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 22, 2019 by Alan Bentrup

Last time we started talking about practices to build our confidence around evangelism.

There’s a good basic list of resources available on the Episcopal Church’s website. One of those great resources is a “Prayer Walk.” Prayer walking is a great starting point, but I think walking can do much more.

There’s a term, “walk-up evangelism,” which is the type of evangelism many people think about. You walk up to someone and start telling them about Jesus (or telling them that they need Jesus). That’s not what I propose. What I’m talking about is “walk-around evangelism.”

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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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July 17, 2019 by Cathy Hornberger

This month we offer five resources on strategic thinking. 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. Do you know the difference between your congregation’s mission and vision? In his webinar entitled Strategic Thinking for Congregations, Donald Romanik talks about the ever-increasing pace of change and how strategic thinking can help congregations effectively plan for the future.

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July 16, 2019 by Linda Buskirk

For many years, books about healthy congregations focused on how to do what we’ve always done better, or at least in a more attractive way. One book capturing attention today asserts that what we’ve always done is not likely to work, no matter how well we do it.

Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership In Uncharted Territory, by Tod Bolsinger, takes a frank but hopeful look at the opportunities for adaptive leadership within the church today. The title is a reference to the ways that explorers Lewis and Clark had to adapt to the unexpected reality of the Rocky Mountains as they sought a riverway to the Pacific.

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July 12, 2019 by Annette Buchanan

Many of us who were raised in the church as children I believe started out with good stewardship habits. Our parents ensured that we placed our loose change or dollar in the collection plate. Similarly, our Sunday school teachers collected our offerings and dutifully recorded them. We were proud to drop the coins in the plate and for the times when we even considered keeping the money to buy a treat, the stern rebuke from parents and teachers would set us on the right path.

So here we are years later and stewardship for many congregations is a challenge. There are many reasons why our stewardship goals are not met. They include fewer parishioners in our congregation, older and some younger congregants on fixed income, and many congregants who are financially challenged for a variety of reasons.

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Topics: Stewardship
July 8, 2019 by Lisa G. Fischbeck

I figured the Memorial Day concert and cookout would be a good way for folks to experience the hospitality of the church.

We had invited Will Parker, now a student at Yale Divinity School touring for the summer, to provide a concert “for kids of all ages”. We debated about hosting an event on a secular holiday (unlike Independence Day and Thanksgiving, Memorial Day does not appear in the church calendar). But while we knew that many would be out of town for the Memorial Day weekend, we also knew that those who were still in town would be looking for something to do. We promoted the concert among the folks of the church, encouraging them to invite their friends. We promoted it on social media, paying a bit extra to send the ad out into the 10-mile radius of the church. And, for the first time, we posted it on the “Next Door” list serve. Neighbors near and far are welcome, we said.

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July 5, 2019 by Joe Merlino

I recently visited a parish that was considering embarking on a capital campaign. During our conversation, members of the committee shared that they had engaged in a series of visioning, clergy search, and strategic planning initiatives over the last several years. The initiatives included one-on-one meetings, group conversations and surveys. In two cases they hired consultants to facilitate these initiatives, each of which included some form of discernment. However during our conversation it became very apparent that the committee’s level of clarity regarding the processes they used and the practices they engaged in were unclear. So were the outcomes they had hoped to achieve. Given that, there was a general level of frustration as well as a strong desire to bring something tangible to the congregation that showed forward progress. Moreover, there was a reluctance to engage in what they perceived to be another redundant process of discernment. With deference to the best intentions and heart-felt contributions of everyone involved, their collective efforts proved to be less productive than expected. Hope and enthusiasm shifted to frustration and caution, and I felt a genuine feeling of concern for their predicament.

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July 1, 2019 by Lindsey Harts

I’ve often wondered why we, as millennials, are known for our insistence upon radical authenticity and our lack of tolerance for facades. The bulk of our generation grew up in the years surrounding and following the Columbine High School shooting. Many of us grew up doing “code red drills” where we hid under our desks and inside closets, knowing that in the instance that a shooter wrought havoc on our school, only a windowed classroom door stood between the shooter and our demise. Whenever I student-taught in college and entered a new classroom for the first time, my first instinct was to get a full visual layout of the room and see how I could best protect my students if there were to be a shooter. If there was a closet in the classroom, was it locked or unlocked? Was it big enough to hold students? Was there a window that students could safely use to exit the building? All of these questions went through my mind. These questions were harrowing questions to ask, but not at all out of the ordinary.

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