Only once in the forty years we’ve been married have I picked out a gift for my wife that she really liked. We were on vacation, walking around a little mountain town on a summer evening. She admired a necklace she saw in a shop window, but they were closed and we were leaving early the next morning. The following week I called the store and arranged for the necklace to be shipped, surprising (and delighting) Marsha on her birthday.
Though we stopped giving each other presents long ago, sharing gifts is really important to us. The gift of making a home together. The gift of raising up wonderful children. The gift of planting gardens wherever we went, surrounding ourselves with beautiful flowers and luscious tomatoes.
In my previous post, I focused on the significant few expenditures and resources which really move the needle on what it takes to make your local church thrive, let alone run. When it comes down to it, there are remarkably few things church leaders need to pay attention to. These significant few focus on people: equipping lay leaders, resourcing clergy and staff, and connecting continuously with those people who regularly and generously invest in Christ’s mission (often known to vestries and finance committees as “pledge” and “plate”).
The challenge is that it’s hard to pay attention to the significant few because they’re such big items. The good news is that once you do a whole new world of opportunities opens up.
One of which is that you can (finally!) confront the insignificant many. I’ll be the first to admit that the institutions which make up The Episcopal Church have too much stuff: too many copy machines per Average Sunday Attend-er; too many buildings; too many inefficient, costly HVAC systems; way too costly an institutional model. I believe there’s a great deal of fat to cut. A colleague of mine says, rightly, that the problem of The Episcopal Church is not our theology, nor our faith practices, nor our liturgy, nor anything we keep harping on. The problem is our institution: we are driving ourselves out of business.
Church growth and vitality will continue to be an issue for congregations in the new year as it is today. Whether congregations are urban or rural, racially diverse or not, large or small we all need to find hope for the future church.
Many are especially concerned with recent reports that the U.S. church membership had fallen below majority for the first time. In 2020, 47% of U.S. adults belonged to a church, synagogue, or mosque, down more than 20 points from the turn of the century.
Additionally, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church – Parochial Report Data 2019 reports that the Median Average Sunday Worship Attendance is now 51 congregants.
“Pay attention to the significant few,” he said, finally speaking up after what seemed like hours of endless back-and-forth about the Excel spreadsheet.
Others at the table looked as bewildered as I was.
“The significant few,” he went on, “that’s what we need to pay attention to – those significant few expenditures and resources that will really move the needle on this budget.”
I knew exactly what or, better, who he was talking about.
This month we offer five resources on vestry roles and responsibilities. Please share this digest with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers, blogs, and the monthly digest.
The annual remembrance of Dr. King draws our attention to his call for unity across racial division. This message continues to resonate and inspire us today. However, in honor of him, we would do well to remember his other calls to action. At his death, Dr. King was fighting against what he called the “triplets of evil” -- militarism, racism, and economic injustice -- a combination which disregards human value. He and others committed themselves to solidarity with the poor of our nation to fight to close the economic gap by addressing the unholy trinity of these three features of American life. The effort was called The Poor People’s Campaign. It could be argued that this is ultimately what got him killed.
The Rev. Dr. William Barber and The Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis have breathed new life into the Poor People’s Campaign. Beginning in 2018, “from Mother’s Day to the Summer Solstice, poor people and moral witnesses in 40 states committed themselves to a season of direct action to launch the Campaign. What ensued was the most expansive wave of nonviolent civil disobedience in the 21st century United States. More than a series of rallies and actions, a new organism of state-based movements was born. Now, in over 40 states, the groundwork for a mass poor people’s movement is emerging.” [Poorpeoplescampaign.org/about/] This revival of the Poor People’s Campaign came 50 years after Dr. King died working on it.
I’m not a big fan of January. Ever since I was a child, January has been my least favorite month of the year. I’m not quite sure why. I guess it has something to do with the weather and the general let-down that comes after the Christmas holidays. My father always insisted on taking down the Christmas tree on New Year’s Day which I always found rather depressing. As an adult married couple, my wife and I much prefer to wait until January 6th or beyond to perform this least favorite task of the year.
Maybe my problem with January is also the frustration about New Year’s resolutions that go unfulfilled, although I have been sticking to my diet so far. It’s not that interesting and even enjoyable things don’t occur in January. Also, in January, the days start to become longer by one or two minutes each day which will be rather noticeable by the end of the month. Nonetheless, I know that when February 1st comes around, I will breathe a huge sigh of relief.
The FaithX Project and the Episcopal Church Foundation are happy to announce that the popular Congregational Vitality Assessment will soon be available in Spanish.
This has been in the works for a couple of months now, first with the questions, ratings, and prescriptive paragraphs of the survey itself and then with the entire website on which it resides. The first step was an AI translation. And because Artificial Intelligence can sometimes be artificially unintelligent with small details like colloquialisms, we sought the help of a translator to find and correct any faux pas. And as we learn more about the languages spoken by CVA users, we plan to bring more translations online. And as always, the Single Congregation Version of the CVA remains FREE.
The checkout lines were long at the department store, and since I was just buying gift cards, Customer Service looked like a better choice. No one was returning anything at that moment, so the two clerks were chatting. As I approached the counter, they were discussing the shortage of coins. “Where have they all gone?” I asked, just to be friendly. “It’s the government,” one woman said. “They’re not making enough new coins.”
Back outside, walking to the car, I was still puzzling over that statement. Dollar bills wear out, but not coins. In fact, I hardly use them at all, making even small purchases with my debit card. Still, the cash economy is widespread, and a lot of coins are piling up somewhere.