I’ve often wondered why we, as millennials, are known for our insistence upon radical authenticity and our lack of tolerance for facades. The bulk of our generation grew up in the years surrounding and following the Columbine High School shooting. Many of us grew up doing “code red drills” where we hid under our desks and inside closets, knowing that in the instance that a shooter wrought havoc on our school, only a windowed classroom door stood between the shooter and our demise. Whenever I student-taught in college and entered a new classroom for the first time, my first instinct was to get a full visual layout of the room and see how I could best protect my students if there were to be a shooter. If there was a closet in the classroom, was it locked or unlocked? Was it big enough to hold students? Was there a window that students could safely use to exit the building? All of these questions went through my mind. These questions were harrowing questions to ask, but not at all out of the ordinary.
One of the odd perks of being a millennial, even if an “old” one, in the Episcopal Church is that I have always been expected to be a leader. Someone once suggested that it’s because I have some special quality or other, but probably it is just because I have continued to show up. Given that nearly all the millennial Episcopalians I know, no matter their shape, size or color, are also priests, I suspect that my experience is not entirely unique. Although this sort of experience may have been more common than I realized at the time, parts of it still strike me as odd.
During my youth there were plenty of occasions when I was asked to take on some small task or to coordinate some small group, which is all meet, right, and good. I imagine that this is normal for most kids who grow up in church. The odd part was that most of the time I was the only kid who showed up to church. This resulted in quirky absurdities like being named the leader of a youth group of which I was the only member. (I even received diocesan training for it!)
As a young adult, I yearn for a Church where all young adults experience unforgettable moments in ministries that are their own in some way. I yearn for a Church that offers young adults the tools, the love, and the patience they need in their journey of understanding themselves, their faith, and the world around them.
The Church that I hope for is the type of Church that I have glimpsed through individuals who took chances on me, encouraged me, challenged me, prayed with me, and helped form me to be the person I am today. My life as a disciple has been enriched by opportunities to both lead and learn to follow; whether I was co-chairing a diocesan commission, preaching at Nuevo Amanecer, speaking up at General Convention, serving as camp counselor or a youth leader, or helping to develop a companion diocesan relationship between Texas and Costa Rica. I am a different kind of friend, daughter, mentor, and woman of faith today because I have been invited to walk into some strange and beautiful places to find the Spirit at work there.
Weeks or maybe months ago, someone asked you to consider serving on your church’s Vestry. You thought about it, prayed about it, talked with your family and friends about it. You know you have gifts to share, and you love your church. You want to serve God and help your congregation. But you’ve also heard stories from past Vestry members – the late nights, the struggles, the big questions, the anxieties, the mountains turned into molehills.
Serving on the Vestry is an amazing opportunity to grow, but like all opportunities it’s not without challenge and growth areas. Vestry is the place where faith meets structure, where character matters, where leadership counts. Serving on Vestry can help strengthen your walk with Christ. Instead of a Top Ten list for things to do or think about as a Vestry leader, I’m more concerned with ways in which Vestry service helps individuals thrive and a congregational culture take off. As I prepare to gather our new Vestry, here’s my Top Ten list of ways to thrive as a Vestry Leader.
Anxiety is a constant in leadership roles and in congregations who are stretching to accomplish something worthwhile. If there isn’t some anxiety, you likely didn’t reach far enough.
A great way to deal with anxiety is to bring it into the open – expect anxiety, and ensure concerns and ideas continue to be heard. Common worries include:
In Romans 16, greetings are sent to a variety of people in this Christian community culminating with verse 16, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” Instructive in these verses is that the majority of greetings emphasize the positive works that the recipients have accomplished in their ministry.
Examples of these accolades include: “benefactor of many people”; “risked their lives for me”; “ hard work in the Lord”; “being chosen in the Lord”; “our co-worker in Christ”; “fidelity to Christ has stood the test”; “the first convert to Christ in Asia”; “my dear friend in the lord”; and "being my mother, brother or sister in the Lord".
Serving on the vestry can be both rewarding and challenging. This month, we share resources that will help you feel more equipped to lead with confidence. Please share this digest with other members of your vestry and clergy, and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.
1. Have you or your vestry ever said that they wanted to do something, recognize the importance of doing it, but don’t really make any traction toward getting it done? In Overmaking Decisions, Anna Olson suggests things your vestry might consider in “right-sizing” your decisions and moving forward more intentionally.
It’s that time of year again when many vestries are orienting new members. This month, we are offering five resources to help vestries start the year off strong. 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 this monthly digest.
1. Has your congregation shared ECF’s Vestry Resource Guide with every one of its vestry members? Whether you are a vestry veteran or an initiate, this guide will help you clearly understand your role and help the vestry and clergy leadership become a cohesive team.
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:
Do you have a date set for your next Vestry/leadership retreat?
In our goal-oriented society, it may sound odd, or even dereliction of duty, to replace a monthly decision-making meeting with a retreat to “vision” about “the big picture.” Yet the very difficulty of setting aside pressing issues is what makes a retreat so important. Simply put, if we don’t designate time to think about the big picture, we generally won’t. Here are three ideas for planning a retreat that will help your congregation move forward:
First, set the expectation that an extended annual retreat is important, and all leadership team members should attend. Set the date and far enough in advance for calendar commitment to be made. This expectation should be discussed with potential Senior Wardens and candidates for Vestry.
This Thanksgiving I visited my young cousin who was hosting his first dinner. Just before leaving he said to me, “I now really appreciate all the dinners you’ve hosted over the years. I did not realize what happened behind the scenes as I always arrive in time to eat and then leave after an evening of fun. It’s a lot of work!”
For many years at our church, five large containers of bread and pastries are donated weekly by a local restaurant to our Feeding Outreach Ministry. A new vestry member was surprised on discovering that behind the scenes each week someone had to pick up the containers and bread, and others had to sort and bag the bread and clean the containers, in addition to completing an annual application. We laughed and asked if she thought the “Bread Fairy” did all the work.
In celebration of ECF Vital Practices’ eighth anniversary, we went back through our archives to bring you some of the most popular articles from our past eight years of being an online resource. Each of the following articles was among the most read during a specific year. We curated them to have a variety of topics and writers, and are happy to share them with you here. We hope you enjoy them!
As the Presiding Bishop continues to call us deeper into the Jesus Movement, especially now that we have the Way of Love as a tool to guide us deeper into relationship with Jesus and our neighbor, it’s time for us to start talking about what a Jesus Movement Leader looks like. We need leaders in this movement. Bishop Curry and Canon Spellers can’t do it all on their own!
For my part, I’ve been watching some of the emerging leaders and taking note at how intentionally they walk into their leadership roles. I’ve noticed that many of the leaders of the Jesus Movement take up less space in their leadership role. It has been eye opening for me. It has lead me to my own mantra in leading Forma these past two years: “How much space do I need to take up before I can make space for someone else?” or “Take up less space!”
This month we offer five resources to help your congregation with leadership. 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. In Leadership and Learning, Jeremiah Sierra reveals how leaders will often learn new things about their personality and behavior while in positions of leadership. The best leaders are those who are open to learn and grow themselves. What are you learning about yourself while you lead?
When I was in my late 30s, I believed I had two vocations: I was a priest, and also a wife and mother. Both of these identities engaged my heart, soul, body and mind. Each fed and nourished the other. Both gave me my greatest cause for thanksgiving and my greatest fulfillment and sense of purpose. Both also prompted my most earnest prayers for guidance and forgiveness. They sometimes, even often, came into conflict, particularly in matters of calendar and clock. I keenly felt that each vocation had been blessed by God, and I believed that by engaging in them I was being faithful in my response to God’s call.
In those years, some 25 year ago now, I self-identified as a “bi-vocational priest.” One vocation came with a cash salary, the other did not.
ECF Vital Practices seeks to build online communities of Episcopalians who share their stories, experiences, and best practices, who learn from one another, and who discover support to help sustain their leadership and their ministries. Late last year, we asked the church leaders on our Facebook page a question: What do you wish you had known when you first joined the vestry?
Below are their answers supplemented with ECF Vital Practices resources to help you take concrete first steps towards effective vestry leadership.
Registration is now open for the 2018 Church Leadership Conference, March 2 - 4 at the Kanuga Conference and Retreat Center in Hendersonville, NC.
Join us for three inspiring days, designed in partnership by the Episcopal Church Foundation and Kanuga, to strengthen, equip and re-energize church leaders for ministry. View a preliminary schedule here.
Within our churches and organizations as the leadership becomes more seasoned the question arises who will take over the responsibilities they now oversee. Many believe that they are irreplaceable and refuse to train or transition to someone new. Others complain that they cannot find anyone to take on their responsibilities. Still others may believe that as seniors they have much more to offer and are being discriminated against in a youth-oriented society. Whether it is the Senior Warden with the 20 year term or the Altar Guild member who has been there for 40 years, our friendly term for some of these folks are Mama or Papa Docs that is, leaders for life.
Last week, I was honored to serve as moderator for an Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF) webinar on preaching and leadership. Basically, I hosted a conversation among three preachers and fed them some questions of my devising and some from our audience. The panelists were the Rev. Ronald Byrd, rector of St. Katherine’s in Williamston, MI; the Rev. Brenda Husson, rector of St. James, Madison Avenue in NYC; and Mr. Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale, layperson from All Saints’, Indianapolis, IN.
I’d encourage you to watch the webinar, which will be an hour well spent if you’re at all interested in preaching. Much of the focus is on sermon preparation and delivery, but there is also some valuable advice for those who listen to sermons. I know I’ll listen to preachers differently because of this conversation.
Giving and receiving positive feedback as well as negative (constructive) feedback is a prerequisite for having healthy church relationships. Positive feedback should be easy, however, we sometimes overlook these simple acts of kindness only to have long-term members leaving the church or people feeling neglected.
Negative feedback is more difficult. Some of us are so concerned about hurting someone’s feelings that we say nothing at all, allowing dysfunction to continue. On the opposite end, we may blurt out insensitive words disregarding the impact. It is often hard to find the right balance.