July 31, 2019 by Lisa G. Fischbeck

The patch was rough. Three years after the old man who had lovingly tended the south five acres of the site for decades had moved to Florida, The Church of the Advocate acquired the land. Three years after that, we finally had a building in which to worship on the land. But having rented worship space for 11 years, it took us a while just to recover from all the transition and to settle into the reality of having our own place. We didn’t pay very much attention to what was growing where. We just tried to keep some of the grass mowed.

Soon, however, it became clear that the grounds just weren’t as pretty as they had been. Invasive plants had moved in, aggressive natives, like honeysuckle, sweet gum and pine had started growing like weeds. We had been clear from the beginning that the site was to be shared with anyone who came our way, whether they wanted to be part of the church or not. And wonderfully, one person who came our way was an amateur horticulturalist, a woman passionate about restoring land to native flora and fauna. We got to talking.

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July 25, 2019 by Jerry Campbell

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Medford, Oregon, will dedicate their new parish center on Saturday, July 27. This new building will welcome all who see it, day or night, with an accessible drop-off area leading to an elevated courtyard. From there, visitors will access the church entry, relocated parish offices, or the new Parish Center. Inside the facility, an elevator to all floors, clear signage, and flexible space will improve the experience for everyone, whether they are a child in Sunday School, a mid-week volunteer, or a member of the community visiting us for a meal.

St. Mark’s has been working toward this occasion for many years, and the Capital Campaign was just the final piece of a complex puzzle that made this day possible. Vision, planning, saving, investing, risking…all played major roles in leading up to this day.

In a previous decade, St. Mark’s embarked on a capital campaign that fell short of its goal. With the blessing of the congregation, the donated funds were saved and invested in anticipation of a day when their initial vision might be fulfilled. These carefully reserved funds formed a vital piece of the puzzle. Over the years, with a vision toward the future of an expanding mission, St. Mark’s had purchased property adjacent to their campus as opportunity and means presented themselves. It was a stretch to do this, but their vision overcame reluctance and the church acquired four parcels of land that were put to work in carrying out the mission of the congregation by providing: office space, meeting space, food storage, Sunday school classrooms, a community garden – and equity that might be put in service of a greater vision at some time in the future. These real estate holdings formed a second piece of the puzzle.

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July 18, 2019 by Lisa G. Fischbeck

The resident in the church house was getting tired of cleaning up the mess left behind by field mice in the kitchen. She also wanted some company. So she asked if the church might get a cat. The altar guild was having similar challenges with mouse detritus in the sacristy and was ready to support the idea. With the altar guild on board, the vestry was quick to assent.

The resident and I started visiting the local animal rescue. We knew that any cat we adopted would need to be tolerant of kids, so once we narrowed the possibilities down to two or three, we invited a 5 and 9-year-old from the church to go with us. Each cat was given the kid test for playful interaction and kindness.

The result was Smoke, the Advo-cat.

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June 24, 2019 by Charis Hill

For over thirty years, The Episcopal Church was part of my self and soul. I was baptized as an infant with an Episcopal liturgy in a Methodist Church. I don't know how that happened either.

I’m one of those millennials. Sometimes it feels like we’re THE mystery the church must solve in order to not die. I think there are more important things to discuss, like how to follow Jesus. I used to love this slogan that dominated my childhood and young adult years: "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You." It was true because we said so, no question about it. The statement was dramatic - and innocent - enough to be fallibly infallible, and because we seemed to want to mean it. Years later, I realized I never questioned it because those who weren't universally welcome already knew not to come, and if I didn't see a problem, it didn't exist.

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March 21, 2019 by Lisa G. 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.
Literally.

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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