June 26, 2018 by Anna Olson

Three months into St. Mary’s commitment to the Safe Parking project, I have a few observations.

One is that it is going well. None of the big problems that people imagine have come to pass. Our vehicle-dwelling neighbors report sleeping better and seem to coexist peacefully and happily with the many other folks who overlap with them at church, including lots of programs for kids and families.

Another is that the concept is very popular. There are lots of people in lots of congregations that think it’s a great idea. There are people working really hard to get the idea through their congregational decision making processes. But so far no other congregation in greater Los Angeles has actually gotten to the starting line. Besides St. Mary’s the other lots run by Safe Parking LA are all on public land.

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June 22, 2018 by Linda Buskirk

How we Episcopalians love to experience a thundering organ and rousing choral music, complete with hand bells and chimes and sunshine beaming through the stained glass, wait… why is that family leaving?

This article is the third in a series about improving inclusion for people with disabilities in our faith communities. Some disabilities are invisible. Those who have particular sensitivity to noise and lights may not be able to enjoy a typical worship service.

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June 1, 2018 by Linda Buskirk

Projects to improve accessibility are often included in church capital campaigns. In my work as a capital campaign consultant with ECF, I witness congregations choosing ramps, restrooms large enough for caregivers to enter with their adult loved one, hearing loops, wider doorways, lowering the altar rail to the main level of the nave, and other changes to make it clear that all are welcome.

As our awareness of physical barriers increases, let us also consider whether our language and behavior send messages of, “You are truly welcome.” Consider the differences between these sentences:

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February 19, 2018 by Richelle Thompson

“Your church passed,” the visitor told me.

As part of her ministry, this person visits different church almost every Sunday. Invariably she thinks about the health of the congregation. But she doesn’t use typical parochial report measures—and for that matter, neither do most visitors! Big numbers of people in worship doesn’t automatically merit a passing grade. Neither does an inspirational sermon. She doesn’t count the breadth of announcements for events or the number of heads in the children’s choir.

Nope. One of her key measurements is the cleanliness of the bathroom.

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Topics: Hospitality, Vestry
October 17, 2017 by Anna Olson

My parish is a busy place. Multiple communities – with varying degrees of involvement and investment in the religious life of the congregation – use church space for a wide range of beneficial purposes. Kids play basketball and learn instrumental music and traditional dance. Korean drums vie with tuba-driven banda rhythms. The food for festivals and fundraisers is prepared in the kitchen – everything from specialized triangular tamales (the claim to culinary fame of one small town in the mountains of Oaxaca) to a Japanese American take on manju pastries filled with a delicious paste of sweetened lima beans.

It all sounds amazing and beautiful and it is… until someone leaves a mess. Dancers find crumbs on the stage. The basketball team finds discarded plates of tamales in the parking lot. A door gets left open. The trash doesn’t get taken out. In a place as busy as ours, it’s all bound to happen at some point.

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Topics: Hospitality
July 10, 2017 by Annette Buchanan

For many, especially those in seasonal climates, the summer months (July and August) are regarded as the time when the church slows down. We may combine services, the priest maybe on vacation, the vestry may not meet, the choir may not sing, Sunday school may be cancelled, and many guilds will also suspend their meetings until the fall. While totally in agreement that we need rest and relaxation, and it is the most popular vacation time, do we all need to rest from church obligations at the same time. Sadly it is also a time when finances go on vacation as our support of the church dwindles during the summer months.

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Topics: Worship, Hospitality
April 18, 2017 by Linda Buskirk

Five years ago in a small city on the Ohio River, an Episcopal faith community began to explore the gifts of its people, and what God was calling them to do with those gifts. Several people had a passion for the arts – many were artists themselves. They began to envision the arts as central to their ministry.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in New Albany, Indiana, has taken ministry outreach through the arts to an exciting new level – even for us artsy Episcopalians.

With an eye “to build relationship with artists, patrons, and guests through the ministries of hospitality and the arts,” St. Paul’s started with something small and manageable: a reader’s theatre called “Parlor Stories.” Actors and others from the community were welcome to participate.

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April 13, 2017 by Annette Buchanan

As we commemorate Easter in April and Mother’s Day in May we are expecting many more visitors to our churches, some returning and some new. So it is worthwhile reflecting on what our current practices are towards visitors.

Many of us acknowledge visitors at the halfway point during the service whether during the peace or at announcements where the general practice is to ask the visitors to stand and tell us who they are. In the past there has been a debate about this practice, whether we are outing people unnecessarily especially those terrified of public speaking and as a result may not return to our churches. For the itinerant member who may want to be obscure they instead get called out and is reluctant to again go through that scrutiny.

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Topics: Hospitality
January 11, 2017 by Richelle Thompson

For years, I hosted a Rose Tea for the women of the church on the weekend of the third Sunday in Advent (Rose Sunday, hence the name). It was always a lovely occasion with great conversation, delicious food, and sometimes a few carols. But after everyone left the house, I flopped onto the couch, a cartoon effigy of a woman sapped of every morsel of energy.

Who throws an extra party into the pre-Christmas mix? What kind of glutton for punishment am I? Over the years, we’ve gotten much wiser (at least on this account). We host gatherings for the church and staff during the actual Christmas season – or in the first few days of Epiphany. This year, the church staff enjoyed a Christmas luncheon on the day of Epiphany. Vestry members (as well as spouses/partners or family) came to our house for dinner on the first Sunday of Epiphany, and last night, the staff of my workplace (a faith-based organization) held its holiday gathering.

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Topics: Hospitality
December 21, 2016 by Brendon Hunter

This month we offer five resources to help your congregation get ready for Christmas. Please share this digest with others in your congregation and invite them to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and this Vital Practices Digest in your inbox each month.

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October 25, 2016 by Richelle Thompson

Our leading evangelist is not a Baby Boomer with conversational skills honed by the Dale Carnegie school of making friends and influencing people. It is not a latchkey Gen-Xer, earnest to please or a freewheeling Millennial breaking from social media to be social.

Nope. Our leading evangelist is a 92-year-old woman with white hair braided into a ring around her head.

I have never seen newcomers enter our church—on Sundays, at spaghetti suppers, for Bible studies, or community gatherings—without Fran making sure to welcome them. And somehow, she never makes her greeting seem forced or awkward. She gives a full-mouth smile, perhaps places her hand on an arm or shoulder, and introduces herself. Then, often, she asks, “So, tell me your story.”

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August 30, 2016 by Richelle Thompson

Fall and back-to-school season often signals an uptick in visitors – or, as we often call them, “church shoppers.”

For an experiment on how we might welcome visitors to our congregations, I wonder if we might think of them as dinner guests. To extend the concept, perhaps we cast ourselves in various roles of restaurant hospitality.

Consider these two roles:

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Topics: Hospitality
July 27, 2016 by Greg Syler

I’m writing this post from Lion’s Camp Merrick, a beautiful camp set along the picturesque shores of the Potomac River – looking west about a mile to the Virginia shore – in far western Charles County, Maryland. This is where our diocesan summer camp, Camp EDOW – the acronym stands for Episcopal Diocese of Washington – is kicking off its fifth year. (Truth be told, I’ve just stepped in to write this blog in a lovely air conditioned cabin, an added blessing given that the thermometer’s 91 degrees actually only feels like 100 right now in southern Maryland!) This is a beautiful place to begin with, and made even more special by the happy sounds of children and counselors, ropes course elements, and the daily challenge of archery, swimming in the pool and canoeing on the river, Eucharist celebrated atop an overturned canoe, and bible study late at night by candlelight in the cabins.

But I’m also humbled and thrilled that, for one, we have this camp opportunity in our diocese and, two, this ministry continues to catch hold of kids, families, adults, and staff who feel drawn to this amazing experience and come back to Camp EDOW, year after year.

Which is to say, in short, I am reminded every summer at Camp EDOW that we can create new, vibrant ministries in our church. More, doing so doesn’t require hugely innovative ideas (sleep away camp, for instance, has been around for a long while) and it doesn’t take too much effort (there’s consistent work, don’t get me wrong, but we started with one week, five or six adults who formed a committee, and the hopes that families might send their children).

What Camp EDOW, in particular, did require was a hope, a desire, and a commitment to do something well, even if it wasn’t big or splashy; just well. I think this lesson applies to many of us who love Jesus and, to boot, love His Church.

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April 8, 2016 by Anna Olson

Every Sunday at St. Mary’s, at all our services that include music, we sing the same song. I hear that the associate rector even makes the 7:30am service sing it on occasion, and they never sing. We picked it up in Hawaii a few years ago, at a meeting of the Japanese Convocation of Episcopal Asiamerican Ministries -- in church lingo, EAM JCon.

We sing the song as part of the blessing at the end of the service. It goes like this:

Ki-ri-su-to no he-i-wa ga
Wa-ta-shi-ta-chi no ko-ko-ro no
Su-mi-zu-mi-i-ni ma-a-de
Yu-ki-wa-ta-ri-ma-su yo u-ni
May the peace of Christ be with you.
May the love of God dwell deep in your heart.
May the Spirit enlighten your way.
May you walk in the comfort of God’s care.
La paz de Cristo sea contigo
Y el amor de Dios en tu corazón
Que el Espíritu te ilumine
Que camines cuidado por tu Dios

It starts in Japanese, the language of St. Mary’s founders. The second verse, as you probably guessed, is in English, the language of our current lifelong members. The third verse is in Spanish, our own translation into one of the languages of many of our newest members. When we gathered with our Korean neighbor congregations for an event highlighting reconciliation efforts between Anglicans in Japan and Korea, we added a verse in Korean. Efforts are currently underway to produce a verse in Zapotec, another language spoken by many of our newer members.

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Topics: Hospitality
March 8, 2016 by Richelle Thompson

When you start a job, you receive a handbook (or at least, you should). The handbook contains information about the company and its policies and procedures. Of course, the handbook doesn’t cover everything. There are those office culture and traditions that new employees tend to stumble upon. Oh, we celebrate birthdays by bringing in a treat for everyone to share? Oh, the office closes for the opening day of baseball? Oops, we’re not supposed to use scotch tape on the wall…

An office handbook can’t cover every situation, but a helpful human resources associate can guide a newcomer through some of the local customs. But the fact remains that this is a job, and you’re getting paid for it. When people are voluntarily coming to a church for the first or second time, they’re making a choice. And if they don’t feel welcome or included, the choice may quickly become to find another place of worship.

Some of our congregations are really good at the initial welcome (others are not, but that’s a topic for another day). But when it comes to incorporating new people into our churches, the track record of most congregations is pretty dismal.

Our congregation has been studying evangelism during Lent. It’s an unusual topic, perhaps, during this season of penitence. But the goal is to have parishioners reflect in meaningful, thoughtful ways about abiding Christ’s commandment to make disciples of all people. One interesting outgrowth of the discussions, spurred both by the Sunday sermons and Wednesday studies, is the need for a handbook for newcomers. In some ways, this handbook would be like one you receive at a job. It would include office hours and details about worship (times, childcare availability, etc.). The handbook would feature different ministries of the church, with contact information, meeting times, and a short description. It might offer a page on Episcopal basics: when we stand, sit, or kneel; an invitation to all baptized to partake in Holy Eucharist – and all people to come forward for a blessing; maybe even a short glossary of terms (sexton, narthex, etc.). 

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Topics: Hospitality
September 25, 2015 by Nancy Davidge

The divine in me bows to the divine in you.”

Perhaps you’ve spoken these words at the end of a yoga class.

Usually spoken with a slight bow and hands pressed together, with palms touching and fingers pointing upwards. Thumbs are held close to the chest. Namaste is a respectful form of greeting, welcoming, and acknowledging another. 

Recently, I experienced this word as a cudgel.

During our noontime walk and sensing we were about to be overtaken by someone, my friend and I stepped aside. As he passed, the younger man turned, brought hands together, bowed, and said “Namaste.” I smiled at this unexpected greeting, before responding “Namaste,” expecting him to continue down the path.

What happened next caught me off guard. (Perhaps because we did not bow or raise our hands?) Turning, he challenged us, “Do you even know what Namaste means?” Startled more by his tone than the question, a jumbled response tumbled out of our mouths. “You’re wrong,” he thundered, lecturing us on the ‘proper definition,’ before continuing on his way.

Tone matters. Actions matter. When there’s a disconnect between the two – as my friend and I experienced – it can leave you stunned; wondering, “what just happened?”

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Topics: Hospitality
September 15, 2015 by Richelle Thompson

We stood in the drizzling rain, some huddled under umbrellas, others with water darting down glasses and dripping off noses. There wasn’t a football game or concert to keep us from escaping to the dry indoors. Instead the magnet was a desire for community.   

For two hours, the rain fell, off and on, and still people came—and stayed. The kids played ga-ga, a dodgeball-type game that has nothing to do with the Lady. They rode their bikes in the street, which was closed for the event, and played Capture the Flag as night fell.   

The adults stood in clusters, various drinks in one hand, scrumptious potluck offerings in another. And we talked and laughed. Met new people and reconnected with old ones.   

It was a great neighborhood block party.   

One of the women I met was new to the area. As we talked throughout the evening, she shared her longing. I just want some friends, she said. It’s hard to meet people when you’re working and new to a community. I want somebody to take a walk with or to sit on a porch and catch up on the week. I want to feel like I belong.   

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Topics: Hospitality
September 7, 2015 by Jeremiah Sierra

The wheelchair broke. That was why she was stuck inside the access-a-ride minibus outside our church. Her only choices were to wait for someone to come and repair it, or to return to the assisted living home. It was a Monday evening at St. Lydia’s and we began the service as she, a member of the church, was stranded in a minibus. We could see her through the glass door.

As we were about to pass around the bread during communion, which we do at the start of the service, Emily Scott, the pastor, had an idea. As we sang the refrain of “Glory to you, forever and ever,” we crossed the street and filed into the bus, more than 20 of us.

We sang and we passed the bread from one hand to another in the cramped space. The driver looked slightly perturbed as we all piled in, but she offered us a “God bless you all” after communion as we were returning to the church.

It is in moments like this, when we leave the comfort of our space, that we best follow the example of Jesus. Just as when we, a mostly white congregation, march with those who know that black lives matter, and when we join those who fight for a living wage. Doing this well, we should not forget, requires a lot of listening so we actually know where people are and what they need (and don’t need) from us.

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Topics: Hospitality
June 30, 2015 by Richelle Thompson

Thousands of people from across the United States have hunkered down in Salt Lake City for the triennial General Convention. It is an intense, marathon-length, sprint-pace gathering for leaders of the church to make decisions about policy, direction, and finances. We worship together each day and connect in convention center hallways and at exhibit booths.

And sometimes Jesus shows up. (To be more accurate, Jesus is always here; sometimes we recognize him.) Forward Movement invited people to share their Jesus encounters, using the hashtag #JesusAtGC, and there have been some wonderful encounters. Of course, we have experienced some big-Jesus moments, like the historic election of North Carolina’s bishop, Michael Curry, as the next presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church. This is a man who loves Jesus and isn’t afraid to tell others about it. His election and leadership will galvanize and inspire the wider church, and I’m excited to see the plans God has for us through Bishop Curry.

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Topics: Hospitality
April 29, 2015 by Anna Olson

This post is also available in Spanish here.

Third Sunday is mash-up Sunday at St. Mary’s. We bring together all three of our Sunday worshipping groups -- from our two English and one Spanish service -- plus Trinity Church, our neighbor congregation, with whom we share our associate priest. They have an English and a Spanish service, too. The third-Sunday service is bilingual, and we do an interactive sermon with the children at the center of the action.

The reading was about the resurrected Jesus greeting the disciples, “Peace be with you.” Nancy Frausto, my co-conspirator in the shared Trinity-St. Mary’s ministry, talked with the kids about peace. They practiced passing the peace, which even one-year-olds can get pretty excited about. Then they handed out nametags. They invited the people of the five services of St. Mary’s and Trinity to greet one another by name at the passing of the peace.

The name-tagging process was awkward. We ran out of tags and had to rummage the office cabinets for more. There were not quite enough markers. Some of the kids were a little confused about their helper roles. It began to look like it was going to take a while. Very quietly, the organist began to play “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

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Topics: Hospitality