March 21, 2019 by Lisa Fischbeck

After ten years of being a nomadic church, renting space from Sunday by Sunday, we finally had land. It took us three years to raise the money to buy it, three years of anticipation and longing. Then, it was finally ours. Fifteen acres of old farm land on the north end of town, with a pond and a 1960s ranch style house. We were like kids on a playground, discovering the trees, guessing what kind of flowers would bloom from bulbs planted decades before, watching the turtles race. We knew that soon we would also host a chapel. But that was still a ways off. We wanted to do something to celebrate, to claim the land, to ask God’s blessing on it, on us.

So we “beat the bounds.”

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February 18, 2019 by Janet Lombardo

I serve a lovely church on top of a hill in a vacation community. The church is surrounded by lakes, and almost doubles its attendance in the summer. I serve as their part-time interim Rector. The church community has been declining, they have lost two thirds of their members in the last 10 years, and much of their energy has been spent caring for their aging buildings.

There are three buildings on the campus, the church building, the rectory and the parish hall. The church is beautiful. It was built in the 1840’s and is a typical New England white church with red doors, stained glass windows and a steep pitched roof. The church is beloved by the community and has been well cared for. The rectory has not been used as a rectory for decades; it is used mostly for office space and meetings, and is in very poor shape. The parish hall is almost as old as the church, is poorly designed and lacks function. The congregation has talked for years about renovating the parish hall, there are plans that date back to the 1960’s, but nothing has been done. These three buildings consume most of their energy.

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October 23, 2018 by Sarah Townsend Leach

“How did it go?” My mom’s words came through the cell phone ear piece with equal parts excitement and apprehension.

“I have learned things about church design that had never occurred to me before,” I answered flatly with a tinge of exhaustion. I had just attended my first service with a six-week old baby, and I would see things with new eyes from now on in every church I visited thereafter.

You see, church design matters to me as a member and worshipper, but it also matters deeply to me as an ECF capital campaign consultant to churches around the country that are considering investing hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in renovations or new buildings.

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December 23, 2017 by Richelle Thompson

The priest’s prayer was unusual: “Please God, don’t let anyone code during the Christmas services.”

A year ago on Christmas Eve, our pianist was a few bars into “Away in a Manger” when he slumped over. No pulse. No respiration. Thankfully the AED—automated external defibrillator—was in the narthex, and people were trained how to use it. The congregation stayed calm and collected as parishioners strapped the AED onto Dale and the electric charge brought Dale’s heart back to life. The children were ushered into the choir room, the font was moved so EMT’s could bring in the stretcher, and people prayed in the pews.

Today, Dale is a healthy, vibrant octogenarian, tickling the ivories at churches across northern Kentucky and southern Ohio.

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December 20, 2017 by Brendon Hunter

This month we’re sharing five of the most popular posts in 2017 on ECF Vital Practices. Help your parish leadership get connected to more great resources by sharing this digest and an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.

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July 19, 2017 by Brendon Hunter

This month we offer five resources to help your congregation with buildings & grounds. Please share this digest with your parish leadership and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices.

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May 31, 2017 by Annette Buchanan

The discussions on the use of space in our society can sometimes be controversial, they include debates on whether to designate open spaces for parks or golf-courses, commercial spaces for industrial or retail business or housing for low-income or gated communities.

Likewise in our faith communities there are continuous discussions on how to make the best use of the spaces within our church buildings. For many, the default is to use the church for worship only and hold church committee meetings as necessary. While this internal-use model is simple, functional and more secure it does raise the issue of whether the space is being used optimally.

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March 31, 2017 by Annette Buchanan

We are all aware of the need to have our church buildings be accessible. Federal and state regulations mandate the physical requirements for access. Our Welcoming Forums from years past highlighted the importance of this issue. However, many of our churches are still not in full compliance for physical accessibility. Most have ramps, some have accessible bathrooms, but movement from one floor to another is still an issue. I recently attended a breakfast event where the church hall was on the second floor with winding stairs. Chairlifts and elevators are expensive so the required upgrades are often not made. A reminder that there are grants available to assist organizations to become compliant, therefore we need to be more vigilant about seeking these funds. The consequences are the deterrence of persons from attending church and clients from accessing outreach programs.

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January 5, 2017 by Richelle Thompson

Coming to church saves lives.

At least it did in our congregation on Christmas Eve.

If you read only one blog, read this. If you’re going to follow the advice of only one best-practices column, let it be this one.

It’s a lifesaver.

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July 27, 2016 by Greg Syler

I’m writing this post from Lion’s Camp Merrick, a beautiful camp set along the picturesque shores of the Potomac River – looking west about a mile to the Virginia shore – in far western Charles County, Maryland. This is where our diocesan summer camp, Camp EDOW – the acronym stands for Episcopal Diocese of Washington – is kicking off its fifth year. (Truth be told, I’ve just stepped in to write this blog in a lovely air conditioned cabin, an added blessing given that the thermometer’s 91 degrees actually only feels like 100 right now in southern Maryland!) This is a beautiful place to begin with, and made even more special by the happy sounds of children and counselors, ropes course elements, and the daily challenge of archery, swimming in the pool and canoeing on the river, Eucharist celebrated atop an overturned canoe, and bible study late at night by candlelight in the cabins.

But I’m also humbled and thrilled that, for one, we have this camp opportunity in our diocese and, two, this ministry continues to catch hold of kids, families, adults, and staff who feel drawn to this amazing experience and come back to Camp EDOW, year after year.

Which is to say, in short, I am reminded every summer at Camp EDOW that we can create new, vibrant ministries in our church. More, doing so doesn’t require hugely innovative ideas (sleep away camp, for instance, has been around for a long while) and it doesn’t take too much effort (there’s consistent work, don’t get me wrong, but we started with one week, five or six adults who formed a committee, and the hopes that families might send their children).

What Camp EDOW, in particular, did require was a hope, a desire, and a commitment to do something well, even if it wasn’t big or splashy; just well. I think this lesson applies to many of us who love Jesus and, to boot, love His Church.

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July 6, 2016 by Nancy Davidge

Church. Hearing the word, my brain immediately ‘sees’ a building with a steeple. And, I recall the stories of leaking roofs, faulty boilers, and so on.

Yet, when I began looking for stories of how congregations were managing their buildings, what I discovered was story after story of churches using their buildings and grounds in service to their hopeful vision of what God is calling them to do in their communities: Leaky roofs notwithstanding.

Here are their stories:

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June 15, 2016 by Brendon Hunter

In the June Vital Practices Digest, we offer 5 resources for re-thinking the purpose and use of your church buildings, with the 5th a resource to help in developing year-round stewardship in your congregation.

It’s easy and free to connect with more great resources for your congregation. Subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and this Vital Practices Digest in your inbox each month.

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April 20, 2016 by Brendon Hunter

In the April Vital Practices Digest, we offer 5 resources churches can use to start or continue to develop a thriving church garden ministry, with the 5th a resource to help develop year-round stewardship in your congregation.

It’s easy and free to connect with more great resources for your congregation. Subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and this Vital Practices Digest in your inbox each month.

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November 19, 2014 by Greg Syler

Over the past several years, we’ve been updating our parish hall at St. George’s, Valley Lee. We stripped some walls bare and fixed the masonry, where needed. We’ve insulated walls and above the ceiling. While we were tightening things up, hopefully cutting down on energy usage, we also decided to add nicer finishes: wood flooring in the offices where there previously was linoleum; tile in the restrooms and drywall in the classrooms where there used to be cement block; nicer lighting in as many spaces as we could, and less expensive light fixtures, too – thank God for LED lights. Project by project, the parish hall is starting to look and function a lot better. 

Like many churches, we inherited a set of facilities built by – and, largely, for – the inhabitants of a previous congregation and, indeed, world. With the exception of our historic church, our buildings aren’t that old. Built in the 1960s, they are young enough to be functional but old enough to be costly. They were built with little and, in some cases, no insulation (energy costs apparently weren’t a serious consideration back then) and featured small, tight, dark rooms designed for that mythical Sunday School of 200+ kids. Until we started these more intentional renovations a few years ago, the best this congregation had done, to date, was re-paint and keep up those Baby Boom-era spaces.

Meanwhile, the world changed. This meant different patterns and expectations of church – including the purpose of church buildings.

And in our case, the church was starting to operate and function in new ways. Today, we are a very different community than the one which built our parish hall. The best part is, with some intentional leadership, we’ve been able to have the conversation about our goals and values today, and how these goals are different from those of previous generations and why those differences matter. We started to update our church spaces not because the world had changed but because the church was changing; because, for instance, we needed to pay greater attention to IT issues and build a 21st century office infrastructure; because, we discerned, the overall presentation of the spaces matter, and new leaders were bringing new and good questions about why things go where.

This is when and where we started to get into the conversation about change.

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August 29, 2014 by Greg Syler

Like every other church, St. George’s deals with deferred maintenance on our buildings and grounds. We try to keep up with as many projects as we can, but our forebears gave us a lot of stuff and, today, the funds and the personnel are limited. But even more limited than the money or the volunteer core has been the vision to do something and the will to carry it out.

For the life of me, I could never figure out why we couldn’t get a properly organized Buildings & Grounds Committee at St. George’s, despite the fact that there are lots of handy and capable crafts-people in this congregation and community. In part, that was the problem: the do-ers wouldn’t come to the table because they just wanted to get a project done, and the planners would slow down the process and frustrate the former group.

Over the course of this past year, that heavy dysfunction has begun to change. It changed when one person came on board, gifted with a calm, straightforward, clear, and balanced leadership capacity. She has convened meetings and made the meetings – not to mention the agenda and overall process – quite clear and transparent. She has massaged egos and calmed nerves and clarified points of disagreement. She has her own thoughts about what should happen and what something should look like, but she leads with her experience and gifts as a group facilitator.

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May 5, 2014 by Jeremiah Sierra

The other day my church rented out our new space for an art show. An organization called Fiercely Curious took our space (which is very much an empty room at the moment) and made it into a gallery for a weekend. 

Using church to display art is nothing new, of course. Churches have been home to religious art for hundreds of years—statuary and stained glass and icons. I think that the church can and should continue to be a home for art.

There are many examples of this around the country. Trinity Church in Houston, Texas, where I was a member for several years, displays art by parishioners in it’s building throughout the year, much of it very good.

Parables, an experimental Lutheran community in Brooklyn, has had a Lenten art show at St. Paul’s Lutheran for the past two years, which brings in visitors and allows the community members to express their faith in new ways.

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April 15, 2014 by Anna Olson

How many times have you been told -- or told someone else, maybe with a slight tone of spiritual superiority -- that the church is not the building?

I know, I know, it’s the people. I do know.

But it is the building.

Your neighbors see a building. They may have even been inside. Often for something other than worship. Often somewhere other than the sanctuary.

The built environment matters. It shapes what we see, where we walk, where we drive, the very textures beneath our feet. Buildings shut out noise, let in light. Doors are open. Or closed.

As church membership declines in many places, sometimes it seems the buildings are all that will be left.

So what if we take these buildings seriously?

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March 3, 2014 by Richelle Thompson

As the list of closures started scrolling across the bottom of the TV, I waited for the commentary from the couch. It didn’t take long.

“I can’t believe all of these churches cancelling services!”

To frame the discussion a bit, my husband (a priest) doesn’t cancel worship services because of bad weather. A vestry meeting? Maybe. But never a worship service. Even if he expects he’ll be the only one there, he still shows up.

Masochistic? Maybe a bit. But mostly he feels like it’s really important to open the doors to the church for regular worship, even when the weather is bad, even when the schools are cancelled. A caveat here is that we live in the Midwest – we’re not in hurricane territory and thankfully haven’t had a major weather disaster. So we’re talking about snow and ice. Of that, we’ve had plenty this year. But come every Sunday morning, the doors are open, and he’s celebrating the Eucharist. 

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September 9, 2013 by Richelle Thompson

Do as I say (and write), not as I do.

I’m teaching Sunday School this fall for the first time at our new-ish church. Our kids are old enough to make their way to the classrooms so I hadn’t spent much time looking at the space.  Yesterday was an eye-opener.

The walls are a mess, with scuffs and marker lines. The whiteboard would be more aptly named gray-with-squiggles board. The shelves are full of tired books probably purchased directly from Gutenberg. And I swear, the pictures on the wall were stolen from my Sunday School classroom three decades ago.

The room looks like we’re a church that doesn’t value our kids.

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September 6, 2013 by Barbara Ballenger

September is National Disaster Preparedness Month. Episcopal Relief & Development’s US Disaster Program equips Episcopal dioceses in the United States to prepare for local disasters, mitigate their impact and help the vulnerable make a full and sustained recovery. This is the first in a series of four posts on parish disaster preparedness planning.

When Janine Ungvarsky and John Major train parishes in the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem in how to prepare for and respond to disasters, they begin by explaining how unprepared they were for the one that hit their community two years ago.

On Sept 8, 2011, the Susquehanna River overflowed its banks in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. The flood displaced thousands of people in West Pittston and caused millions of dollars in damage. And, it came within a block of Trinity Episcopal Church where Major is rector and Ungvarsky is missioner for ministries and renewal.

“We did nothing to protect the building,” Ungvarsky recalls. “Had the water come a block farther, our church would have suffered damage that we had done nothing to protect it from.”

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