June 27, 2024 by Greg Syler

Communities are fluid. Think of the place where you grew up. Is it the same today as it was when you were a kid? Likely not. Neighborhoods and towns are always changing. So, too, are churches and faith communities.

Like anything fluid, then, the challenge – and opportunity – is to ride the wave. Growing communities will not always grow. Diminished congregations are not destined to remain so. Trends will shift. Sometimes we can be part of those changes; most of the time, the changes are so deep and seismic that we, even for our best intentions, just roll with ‘em.

Continue reading...

June 13, 2024 by Greg Syler

What is a church if it’s not also a center for its community? Earlier in this series, I shared how Resurrection Parish (Church of the Ascension and St. George’s Church in St. Mary’s County, MD) started putting together the sometimes disparate concepts of community + church + center. And I followed up with an example of conceptual clarity around dilemma flipping – taking what some might see as a problem and flipping the script to find opportunities. Turns out that the leadership of Resurrection Parish was highly intrigued by Community + Center + Church, and so we’ve been on a journey in the last several years to create in downtown Lexington Park, MD the Park Community Foundation, which will reconfigure the entire mission focus of the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in that same town. What follows is a deeper dive into where we’re heading in St. Mary’s County, MD.

Continue reading...

June 4, 2024 by Greg Syler

In part 1 of this series, I shared the back-story of how Resurrection Parish (Church of the Ascension and St. George’s Church in St. Mary’s County, MD) started putting together the sometimes disparate concepts of community + church + center. In this post, part 2 of 3, I want to share the conceptual clarity we strove to achieve as early as possible. What follows is a write-up a parishioner and I worked on in the Covid summer of 2020, and shared with our Vestry and other partners that fall. It’s essentially an exercise in ‘dilemma flipping’ – taking what some might see as a crisis or problem and flipping the script to find an opportunity or opportunities.

Continue reading...

May 31, 2024 by Greg Syler

Back in 2016, Church of the Ascension in Lexington Park, MD and St. George’s Church in Valley Lee, MD – the two campuses of what is now Resurrection Parish in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington – were entering into a covenantal, yoked relationship. Fearing uncertainty or some measure of loss, one member said to another: “I know the plan: Ascension will become a community center, whereas St. George’s will be the church.” (I’ll bet you can tell which worshipping community that person attended.)

There was no plan that went into that amount of detail. And if there were such detail, that was not on the plan – keeping one building a church and making the other a community center.

Continue reading...

May 22, 2024 by Greg Syler

There’s my bias. I believe The Episcopal Church has too many buildings. More than 6,000+ congregations and more than 100 dioceses scattered throughout the United States and other countries with churches, chapels, parish halls, parish houses, vicarages, rectories, other houses, diocesan centers, retreat houses, camps and conference centers, other real estate holdings and churchyards and stuff … the list goes on. It’s a lot.

Buildings consume a lot of attention and maintenance and money. We know that.

What’s more, we built a lot of our buildings in the height, or post-height of the Baby Boom – using the inexpensive building materials and processes that were in favor in the 1960s and 70s. Those materials and processes were then, and certainly are now, unsustainable both environmentally but also financially. Today, they pose ongoing challenges – health challenges and financial challenges. What else would you expect from scores of drafty, inexpensively built buildings with gas-guzzling HVAC systems?

Continue reading...

March 28, 2024 by Demi Prentiss

The ability to recognize assets beyond the church balance sheet – which typically looks only at financial assets and liabilities – has become an essential skill. Faith communities that can shine a light on their overlooked riches – well beyond their plate-and-pledge and endowments – can bring new life and new income to their ministries. And perhaps more importantly, congregations who can explore a new vision for “big picture” assessment and stewardship of their assets – with transparency, careful conversation, candor, and deep discernment – can find new life in a deeper relationship with both their assets and their community.

Continue reading...

Topics: Finance, Change
March 7, 2024 by Lisa G. Fischbeck

We hear it, even say it, often. Gathered for a church meeting or a meal, maybe at the start of a youth event or a Zoom. The priest or lay leader in charge says something like, “Let’s just have a quick prayer.” Sometimes it is even, “Let’s just have a quick prayer and then we’ll get started.”

It’s usually followed by something ad hoc, a little thanksgiving, perhaps, or a request for God’s presence and guidance. No more than a sentence or two. Maybe three. Then everyone says, “Amen!” and we get on with whatever it is we are there to do.

Continue reading...

Topics: Worship, Change
February 14, 2024 by Haley Bankey

Most people dislike change. It can be hard work, stopping an old habit and starting another. It’s especially hard for an institution or a system to change – a group of people all have to go through the process together.

Church leaders often see a need for a change, whether it's moving the time of a worship service, ending a beloved but no longer needed ministry, or something as big as moving to a new leadership model, but the congregational system doesn't always allow the change to take place.

The best changes happen because we’re watching to discover what God is up to, and partnering in the work God is already doing.

Continue reading...

November 9, 2023 by Sandy Webb

A nationwide increase in violent crime has most congregations asking questions about the security of our buildings and the physical safety of the people in them. We are all struggling to balance our commitment to openness with our obligation to keep everyone safe.

The following questions have been useful guideposts for me as our congregation has sought to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves…

What are the objective risks that we face?

Fear overwhelms objectivity. When we are afraid, we can lose the capacity to assess our situation objectively and the worst-case scenario can start to seem like the most likely outcome. A church shooting anywhere can make us feel like there will be church shootings everywhere. A vehicle break-in can make us feel like no vehicle is ever safe.

Continue reading...

July 20, 2023 by Ken Mosesian

In March of 2020, as businesses, churches, and schools began to close, and we started to grasp the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic, our former Rector answered the call to become a Bishop in another diocese.

The grand celebration that we had planned to thank him for his 11 years of service to our parish was scrapped. On his final Sunday, after the 11 AM Mass, there were elbow bumps instead of hugs, tears of sorrow and fear instead of joy, and a sense that something ominous was descending on us.

Continue reading...

July 19, 2023 by Bruce Adams

At first glance, parishes and banks look as different as apples and oranges. Upon a closer look, however, the differences run far deeper than superficial appearances. One institution is a collective — a cooperative—in which individuals pool their treasure, time, and talents to create a social and spiritual community that serves its members and their communities in their search for a deeper relationship with God. The other is a bank. A bank lends money for the purpose of making profit for profit’s sake. The very mission of the bank is to concentrate community wealth in its investors’ hands. Its corporate vision is to grow larger so it can lend more and concentrate more wealth. This is not to say all banks are bad, or that none of them maintain a deep commitment to their communities. But make no mistake, the bank serves the dollar above all else and worships profit.

Continue reading...

June 16, 2023 by Anahi Galante

I was recently asked, “Are you fully out in the church?” This prompted me to recall the series of church events, which thrust my coming-out experiences.

Coming out is an everyday experience in the world and in the church. I came out in my early 40s in response to a call for an LGBT (we didn’t have the “Q” yet) ministry in my first parish, Grace Church Van Vorst (GCVV) in Jersey City. It was 1998 and the Rector issued an invitation to the lay leaders of our congregation to initiate outreach to the LGBT community. He added, “it would be wonderful if that person is also a member of the LGBT community.” I got up and without missing a beat said, “I am, and I will do it.” All jaw bones dropped and the rest is history.

Continue reading...

Topics: Change, Diversity
June 16, 2023 by Anahi Galante

Hace poco me preguntaron: "¿Has salido tu totalmente del armario en la iglesia?". Esto me llevó a recordar la serie de acontecimientos en la iglesia que impulsaron mis experiencias de salida del armario.

Salir del armario es una experiencia cotidiana en el mundo y en la iglesia. Salí del armario a los 40 años de edad en respuesta a un llamado para desarrollar y establecer un ministerio LGBT (todavía no teníamos la "Q") en mi primera parroquia, Grace Church Van Vorst (GCVV) en Jersey City. En 1998 el rector invitó a los líderes laicos de nuestra feligresía para que iniciaramos un alcance a la comunidad LGBT. Dijo además: "sería maravilloso que esa persona fuera también miembro de la comunidad LGBT". Me levanté y sin perder un segundo dije: "Yo lo soy y yo lo haré". Todos se quedaron boquiabiertos y el resto es historia.

Continue reading...

Topics: Diversity, Change
January 17, 2023 by Lisa G. Fischbeck

I believe God speaks to us in confluences. When people from diverse places and backgrounds come to similar conclusions on how a problem might be solved, I listen. When the burdens of a diversity of problems might be lightened by a single program or project, I pay attention to the possibilities.

Three years since COVID rocked our ecclesial equilibrium across the United States, a new confluence is emerging. Many cities and towns are experiencing an affordable housing crisis and a growing homeless population. A tiny homes movement is causing local governments to rework housing codes and permitting processes. At the same time, fewer people are involved in church, and fewer still are attending in person on Sunday mornings. Many parking lots that once were packed with cars now have easy access. Congregations are re-thinking mission in the community, considering anew how God might be calling them to share the resources they have, and realizing resources they had not considered before. Notably land.

Continue reading...

December 15, 2022 by Sandy Webb

We have all encountered peculiar churches. In fact, we have been seeing a lot of them lately and we need to see more.

The two churches that were featured in the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, Westminster Abbey in London and St. George’s Chapel at Windsor, are literally peculiar - royal peculiars. They have been carved out of the jurisdiction of their local diocesan bishops and placed under the direct authority of the sovereign, who oversees them in her or his capacity as the supreme governor of the Church of England.

How delightfully British. Or is it?

You may be surprised to learn that we have at least one peculiar here in the United States, albeit not a royal one. On the first floor of the Episcopal Church Center in New York City, our Presiding Bishop’s headquarters, you will find the Chapel of Christ the Lord. In its sacristy hangs two certificates from 1963 that serve to carve that little chapel out of the Diocese of New York and transfer it to the direct authority of the Presiding Bishop.

Continue reading...

Topics: Change, Leadership
November 22, 2022 by Donald Romanik

I attended law school in the 70’s and, at least during that period, the entire culture was permeated with a sense of competition and individual success. Other than your moot court partner and maybe your study group, there were few opportunities for collaboration or teamwork. There were winners and losers, students who got the top law firm jobs from recruiters who came to campus and those who had to pound the payment with their hard-copy resumes. Once you became a lawyer, the competition continued even more fiercely for plum assignments, bonuses and, the ultimate goal in a private firm - becoming a partner. While I never made partner, thank God, and decided to work for a nonprofit organization before coming to ECF, it did take me quite a while to embrace a style of leadership that emphasized collaboration, collegiality, and working together for the common good.

Continue reading...

Topics: Leadership, Change
September 26, 2022 by Greg Syler

The other day, my family and I went downtown. There’s only one incorporated town, really village center in the community in which we live. We missed the Taste of St. Mary’s by one hour – all the vendors were packing their tents – so we walked down the block, off the town square to the local pizza place for a late lunch. It’s great pizza; plus it’s fun to run into all sorts of neighbors. Following lunch, which turned out to be dinner, we walked another block over to the new ice cream place that opened last year – a storefront on an old warehouse building; the rest of the building itself now turned into a collection of real-time Etsy shops with an always-full beer garden in the back.

Years ago, none of those options were there. The buildings were there. The pizza place was a run-down seafood joint, and I have no idea what was in that warehouse. Back then, there was a diner, a coffee shop and a French restaurant and that was about it, save for a few funeral homes and florist shops. Now, the town is filled with yoga studios, art galleries, yarn shops, wonderful restaurants, a health food store, cooking studio, and so many more pop-up-shops-turned-creative-businesses.

Continue reading...

June 24, 2022 by Catherine Thompson

When I arrived as the rector of the Episcopal Church of the Annunciation in 2014, there was one topic on the hearts and minds of many of the members. The original sanctuary built in 1970, which was converted into the Parish Hall in the early 1990s, was no longer meeting the needs of the congregation. It is too small to hold all of us at one time; we need a more functional kitchen both for our preschool and the church; and we want to add showers and laundry facilities, so it could serve as an emergency shelter when we experience extreme temperatures. Despite these identified needs, I kept coming back to the fact that it would be labor intensive and expensive, only to see the space stand empty most of the week.

Continue reading...

June 15, 2022 by Cathy Hornberger

This month we offer five resources on visioning. Please share this digest with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers, blogs, and the monthly digest.

Continue reading...

June 6, 2022 by Ken Howard

As you may know, FaithX is working with TryTank in a "proof-of-concept" experiment called Episcopal Pulse, the purpose of which is to keep a finger on the pulse of The Episcopal Church through weekly, rapid-response micro-surveys.

Our most recent micro-survey (#16), completed last Friday, asked this question:

In what areas of congregational life have you found hidden opportunities in the disruption caused by the pandemic?


Continue reading...