April 28, 2021

The Rev. Dr. Robert Leopold Shares Six Resources for Inspiration During Times of Change

Every month ECFVP offers resources on a theme. This month we've asked The Rev. Dr. Robert K. Leopold to highlight resources for inspiration and implementation as the Church and world around us change. Bob is a 2015 ECF Fellow who currently serves as Priest-in-Charge at St. Andrew's in Colchester, VT, Interim Rector at Christ Church in Montpelier, VT, and teaches a course each fall through the Center for Anglican Learning and Leadership (CALL) at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific's (CDSP). Please share this email with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and this monthly digest.

I've been eagerly following the resources and recommendations of this series and am blessed by the opportunity to contribute. As an auditory learner, however, I've decided to take my picks in a slightly different direction.

I find a lot of hope about the changing Church and its role in the changing world in those coming from outside our tradition. What do these folks have to say to us? Lots, it turns out. Can we hear it and respond in ways-appropriate-to-our-context? That's the big question, and much of what I have dedicated my life and ministry to. I issue this warning as when I work with parishes, vestries, bishops, seminarians, or whatever group of Episcopalians will have me, and then I share with them the seemingly bleak news that we must change or go home, believe it or not, they don't always thank me for being such a harbinger. That said, if you can keep an open mind, heart, and, well, ears, I think there is a lot of value, hope, and inspiration for where we are and where we are headed.

If you are reading this, there is a good chance you know the Most Rev. Michael Curry and have heard him speak, preach, move, and inspire with an ease that speaks to the grace he has known. Before he was such a household word for participants in “Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement,” he recorded Eucharist for New Tracts back in 2014. The theology we've probably heard before, but the story he weaves is gold, and a fantastic reminder of who we are and why we do what we do.

FaithX and ECF partnered to make the outstanding – and free – Congregational Vitality Assessment. While the output is only as good as the input, if a self-reflective ministry team uses the tool, they can see the ways in which their worshipping community is being called to change. In a data-driven way, this assessment begs the question: “Parish or perish?”

I wouldn't be doing my due diligence as an ECF Fellow if I didn't recommend some of ECF's written resources. I find blog posts very helpful and often click on the Blogs tab of ecfvp.org and let the Holy Spirit show me what I might need to see, and perhaps more importantly that what I might not know I need to see. I was blessed to write a number of blog posts as we were starting Southside Abbey in Chattanooga, including Take a Chance: This is Opportunity Time!

Now that we realize we need to change, how do we go about doing it? By building a strong core team; at least that is the way I have always found to be the most helpful and healthy. Since many parishes already have leadership teams in place, called vestries, that might be a good place to start. I happened to overlap with the Rev. Ron Byrd at seminary and he has since gone on to do great things. The jury is still out on me... but, one of his great things was the webinar Vestries as Strong Leadership Teams.

Okay, so we've got a team in place. Now what? Vision-casting is tricky. If much of our leadership has been steeped in the Episcopal tradition, it can be tough for us to imagine a different way forward. Hopefully everyone has read Verna Dozier's seminal, The Dream of God: A Call to Return. If not, start there. If, however, you are like me and need something a bit more bite-sized that you can maybe even listen to, I've got you covered. Rob Bell is perhaps less known to Episcopalians, but famous – or perhaps infamous – among evangelicals for having the audacity to say, “love wins,” over everything, hate, death, even hell. In this talk, Rob speaks to a full house at the “Progressive Youth Ministry Conference” in 2016, filmed by Creative Crucible. This is a fantastic reminder for those of us building the temple, that we are simultaneously called to, in his words: “tear that mother down.” Feel free to skip the story of the Polish masseur, but then again, why would you? You've been warned.

The next thing I'd like recommend to myself and to everyone reading this is a conversation with Phyllis Tickle. Unfortunately for us, Phyllis now rests with the saints in light, which makes a conversation with her impossible. Phyllis, more than anyone else I know, described what is happening now, borrowing an image from Bishop Mark Dyer (who I'd also recommend a conversation with, if he were not with Phyllis and the other saints): the Church is in the midst of a rummage sale that happens every five hundred years or so. What's more, Phyllis described the changes associated with our rummage sale (roughly half a millennium after the Reformation) with such grace, wit, charm, and love. Since a conversation is no longer possible, I share her conversational reflections from this video by Tiny Ark. While there are lots of books, videos, and articles out there, I appreciate seeing her in this personal, conversational setting, speaking to the nearness of God, even in tough times.

I pray this has proven worth your time and you find the same kind of hope and inspiration I take from these offerings.