When a holy nudge of an idea comes along and starts to take root in your faith community, how can it be tended to grow with the support of many? Or when your community feels a bit weary, uncertain of its future, or just plain bored with its status quo, how can you liven things up to engage people in seeking answers together?
One way is as old as the Christian church itself: gatherings in homes to explore faith and pray for guidance, today frequently called “Cottage Meetings.”
The idea is to invite people to sign-up to participate in an informal gathering for conversation in someone’s home. Figure 10 to 15 people per gathering to determine how many home hosts are needed.
In our Baptismal Covenant, we pledge that we will “strive for justice and peace among all
people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” The world is crying for justice and peace, yet controversy lurks even in definitions of terms. Like a squirrel kicking up dried leaves, we scurry through the space provided for conversation, anxious to find our own safe place.
How can we make the conversation space safe enough for everyone? As we consider this, some self-reflection might be beneficial.
In her book, An Altar in the World, acclaimed spiritual writer Barbara Brown Taylor writes about twelve practices that engage us to experience God. The book helps us recognize some of the altars around us, which Taylor describes as ordinary-looking places where human beings meet the divine “More” they are seeking and sometimes call God. For your prayerful consideration about how to live in respectful peace with others, check out Chapter 6, The Practice of Encountering Others.
I serve as the rector of two churches, and even though both congregations are similar in many ways, today, they didn’t start out that way. One, St. George’s in Valley Lee, is so old that most of our earliest records are housed in our state Archives in Annapolis, MD. The other, Ascension in Lexington Park, was planted as a mission chapel in 1954 and became its own parish in 1968. Ascension has only had a few rectors – I’m number 4 – and I’m especially grateful that its first rector, the founder of the Mission-turned-Parish, spent a great deal of time near the end of his life writing his memories and reflections.
On Easter morning, I will offer the short, sweet, three-point sermon that I’ve offered before:
We gather today to celebrate Easter, the Feast of the Resurrection.
And I want to say three things about the Feast of the Resurrection that we celebrate this day:
1) The Resurrection is a mystery that cannot be described in words.
2) The Resurrection can’t just be celebrated by our intellects and in our heads. It requires our whole selves.
3) The Resurrection is best celebrated with others.
So, rather than give any more words in response to the Gospel and the Feast of the Day, we will dance.
At that point, the feelings in the congregation are a blend of excitement, anxiety, curiosity and relief (for many are only occasional church visitors, and not particularly revved for a sermon). Then I call on a good sport of the congregation to help me show folks how the dance goes.
Is your church community putting its money where its mouth and mission are? This month we are highlighting five resources on mission-based finances. 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. Greg Syler, in Facing Financial Uncertainty—Testing and Re-testing the Budget, illustrates why having a nimble budget can help your community of faith live more fully and more intentionally in its mission. This article is packed with good resources to help your church be more flexible.
At a recent meeting, one of the assignments for our dinner conversation was to answer the question, “Name one thing that you cannot live without.” Given the occasion, many of the answers were frivolous and funny e.g. chocolate, hot water, the ocean etc. It is a question worth pondering seriously and also in turn asking in the context of our life as a congregation, “Name one thing that our congregation cannot live without.”
Personally, after we get past the life-saving items (food, water, shelter), the answers should reflect things that are truly important in our life: our family, friends, and yes, most importantly, our faith. Obviously, whatever we think we cannot live without is where we should spend our time and treasure. Experience shows that problems arise when these areas are not nurtured.
If you want to get better at something, you practice. That’s true for sports, or musical instruments, or spiritual disciplines.
Want to become more diligent in prayer? There’s no shortage of prayer practices that have developed through the centuries. Want to read your Bible more? We’ve got you covered.
But what if you want to get better at evangelism? You practice.
Napoleon is rumored to have reflected on the concept that “geography is destiny” before invading Russia in 1812…and the concept has become ingrained in geopolitical thought ever since.
And it can affect far more than simply politics. Camp Wingmann, a small Episcopal summer camp located in a picturesque setting in the Diocese of Central Florida, faced the daunting task of raising capital funds from across a Diocese spanning 15 counties and comprising nearly 1/3 of Florida’s 65,000 square miles. This Diocese includes small rural areas, such as Camp Wingmann’s Avon Park, as well as densely populated urban areas such as those surrounding Orlando (Disney/Universal) or the Space Coast (Cape Canaveral and Melbourne).
“We spoke to other capital campaign consultants,” comments Father Tom Seitz, Chairman of the Wingmann Board. “None expressed confidence in managing such a far-flung effort. That was when we turned to ECF and were so gratified that they took us on as a client.”
A member of the congregation asked if we might have pronoun buttons made for folks to wear in church -- simple pin buttons that would identify the pronouns with which people identify, such as he or she or they. Even though we don’t have non-binary or trans folks in the congregation (that we know of), Hannah explained, if any came to visit, they would likely feel more welcomed if they saw people wearing pronoun buttons. It would be a sign of hospitality. It would also help us all to be more aware of what gender identity is and how it varies. And it would cause us to be more mindful that we welcome all.
I knew the idea would be welcomed by many who truly want to broaden and make known our inclusive welcome. I was also aware that the idea would cause some to feel uncomfortable, or to question why it was necessary. And I had to confess my own ignorance of the nomenclature and terminology.
Sometimes, when my family and I have a Sunday off but we’re still in town, we pop into a local Presbyterian church for worship. They have great preaching and strong worship. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that very few people there know me or us. We slip in, enjoy worship, and go on with our day.
A traditional brick-and-mortar church, this congregation is known in our community as a strong, thriving church. They have great programs, a well-manicured campus, dynamic pastors, a good website – and it doesn’t hurt that their gym and nursery are top-notch!
But the one thing I really appreciate about them is their approach to Christian formation. They have Sunday morning classes, and youth group in the middle of the week. There’s a college-age group that meets in some kind of lounge space, and they pull together what they call a “Big Gathering” every now and then. But most of what they do in terms of formation and relationship-building happens Monday to Saturday … and not in their brick-and-mortar building.
April is Financial Literacy month.
At the Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF), we spend much of our time helping individuals and churches with their strategic, financial and leadership resources. We strive to educate and alleviate concerns around endowments, help seminarians navigate the transition out of seminary and into their first job or cure, coach clergy and lay leaders to be stronger, more effective leaders, and a whole host of other things. However, every April, we take some time out of our busy schedules and build on our own financial knowledge. Kate Adams, Project Director for the Lilly Endowment National Initiative, and I have looked forward to April when we get to put together a set of fun finance activities for our staff. Activities usually culminate with an end of the month gathering over food to share what we’ve learned over the past month. It’s a way for us at ECF to learn about ourselves but, more importantly, learn how our own relationships with money can affect the work we do every day. Here are a few exercises Kate Adams and I wanted to share with you in hopes that you mind find them useful for your own teams.
The husband and wife were regular participants in the life of the congregation. They were in church most Sundays, in the thick of the chatter in the entrance hall and coffee hour. When the woman began the decline into dementia, her husband took care of her and they still came to church. “Don’t you look lovely today!” she would say. “It sure is a pretty morning!”. She was very cheery.
In time, the husband talked to the clergy about his increasing inability to keep her safe. And eventually, after one too many wanderings or stove incidents, he determined that the time had come to place her in a care facility that could meet her needs better than he could. He came to church the following Sunday without her. Everyone asked where she was, and he told them. People were shocked. “I had no idea!” was the universal response.