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!
When was the last time a delegation of 5 or more people from your church attended an event that addressed an area of vital importance to your congregation? These important areas may include: 1) Evangelism 2) Stewardship 3) Formation 4) Anti-racism 5) Vestry Leadership Development 6) Church Planting/ Replanting 7) Outreach or 8) Communication.
These events may have been sponsored by the Diocese, the Episcopal Church or a national Episcopal organization. These entities have invested much time and effort to be a resource in the areas listed above and others not mentioned. Additionally the National organizations have dedicated their whole ministry to deep expertise in these areas. Examples of these organizations are Forma, Episcopal Church Foundation, and Church Pension Group.
“Wait? This isn’t the last budget revision we’re doing?” our church’s treasurer recently asked at the finance meeting. To his point, he’s the one who plugs in the numbers. He did it in November, preparing for our December annual meeting. He did it in December, when the Vestry wanted to revise some areas. And he was doing it in January and February, when the finance committee started to take another whack at it.
Ascension and St. George’s, the two congregations I serve as rector, are doing a lot of amazing things and one of the most impressive things, I tell them, is that they’re facing financial uncertainty. A few years ago, before our collaborative sharing began, Ascension looked at their numbers and calculated they had three to five years left. St. George’s, too, recognized that the numerical and financial growth it was experiencing was, ultimately, insufficient to create a sustainable model of ongoing discipleship and growth. And each congregation, unto itself, faced those financial uncertainties. They stared financial uncertainty in its ugly, nasty, scary face. They wouldn’t let it dominate them. They didn’t run away and pretend it didn’t exist. They faced it, plain and simple, and they let that uncertainty take them to the limit of the old business model.
How many committees should your church have? Two, I believe. An Episcopal church should have two committees and, technically, they are sub-committees of the vestry. I also believe that this, and the other considerations in this blog post, should be spelled out in the parish by-laws.
For starters, our polity has set it up that the business model of every Episcopal congregation is overseen by one elected body – the Vestry. The Vestry is the overarching committee, the Committee of all committees.
Also, the Canons are clear, and rather limited, at that, when they speak about the powers and responsibilities of a Vestry. When a parish is not otherwise in clergy transition, a Vestry is fundamentally in charge of the fixed assets of the parish (“…agents and legal representatives of the parish in all matters concerning its corporate property”) as well as something like a council of advice between the clergy and the congregation (“…and the relations of the Parish to its Clergy,” Canon I.14.2). The Vestry is in charge of money and the oversight of fixed assets.
It’s Lent – a great time to start constructing your congregation’s annual giving campaign – and, no, not as part of your penance. It’s a great time because it’s early in the calendar year and, for most churches, the fiscal year too. There is ministry happening all over! Take advantage of opportunities now through the summer to document how current year giving is making impacts. Here are three steps to get you started:
In addition to my church work, I serve as President of the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) at my daughter’s Montessori school. It’s a way I can help give back to a great school. Also, the President of the PTO has far fewer responsibilities than Rector of a congregation, and I love simple, straightforward jobs.
As it turns out, the PTO was re-started a few years ago with a strategic aim. Like many small, private Montessori schools, our school was started by a visionary Montessori educator who wanted, herself, to start a school. She and her husband literally built it out of nothing. And in recent years they began to sense it was time to retire, which meant: time to sell the school. I knew this all along, and I knew as well that re-starting the PTO was envisioned as a helpful contribution to this overall transition. Kickstart a PTO so parents and teachers and the school community have a sense that there’s a place they can go when they have questions. Transitions are difficult enough for everyone.
This month we offer five resources to help your vestry or other church group have more engaging and productive meetings. 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. The Consent Agenda: More Efficient Meetings
The Consent Agenda: More Efficient Meetings introduces the concept and practice of using a consent agenda and how this makes space for strategic mission and ministry discussions without adding to the length of a meeting.
“Your church passed,” the visitor told me.
As part of her ministry, this person visits different church almost every Sunday. Invariably she thinks about the health of the congregation. But she doesn’t use typical parochial report measures—and for that matter, neither do most visitors! Big numbers of people in worship doesn’t automatically merit a passing grade. Neither does an inspirational sermon. She doesn’t count the breadth of announcements for events or the number of heads in the children’s choir.
Nope. One of her key measurements is the cleanliness of the bathroom.
Are you a vestry member or church leader interested in practical, spiritually grounded resources for your congregation? Subscribe to ECF Vital Practices for articles, tools, and resources by and for congregational leaders. With a subscription, you’ll receive 12 issues of Vestry Papers as well as the monthly digest delivered to your inbox, all for free.
This email introduces you to our digest for January, featuring 5 ways to help your newly forming vestry get off to a strong start.
The Vestry Goes On Retreat shares how to make the most of this invaluable time for fruitful work, honest conversations, and relationship building.
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.
Here is a creative way to get visionary juices flowing at your next Vestry planning retreat: Start writing your congregation’s 2023 Annual Report. You’ll need sticky flip chart pages and markers, and room to work in small groups.
Step 1 – Determine 3 or 4 topic areas that seem to be the most pressing right now. Examples might be finding Christian Formation teachers, increasing outreach ministry, and - just a wild guess on my part - finances.
Step 2 – Divide into groups – one group per topic. Assign a recorder (to capture the group’s final work in writing, preferably on flip chart pages easily read by all assembled), and a reporter (to verbally report the group’s findings).
By this time, the well-organized among us will have carried out our carefully laid stewardship campaign plans and will be reaping the harvest of generous pledge cards. The rest of us will manage somehow to keep things flowing for another year, using whatever combination of grit, habit, late mailings and frantic or low-key appeals.
In the pledge-driven madness, let us not forget the other half of good stewardship: faithful and realistic budgeting. Whether we have had glorious pledge campaign success or more of a white-knuckle experience, the church budget -- now under preparation in most of our congregations -- can elevate or sink the best efforts at generating support for our ministries.
To be useful, budgets have to be realistic. This might seem to go without saying, but I have seen many churches trim ruthlessly on the expense side, while taking a wildly optimistic (if not downright fantastical) approach to the income side of the church budget. Heck, I’ve done it myself in more than one place, on more than one occasion.
Here are a couple of guidelines to start with.
This month we offer five resources to help your vestry, bishop’s committee, or other leadership group take a productive and life-giving retreat. Please share this digest with your parish leadership and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.
The Vestry Goes on Retreat shares how retreats can be a time of fruitful work, relationship building and most importantly, honest conversations about the life and health of a church.
Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling. Psalm 43:3
We seek God's light and truth to lead us, and we envision that it will lead to eternal life. But what path to take? It's a question with which we grapple as individuals, and as faith communities joined in our church homes.
Grappling is a great reason to make time to consider more than what "our" most pressing needs are (deficit budget, leaking roof, etc.), but rather how well our faith community is following Jesus’ reminder to the church leaders of his day, challenging them to understand God’s Word: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” (Matthew 12: 7)
With the frequency of hurricanes that have recently occurred it begs the question how prepared are our churches for any catastrophe. Whether its fire, flooding or a mass shooting we do need to have a Disaster Preparedness Plan to address the physical and emotional needs of our congregation.
The Church Pension Group in its monthly newsletter points us to the Facilitator’s Guide on the Episcopal Relief and Development website. There we find a number of resources to help introduce this disaster preparedness discipline as part of our normal church life. Their best practices suggests that churches have a focused meeting to assess and provide remedies for any type of disaster including identification of the primary person within the congregation that has the responsibility for preparedness. There are also resources at the diocesan, provincial and national levels to assist with this activity.
How can we meet better? This month we offer five resources to help your vestry or other church group have more engaging and productive meetings. 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.
Lynne Switalski was just coming off a 3-year Vestry term when she was asked to be the Senior Warden at Saint Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church in South Bend, Indiana. Nine months into that position, the Rector announced he had accepted a call at another parish. Lynne was propelled into a Rector search process, office cleaning and reorganization, and hiring a secretary. With a smile, she calls this her “trial and error learning phase.” Now, with 6 ½ years of experience, Lynne offers these pointers for new Senior Wardens:
Are you interested in practical, spiritually grounded resources for your congregation? Subscribe for free to ECF Vital Practices for articles, tools, and resources by and for congregational leaders. With a subscription, you’ll receive 12 issues of Vestry Papers as well as the monthly digest delivered to your inbox.
This month, our digest features 5 ways to help your vestry hit the ground running.
In the social profit sector, the leadership role of the board of directors is so important it is considered a “capacity factor” for the organization. If the board is weak in its knowledge, governance and engagement, that weakness will hold back the agency, no matter how dynamic and productive the chief executive and the rest of the staff are.
As a consultant to not-for-profits, I created a list of “ten traits of a terrific board member” for use in governance training. For your consideration, I’ve amended the list for Vestry members: