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.”
This month, we are highlighting five resources that can help your faith community invest in and maintain an endowment. Who else do you know who might appreciate these articles? Please share and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.
1. In Four Steps to Maintain and Increase Your Endowment, Jerry Keucher shares the Dos and Don’ts of how to use your church’s endowment. If your church in considering establishing an endowment or wondering how an endowment might be beneficial, this is a very helpful read.
Weeks or maybe months ago, someone asked you to consider serving on your church’s Vestry. You thought about it, prayed about it, talked with your family and friends about it. You know you have gifts to share, and you love your church. You want to serve God and help your congregation. But you’ve also heard stories from past Vestry members – the late nights, the struggles, the big questions, the anxieties, the mountains turned into molehills.
Serving on the Vestry is an amazing opportunity to grow, but like all opportunities it’s not without challenge and growth areas. Vestry is the place where faith meets structure, where character matters, where leadership counts. Serving on Vestry can help strengthen your walk with Christ. Instead of a Top Ten list for things to do or think about as a Vestry leader, I’m more concerned with ways in which Vestry service helps individuals thrive and a congregational culture take off. As I prepare to gather our new Vestry, here’s my Top Ten list of ways to thrive as a Vestry Leader.
Anxiety is a constant in leadership roles and in congregations who are stretching to accomplish something worthwhile. If there isn’t some anxiety, you likely didn’t reach far enough.
A great way to deal with anxiety is to bring it into the open – expect anxiety, and ensure concerns and ideas continue to be heard. Common worries include:
Episcopalians are big on discernment, which I have come to understand includes reflection on our questions in light of scripture, prayer, and the counsel of others. For instance, when someone gets a holy nudge to serve God in the church, we assemble a supportive group to help him/her “discern the call” to be ordained as a deacon or priest. We understand this is a big decision that takes time. We value praying about it in community with others.
In the Episcopal Church Foundation’s proven methodology for capital campaigns, the first of three phases is called “discernment.” During this time, which requires no deadline, the congregation is invited to discern its call as a faith community, and to determine which capital improvements would best support that call. Those who perform repeated emergency surgeries on the boiler, or the organist who keeps the music coming through skillful application of duct tape and screwdrivers, or the nursery attendant who wraps babies up like burritos to keep them warm – sometimes “hands on” folks like these get a little agitated about discernment. What’s to discern?! Let’s fix things!
It’s the season of congregational Annual Meetings, the time to pull out the reports, summarize the year, articulate the ways in which God is making clear God’s preferred future, and enjoy possibly one of the best potlucks of the year. Annual Meetings are an important part of congregational life, and one of the real highlights for church geeks and insiders.
But an Annual Meeting and, more to the point, the diminishing return on investment (time spent on the meeting versus the ways in which it ‘moves the needle’) points to a growing disconnect between a beautiful heritage and critical need. Our church’s representative democracy is a lovely thing, and a heritage I prefer to keep. At the same time, however, we need to admit that we’ve created a cumbersome and top-heavy institution. Simply to carry out the local parochial version of The Episcopal Church, year after year after year, requires a great deal of volunteer hours and oversight and coordination and management and communal good will. It’s been stated elsewhere, and this is no joke, that we’ve finally perfected the perfect version of an excellent 18th century institution. Only problem is it’s the 21st century.
In Romans 16, greetings are sent to a variety of people in this Christian community culminating with verse 16, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” Instructive in these verses is that the majority of greetings emphasize the positive works that the recipients have accomplished in their ministry.
Examples of these accolades include: “benefactor of many people”; “risked their lives for me”; “ hard work in the Lord”; “being chosen in the Lord”; “our co-worker in Christ”; “fidelity to Christ has stood the test”; “the first convert to Christ in Asia”; “my dear friend in the lord”; and "being my mother, brother or sister in the Lord".
The Commissioners of St. Mary’s County, Maryland recently undertook a study to identify the gaps between the services the County’s social service providers offer and those persons who lack access to resources. The ‘Gap Analysis’ revealed a host of hard-hitting facts and has spurred conversations across multiple sectors in our fast growing, economically prosperous (among a few) formerly-rural community.
For the past six months, I’ve been on a team of people commissioned by our elected leaders to make recommendations about how to translate into action what we’ve learned through the Gap Analysis. We are slowly drilling down near some root causes of the gaps, and truly helpful initiatives are beginning to emerge from our work.