly blessed to have a Music Director, Gladstone Trott, who began with the church as a child prodigy at age 13 and remained for over 45 years until his recent death after a long illness.

As a tribute to Gladstone’s long tenure there are many wonderful behaviors he practiced that congregations can embrace to ensure a successful music ministry. They are as follows:

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Topics: Worship, Outreach
July 10, 2017 by Annette Buchanan

For many, especially those in seasonal climates, the summer months (July and August) are regarded as the time when the church slows down. We may combine services, the priest maybe on vacation, the vestry may not meet, the choir may not sing, Sunday school may be cancelled, and many guilds will also suspend their meetings until the fall. While totally in agreement that we need rest and relaxation, and it is the most popular vacation time, do we all need to rest from church obligations at the same time. Sadly it is also a time when finances go on vacation as our support of the church dwindles during the summer months.

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Topics: Worship, Hospitality
July 4, 2017 by Linda Buskirk

On July 4, 1992, my husband and I boarded a train in East Berlin, heading for Warsaw, Poland. We struck up a conversation with a young Polish woman passenger, who, immediately upon learning we were Americans solemnly said, "Today is the anniversary of your freedom." It was the sweetest declaration of our independence I could have heard, full of yearning and understanding.

How we take it for granted. And not just the politics of it, but the faith of it. Many American Revolutionary leaders held a deep faith in God. They boldly believed they were acting in accordance with their faith, guided by God to fight for freedom. They prayed for America to be guided by God too.

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June 15, 2017 by Annette Buchanan

The church bulletin is arguably one of the most important documents in our congregations. Given our bibles, hymnals and Book of Common Prayer (BCP) that may sound a bit heretical. However the amount of resources that goes into producing it does give our church bulletins very high priority. The original purpose of the bulletin was to provide the order of service including references to the BCP, hymns and readings of the day. We have evolved much beyond the basics.

Bulletin content is the largest issue for us to wrestle with. Bulletins may contain some of all of the following: fundraising and social activities, meetings of church and community organizations, lists of illnesses, birthdays, anniversaries and deaths, special donations, community, diocesan and national announcements, stewardship messages as well as information on a particular saint day, others have information on voting, job posts and apartment rental. So our bulletins, have become newspapers, newsletters and journals all rolled into one. Whew!

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May 2, 2017 by Annette Buchanan

As summer approaches and throughout the year, one of the major issues that church leaders face is how to find a clergy person to fill in for Sunday services if the priest is unavailable. This issue is more pervasive for congregations in transition but is equally stressful for congregations with full-time clergy when it is time for vacation, sabbatical or the clergy is ill. The stakes are even higher if the need for clergy is on a high Holy Day such as Easter or Christmas. One of the most important activity for anyone with this responsibility is to plan in advance especially with the current clergy avoiding the last minute panic.

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April 14, 2017 by Lisa G. Fischbeck

The day after my grandmother died, my family gathered in from near and far. Late afternoon, into the evening, sitting in her kitchen and living room, we talked. Coffee was plenteous, a bottle of wine, one platter overflowing with cold cuts, and another with Entenmanns coffee cake. We planned for the funeral, started thinking about distribution of her worldly possessions. Mostly, we shared memories and stories. We laughed about her personality quirks, we sighed about our experiences of her support and care, and we reminded ourselves of the wisdom she had given us. The body of the deceased wasn’t with us in the house, but her spirit sure was there.

Decades later, I was priest of the Advocate when a beloved parishioner died on a Thursday afternoon. A meeting was scheduled at the Church that night. But we knew that our sorrow would prevail, so we announced that we would gather in the Chapel and hold vigil instead. We used Evening Prayer as our guide, read scripture, prayed the Litany at the Time of Death, and shared memories and stories of our friend who had died. We laughed at turns of phrase he had used, reminded ourselves of the ways he had inspired us. We mourned together, and were comforted by our shared memories and shared loss.

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March 16, 2017 by Greg Syler

My only lived experience of the 20 century was in its last twenty five years, and I don’t even remember all that much of it, but I do very clearly remember that one Sunday morning a pastor in my somewhat stiff Congregationalist church announced we were going to do a new thing – we were going to turn to our neighbors and offer, what he called, ‘the sign of peace.’

“Shake their hand, give a hug, look them in the eye and say, ‘Peace be with you,’” he invited the somewhat bewildered congregation to do.

This actually came easily to them, in fact, for in spite of the carefully scripted nature of Congregationalist worship – what I later learned was nothing less than a beautiful, exalted Sunday Morning Prayer service – there was always extended chit-chat and “Good mornings” and “How are you today?” in the large, albeit acoustically-live narthex on our way into the church itself. And so it was on that Sunday, much later in the 20 century than its mid-point, when “The Peace” was introduced at Bethany Union Church of Chicago that I remember my mom and dad turned around to those sitting nearby and said ‘Peace, peace, peace,’ and received from others ‘Peace, peace, peace.’

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Topics: Change, Worship
March 13, 2017 by Greg Syler

Perhaps one of the most notable hallmarks of our Anglican liturgical tradition is rich, resonant choral music. It’s something we’re really good at, and it’s something for which our tradition is well known. Just this past week, in fact, it was breaking news that St. Paul’s Cathedral in London appointed a woman, Carris Jones, as chorister – ‘Vicar Chorale,’ being her exact title. “First female chorister in 1,000-year history,” one headline ran. [1]

But beyond the sheer heavenly beauty of Anglican choral music, and besides the fact that news headlines are always going to be quick to point out the sensational and ground-breaking, what is it about choirs and choral music that is so important to our Christian worship tradition? Is it merely it’s beauty and quality? I actually hope the answer to that is ‘no’ or, at least, ‘not entirely.’ If the thing we prize about our rich choral tradition is nothing much more than its professional quality and beauty, then that might be part and parcel of why our churches fail to grow, year after year. What’s the difference, then, between a museum piece or something that can be found in a concert hall and what the church, as church, is doing in the neighborhood?

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Topics: Worship
March 9, 2017 by Linda Buskirk

Nearly every morning, I enjoy morning prayer time with a group of friends. I think most of us are Episcopalians, but I don’t know for sure. We come from all over the United States, the Caribbean, and beyond. We read a meditation on the appointed scriptures for the day. We share our thoughts about it, enjoying the rich diversity of our experiences and vantage points. Sometimes we share memories or words to songs that speak meaning into the day’s subject.

We’ve done this so long now, we call each other family. Sometimes people share their worries, ask for prayer, or admit struggles and questions. In response, many prayers and words of encouragement offered. New people easily come into the mix and are welcomed. Anyone can participate.

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February 27, 2017 by Alan Bentrup

Ash Wednesday is coming. For at least one day out of the year, we’re going to be reminded that we are dust, and that we’re going to die some day. Fun times!

Over the past several years, this solemn fast day has been infused with a missional fervor in the popular Ashes to Go outings. Part of a church-wide movement, Ashes to Go moves this imposing act from the confines of church buildings to the people in their daily lives. Interested passers-by are marked with the sign of the cross and invited to seek forgiveness and renewal (and hopefully be prayed for!). Locations to receive ashes are designed to meet people wherever they are, including train stations, bus stops, coffee shops, church parking lots, street corners, and more.

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Topics: Mission, Worship
February 14, 2017 by Alan Bentrup

I’m a simple man, really. I like gadgets and such, but when it comes down to it I do most of my thinking with a paper journal and a ballpoint pen. So when I ran out of pens the other day, I walked into the store to buy my favorite brand.

That’s when it hit me. There, on the package of Bic Crystal pens (the brand I’ve been using since high school, and which was first made in the 1950s) I saw those big, bold words: NEW & IMPROVED.

Why on earth (and how on earth) could you make a simple, plastic, ballpoint pen “new” or “improved”?

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Topics: Change, Worship
December 10, 2016 by Greg Syler

This is a busy time of year both inside and outside the church. Someone said to me last week, “You must be so terribly busy,” and she was very kindly implying that there’s probably a great deal of work behind organizing our congregation’s annual meeting a few days’ ago and getting ready for the Christmas pageant and worship preparation for this season and Christmas Eve and pulling off last Sunday’s Advent Lessons & Carols. I admitted to her that, yes, it’s a full time for all of us, both church-workers and everyone else. But in the back of my mind I wasn’t really thinking about all the work. In fact, in the back of my mind was that series of emails and meetings, way back in late-September, with the president of the altar guild, during which we reminded one another of the times of services and the little details attached to all the special observances which were coming up from late fall through early January.

And with that series of emails and, I think, two phone conversations, the work has indeed been out of my hands, and into the hands of vastly more capable people -- namely, that blessed institution called the Altar Guild.

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Topics: Worship