Early this summer, the Church of England’s Vision and Strategy group released a plan addressing the continuing decline in church attendance in England and proposing a path forward for growth and vibrancy. The plan calls for the planting of an ambitious number of churches - 10,000 by 2030 to be exact - that would be predominantly lay-led. The release of this plan hit a very tender spot when it targeted educated, ordained leaders and beloved ancient church buildings as “limiting factors” that are holding back the growth of the church. Following the release of this plan, a social media maelstrom ensued, wounded clergy people cried out in pain, and a movement called “Save the Parish” began to defend parochial structures and fend off the “emergence of a church … not want(ed) or need(ed)” (The Rev. Marcus Walker, Spectator Magazine 8 July 2021). An ocean away, I watched it all unfold on my laptop, feeling ripples of resonance in the diocese that I serve in The Episcopal Church.
Many of today’s church leaders grew up playing Tetris. (Or, perhaps, watching their children play Tetris!) Tomorrow’s church leaders will have grown up playing Minecraft. Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans suggest that the difference is more significant than it may seem because it reveals an important difference in how older and younger generations understand power.
“[In Tetris,] our role as players was very limited. Someone else had set the rules [and] we all played a version of the same game…Minecraft is an open world. It is up to players everywhere to decide what they want to create, and then they build them together, collaboratively from the ground up. There are no real rules to Minecraft…Everything there has been co-created by players of the game.”
A key ingredient for a healthy, vibrant congregation is a strong appreciation for the ministry of the laity as well as the ministry of the clergy. Shared collaborative leadership is critical for the spiritual growth of our congregations. However increasingly, there in an imbalance in our optimal leadership paradigm.
Many congregations are faced with the issue of no permanent clergy leadership and are continuously being served by supply clergy or have no clergy. This situation strains the effectiveness of the lay leadership and worsens the vitality issues of these congregations.
For many search committees, having the opportunity to discern the right clergy is increasingly difficult when there are fewer options. This may lead to a mismatch of expectations and inevitable conflict.
Every month ECFVP offers five resources on a theme. This month we've asked the Rev. David Peters, a 2017 ECF Fellow and church planter, to choose five resources from Vital Practices to highlight. 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.
I’m a church planter that for the first year mingled with people every day, trying my best to get to know them, especially the ones who didn’t go to church anywhere. Then the Pandemic hit, and my ability to mingle ceased. I had a lot of grief about that, some of which was just the fear of failure, fear I would flop as a church planter.
Does it seem to you that, “Happy New Year” is being said more fervently now? As if we are demanding: “Be happy, New Year!”
Congregational leaders are likely praying for the same as the stress of change and survival continue. Five years ago, consultant, coach and spiritual director Susan Beaumont began writing a book about such struggle. It was published in September 2019. By 2020, its title seemed designed for the pandemic: How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going: Leading in a Liminal Season.
“Liminality refers to a quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs during transition, when a person or group of people is in between something that has ended and something else that is not yet ready to begin,” Beaumont explains in Chapter 1.
Apostolic hazing. I know. Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? Unfortunately in many cases the term is warranted. There are too many stories of aspirants and ordinands coming out of the discernment/ordination process feeling emotionally scarred, financially strained, depressed, angry, discarded, blackballed, humiliated, along with not being able to fully trust others. Some of the hurdles that are put before people seeking Holy Orders are downright cruel. Here are some of the things you’ve might have heard, experienced, witnessed, or actively participated in:
● Constantly moving targets for them to meet, only for the target to be changed up again
● Making people go to seminaries that the bishop is fond of, without considering the life circumstances of the aspirant (job, housing, passport, family, finances, distance, etc.).
2020 has been a year of difficult reality checks. Yes, it’s dangerous out there. Yes, you should wear a mask. Yes, you need to figure out Zoom.
Now there is an opportunity for a vitality check, designed to help focus congregational leadership and planning.
The Congregational Vitality Assessment (CVA), is now offered at no cost thanks to a partnership between the Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF) and The FaithX Project. The CVA provides congregations with an assessment of Vitality (healthiness) and Sustainability (level of people, financial, and contextual resources necessary to survive and even thrive). The vitality section of the CVA measures ten areas of congregational functioning, such as Vision and Mission, Leadership, Lay Empowerment, Worship, Formation, and Stewardship.
I will never forget a sweet widow I interviewed during a feasibility study for a capital campaign in a parish in Pennsylvania. As we discussed the various proposed projects, it seemed she had a story for each one. Her children were baptized in the sanctuary, she taught Sunday School in those classrooms, she donated china tea cups for fellowship in the lounge. There was no hesitation when asked about her support for the campaign. Of course she would give.
Nothing in the conversation surprised her until I asked if she thought the campaign would be successful. “What do you mean?” she wanted to know. When I explained that questions are being asked to determine how much money could be raised, her bright face suddenly faded.
We’ve been in Covid time for more than four months now. It has taken a while for us to realize our spiritual needs and desires and our abilities to meet them. The human contact, the Eucharist, the singing together, are all missed sorely. We find some of our spiritual longings are met by Zoom, a technology developed just in time to allow us to see each other, to connect, to gather, to pray together on Sunday.
Still, through the weeks, the end of the day is hard. More and more, people report having trouble getting to sleep, especially if they have checked in on the news in the hours prior. The what ifs, the hows, and the realities of our personal lives, the community and the nation are alarming or frightening or discouraging at best. Those who live alone have no one with whom to process the day, the week, the season. Others welcome a transition from day to night just as much.
This initiative started, as many have during the pandemic, as a post on Facebook. Sandra T. Montes asked clergy women of color to send videos of them dressed “before and after” clericals. The message entered many circles and women clergy were joined by lay women. Sandra offered her time, talents, and resources to gather an amazing group of 60 women from different ages, backgrounds, nationalities, and offices within the Episcopal Church.
The sisterhood, hermanas, joined the chain of wombs that labored in producing this beautiful project of love to celebrate our ministry in the Episcopal Church. The videos of the women were shown as songs interpreted by singer-songwriters committed to the music ministry in the episcopal church played in the background. Jeannine Otis, Ana Hernandez, and Sandra T. Montes have mentored and supported worship and other ministries throughout the Episcopal Church for many years, each with different musical styles and rhythms.
It can seem selfish, in light of all that is happening in our nation and around the world, to talk about self-care. Yet without building a strong foundation on a daily basis, we would be adrift.
All of us, but most particularly those of us who lead others, need to invest the time in ourselves so we can more fully give to those around us.
Before moving any further, I need to acknowledge something that has become abundantly clear during these past few months, and especially during these past few weeks: I enjoy extraordinary privilege. I am fortunate beyond measure. I have work that pays me well, a roof over my head, food in the fridge, a loving spouse, and health insurance.
My goodness, a lot has happened in the world since we all worshipped in person together. For many, processing it all happened in the privacy of their homes. Others had to do so from hospital beds. Others from food lines, a situation they never dreamed of experiencing. Others from the front lines of community protests over racism.
In the weeks or months ahead, faith communities will gather again. Can we really just pick up where we left off and head on our way? Will Vestry meetings resume the usual topics of budget and Commission reports?
In my previous post, I put forward the idea that the The Vestry is a thing, an entity in our church which needs serious re-examination and balance. I believe that at least one of our problems lies in our unspoken, unexamined but nevertheless shared core concepts around The Vestry. Frankly, too many people in too many congregations feel responsible to do nothing more than replicate an outdated oversight and management model year after year after year. Put that way, The Vestry is far from the kind of body which would help the Body of Christ keep the main thing the main thing. I believe the problem is much deeper than any of us realize, and it’s deep in the engine room of The Episcopal Church.
The solution? I’ll say it as simply as I know how: we need to better align the Vestry with the methods of a missionary church. It’s about alignment, not a new program or crafty idea. It’s about making The Vestry work for Christ’s Body, and not the other way around. It’s about making The Vestry as healthy and gifted and inspired as our healthiest, most gifted, most inspiring member.
The COVID-19 pandemic rages on, a bit weakened in its spread, but still a major threat with over 100,000 deaths and a severe economic downturn. In tandem, many in our nation are outraged by yet another murder of a Black man - George Floyd, by law enforcement in Minneapolis, and have reacted with multiple days of protests. These realities directly impact our church communities as we tentatively contemplate the reentry to our church buildings in a yet to be determined future.
Inequity and justice are common threads among these realities. With COVID-19, it has been well reported that Black and Brown people have died from this disease in far greater numbers than their presence in the general population due to disparities in our healthcare systems, health conditions and occupations. How can we as church community and church leaders be part of the solution in addressing these disparities?
Every month ECFVP offers five resources on a theme. This month we've asked Victor Conrado, Canon for Congregational Vitality and Formation in the Episcopal Diocese of New York, to share five resources that resonated with him. 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.
El Canónigo Victor Conrado, Canónigo para vitalidad y formación en la diócesis episcopal de Nueva York nos comparte los recursos que encontró en la Fundación de la Iglesia Episcopal que pueden usar con sus congregaciones y juntas parroquiales. Estos recursos nos ayuda a vivir nuestra fe y liderazgo durante esta pandemia.
The Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris has always held a special place in my heart. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit her more than 20 times, beginning when I was 17 years old. I’ve been there for prayer, for Mass, for quiet reflection from the park behind the Cathedral or the plaza in front of it. My sister and I took my dad there for his 90 birthday, where he was in awe of the fact that he was worshipping in the same place where Christians had worshipped for 850 years.
After the visit with our dad, I reflected on how much the Cathedral had given to me. I felt compelled to give back, beyond what I put in the offering plate when I visited. I checked out the Cathedral’s website, and I was shocked to discover how much work needed to be done to restore the structure. Gargoyles were falling off the façade. There was a question as to the stability of some of the flying buttresses. The central flèche (spire) was in disrepair.
“Nearly every morning, I enjoy morning prayer time with a group of friends.”
Three years ago, those words began my Vital Practices blog post about a virtual community of faithful people who regularly read and comment on Forward Movement’s daily prayer meditations published online at Forward Day by Day.
Today there is a new dimension to my gratitude for this ministry and my friends who meet me there. The constancy of this place keeps me grounded while my home church is closed. Thanks be to God for new platforms for community worship such as YouTube, Zoom and Facebook. But let’s face it, it’s been a learning curve to find them and get used to them.
Most Episcopal organizations rely on generous donors to support their mission and ministry. Stewardship can be deeply spiritual, rooted in a desire to reorient our lives towards God, but it also has a practical side. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, signed into law on March 27, 2020, includes several provisions that may affect charitable giving this year. We encourage churches to talk about these opportunities with their congregations.
New charitable deduction for taxpayers who do not itemize. Beginning in 2020, individuals can deduct $300 in charitable contributions from their gross income even if they do not itemize their deductions. Donations must be made in cash to a charity. Gifts of appreciated securities, and gifts to a donor advised fund or supporting organization, do not qualify. Although the permissible amount is modest, it is a new benefit available to many of your donors.
La mayoría de las organizaciones episcopales dependen de donantes generosos en apoyo de su misión y ministerio. La mayordomía puede ser profundamente espiritual, enraizada en el deseo de reorientar nuestras vidas hacia Dios, pero también tiene su lado práctico. La Ley Asistencia y Alivio del Coronavirus y de Seguridad Económica (Coronavirus Relief and Economic Security Act, abreviada como CARES), promulgada el 27 de marzo de 2020, contiene varias disposiciones que afectan las donaciones caritativas de este año. Estimulamos a las iglesias a que hablen sobre estas oportunidades con sus feligresías.