December 17, 2019 by Greg Syler

When I was growing up, my family and I went to the early evening Christmas Eve worship service. It had the most kids, and I can remember some years when that service was, essentially, the Christmas pageant. After worship, we loaded into the station wagon, came home, ate dinner and my parents allowed us to open one present. It had already been a long day up to that point, and I remember being so tired – and filled with so much excitement about the next morning – that I don’t ever recall having a problem going to sleep that night.

Fast forward twenty years or so, and I got ordained a priest in The Episcopal Church. That’s when Christmas Eve, of course, took on another meaning and identity – it was a work night, although one of my favorite work nights of the year. For the past fifteen years, ever since my ordination, Christmas Eve has been a great night to work and worship. It’s also meant that I show up to every worship service, not only the early evening ones but that later one, the beloved so-called “Midnight Mass.”

Thus enters my annual time-warp!

Continue reading...

Topics: Worship
December 13, 2019 by Lisa G. Fischbeck

Like so many of my fellow Episcopalians, I love the season of Advent. Really, I like all three winter seasons – Advent, Christmas, Epiphany.

I live in the northern hemisphere, so these winter seasons coincide with the dark days of the year, which match up well with the themes of Jesus, the Light, coming into the darkness of the world. “Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light!”, we pray in the Collect for the first Sunday of Advent. “Jesus, the Light of the World”, we sing in Christmastide. And, in the season of Epiphany, we celebrate at that we are “the light of the world”, called to carry that light out for all the world to see.

But, in recent years, I’ve had my consciousness raised by the testimony of dark-skinned clergy and laity, those for whom the popular hymn, “I want to walk as a child of the light, I want to follow Jesus” causes pain.

Continue reading...

November 15, 2019 by Melissa Rau

Whether you think it’s merely a fad or you know someone who has been severely affected by Celiac’s Disease, many Episcopal faith communities have made the decision to make certain accommodations for those who abstain from any food products made with gluten (wheat, barley, and rye). Though most coffee hours haven’t yet made the leap, many an Episcopal Eucharist boast they have gluten-free wafers upon request. Which is great. Sadly, though, the accommodations fall short.

Though I, myself, am gluten intolerant, I don’t feel ill if I ingest gluten. One of my daughters, on the other hand, has a severe gluten allergy and can get pretty sick. Consequently, Mama Bear pays attention. Since most of the internet traffic on gluten-free (GF) accommodations at churches were about how the Roman Catholic Church has banned gluten-free wafers (a non-wheat host is heretical in their eyes), I decided to share some best practices for our Episcopal friends who want to be truly hospitable to those with gluten allergies.

Continue reading...

Topics: Hospitality, Worship
October 28, 2019 by Lisa G. Fischbeck

On the Feast of All Saints, November 1, the Church gives us an opportunity to reflect on the faith and witness of those who have died in the faith of the Church. In prayer and song, we remember all the saints, “who from their labors rest.” In traditional practice, The Feast of All Saints is the day we remember the Saints with a capital “S”, those who have been recognized by the Church for their faithful life and death The following day, November 2, is the “Commemoration of all Faithful Departed”, when we are encouraged to remember saints with a small “s”, those who have inspired us personally — parents and godparents, teachers, clergy, mentors, and more.

In many churches, the two remembrances are conflated the following Sunday, in a celebration unofficially called “All Saints Sunday.” While the distinctions between the capital “S” Saints and the small “s” saints may be ecclesiastically significant, pastorally, the blending of the two is inspiring and kind. As the secular world recognizes and adapts the Mexican celebration of the “Day of the Dead” more and more — in schools, public libraries, and homes — we can see that we all, at some level, yearn to remember our ancestors in faith, family, and love.

Continue reading...

September 24, 2019 by Annette Buchanan

In August 2019 we commemorated the Quadricentennial (400, 3:00 pm, in remembrance of this critical date. There were also events in Ghana celebrated as the “Year of the Return” encouraging visits to the place of origin for many African-Americans. I also visited Jamestown this summer and learned a lot more about our American history including the critical role of the church in the chaotic times of the countries’ formation.

Commemorations are also very important in our church life, regardless of whether we are celebrating a tragic or happy event or flawed or heroic individuals. The church has provided us with liturgical resources including Holy Women Holy Men, and more recently A Great Cloud of Witnesses to highlight the many individuals who through their lives have furthered the ministry and mission of the church. Many churches do commemorate their own patron saint, however so many more can be explored and utilized from our church history.

Continue reading...

Topics: Worship, Diversity
August 15, 2019 by Lisa G. Fischbeck

Most of us who are in the Episcopal Church have a love of the liturgy. Or at least an appreciation for it. Some are well-versed in the meaning of the movement and the posture, the theological nuance of the words. Others have been formed by decades of weekly practice, the words of the canticles still rolling off the tongue, the Prayer of Humble Access still echoing in our soul.

But there are many in our pews and chairs who are still learning the rhythms of the liturgy. They know that there are songs, readings, the Peace and the Eucharist, and that the clergy come in at the beginning and go out at the end. But they don’t even think about the idea of being formed as the Body of Christ. Maybe they have a grasp of the liturgical year, but they still think of Pentecost as the day we wear red. And, increasingly, they are likely to attend about once a month, so may only get one Sunday in the shorter seasons. They will not have the continuity and repetition that leads to learning.

Continue reading...

Topics: Worship, Outreach
August 6, 2019 by Lisa G. Fischbeck

My grandfather’s bedtime prayer was the Apostles’ Creed. Knowing that it held this special place in the heart of the man who held a special place in mine made me pay close attention to the words, regardless of the setting, throughout my life. I grew up in the Presbyterian Church, and the Apostles Creed was part of our weekly worship. Nonetheless, for me it was always a love-laced prayer.

Years later, now an Episcopal priest, I am often aware of a contrasting experience of the Creed in liturgy. First, it is the Nicene Creed rather than the Apostles. I know the Apostles Creed is the creed of baptism, and therefore more personal, and the Nicene Creed is more corporate, the “faith of the Church”, meant to be said by the whole congregation. It’s not a prayer.

Liturgically, The Nicene Creed follows the sermon (and sometimes serves as a corrective to the sermon!). It usually begins without introduction, beyond, in some places, an invitation to stand. It is a proclamation, declared with boldness by those gathered, kind of like a pledge of allegiance. This is what we believe!

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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:

Conitnue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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!

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...