September 23, 2016 by Annette Buchanan

The message heard loud and clear at our monthly UBE (Union of Black Episcopalians) meetings at different congregations throughout the Diocese of New Jersey was how difficult it was to fill all Sunday services with a clergy person. The reasons were varied; the congregation may have been in transition, or the full time clergy was on vacation, on sabbatical, or even ill.

One idea stood out from all of our discussions. A clergy person suggested we re-embrace layperson led Morning Prayer as a legitimate form of Sunday morning worship. Response was mixed. Anglicans from the Caribbean or Africa experienced Morning Prayer often, due to less frequent clergy availability due to the number of congregations to be served. Older members had positively experienced Morning Prayer as common practice in times past. For others it was a harder pill to swallow, as they believed if there was no Communion then we didn’t really have a Service. There was also feedback that Morning Prayer was unfulfilling and it some cases even boring.

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September 20, 2016 by Richelle Thompson

Our youth group’s revival started with a half-century old confirmation bulletin.

A member of the church brought in his confirmation bulletin to share with the priest. As he looked at it, he noticed an interesting addition. In the listing of clergy and staff members and congregational leadership, there was another line: the president of the Episcopal Young Churchmen. That’s right: the leader of the church’s youth group was listed (and in this case, leader meant the young person, not the paid or volunteer adult).

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July 20, 2016 by Brendon Hunter

In the July Vital Practices Digest, we offer 5 resources centered on spiritual aspects of leadership in congregations, with the 5th a resource to help in developing year-round stewardship in your congregation.

It’s easy and free to connect with more great resources for your congregation. Subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and this Vital Practices Digest in your inbox each month.

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Topics: Leadership
July 18, 2016 by Linda Buskirk

We come to our churches with many gifts. One spirit supplies our gifts. Diverse as we are, we are one in this spirit. This is lovely, Biblical reality. So why do the fruits of our gifts sometimes seem a little sparse?

In many congregations, the fruits are organized by committees. That’s great - many hands make light work, etc. However sometimes the organization itself may block ministries from their full harvest potential.

In his book, Governance and Ministry: Rethinking Board Leadership (2009, The Alban Institute), Dan Hotchkiss reminds us that committees may not be the right structure for vital ministries. Lumping all aspects of a certain ministry into one committee’s lap may overwhelm and make the committee members wary of new ideas or initiatives. Hotchkiss encourages us to separate governance from ministry: 

"…there is no reason why someone with a heart for child care needs to attend meetings to interpret the insurance company requirements about child safety – or vice versa." (pg. 76)

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Topics: Leadership
July 5, 2016 by Richelle Thompson

Editor’s note: Long weekends are wonderful. Until you return to work on Tuesday. For today’s summer rerun, we’re sharing one of Richelle Thompson’s past posts that seems appropriate as many of us return to an overstuffed inbox after the long Independence Day weekend. 

I pride myself on an ability to multitask. But I also resent when the unexpected takes me away from my well-laid plans.

During breakfast, my dining companion talked about a willingness to be open to the work of the Spirit. A one-time parish secretary, she embraced a “theology of interruption.”

And I began to pray right there that I could practice this philosophy. See, I’m easily frustrated by interruption. When traffic jams up my schedule, I’m annoyed. When I’m hip-deep in crafting a difficult sentence, I don’t want to answer the phone or talk about expense reports or answer inventory questions. When I’m reading a great novel, I don’t want to hear how one child said something mean to the other.

Leave me alone. I have plans here. Can’t you see I’m busy?

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Topics: Leadership
June 16, 2016 by Greg Syler

A title like this should go with a longer, more comprehensive and sufficiently nuanced piece, or perhaps a book. Be forewarned: this is not that contribution. It isn’t even close.

Here’s what I want to share: St. George’s in Valley Lee, Maryland just adopted a Collaborative Ministry Covenant with our neighbor congregation, Church of the Ascension in Lexington Park, Maryland. Both are congregations of approximately the same size, only a few miles away from each other in St. Mary’s County, a growing, fascinating and rapidly changing place to do ministry. St. George’s and I have been talking for a long, long time about serious, significant and intentional institutional collaboration with neighbor Episcopal congregations. The trends aren’t pleasant, the long-term challenges even less so, but the opportunities for ministry could be pretty abundant. Seven years ago, together with our Diocese of Washington, congregations in our region started talking about “The Episcopal Church in Southern Maryland, 10 Years Out,” even as the official timer on that ‘10 Year’ clock never began. We didn’t pull off a grand collaborative vision on a regional scale, but it is growing in pockets – the four-year long process between St. George’s and Ascension which has gotten us to this point being one such sign.

The Covenant is a broad statement which, now, enables two separate congregations to figure out the details, together: how to work together, call one shared rector, empower greater degrees of lay ministry, and more fully serve our immediate community, let alone God’s Kingdom. The Covenant isn’t a ‘contract’, and all the business-stuff is yet to come.

Which brings me to the point where I should end this post, or at least this part of this post.

For we should discuss the best ways to set up a functioning, operational, reasonably healthy and well-endowed congregation. The opportunity for Ascension and St. George’s, I think, is that everything, for the first time in a long time, is on the table.

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Topics: Leadership
April 26, 2016 by Richelle Thompson

There’s no "i" in team.

But I sort of expected there was one in leader. As I have risen in my career and in leadership positions at my church, I confess that there has been a lot of “i” in my expression as leader. All of those personality inventories (even the fake Facebook ones) reveal that I value praise and reward for a job well done. That I’m motivated, in part, by the possibility of atta girls. And to be honest, I didn’t really need a personality inventory to know that. I’m an oldest child who spent years as an earnest people pleaser, and though I have mellowed, some of those traits are deeply (genetically?) engrained.

But wisdom (coupled with hard-learned lessons and frankly, age) is helping me to re-evaluate the characteristics of a true leader. For me, perhaps the biggest shift is truly embracing the value of the team. In my work with Forward Movement and in my participation at my church, I increasingly experience the strength and promise of teamwork. Our congregation hosts an annual fundraiser, and I volunteered again to head up the raffle component. But a big part of the work fell when I was traveling, so I had to count on the team. And they were amazing! I needn’t have worried, and although I felt badly for not being able to participate while I was away, the team did a yeoman’s job of preparing the raffle items. They were a model of the promise and possibility of teamwork.

The shift from I to we has been subtle but some signs are more obvious than others. This spring, I prepared the editorial report for the board, and instead of signing my name as I had in past years, I put the entire team. It just felt like the right thing to do. The work we complete together is a true composite of the gifts from each team member.

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Topics: Leadership
April 4, 2016 by Jeremiah Sierra

For a few years in college I was a part of a small chapter of a national fundamentalist group called Campus Crusade for Christ. The other members were very kind and sincere, but they didn’t really know how to handle questions that lacked easy or pre-determined answers. It didn’t take long for me to realize this was not the right group for me.

Since then, I’ve occasionally (though not often) worked and volunteered in places where everyone had to agree. Questions were not welcome. It was stifling.

As we’re reminded in yesterday’s Gospel reading, a healthy community has room for doubt and questions. After all, not even Thomas was outcast because of his questions.

Fast forwarding a couple of millennia, recent research done in the Google offices indicates that one of the things that makes a team effective is psychological safety. This means you can throw out ideas without ridicule and be honest about what you think and who you are. It means you don’t have to pretend to be someone else, someone without any problems or questions.

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Topics: Leadership
March 7, 2016 by Jeremiah Sierra

The other day in church, we sang a song called “What We Need is Here.” I was overcome with an almost suffocating feeling I couldn’t quite name, something between nostalgia and sadness. The song is a lovely simple melody that the church sings often and I’ve usually found it comforting. I couldn’t quite explain the feeling.

We used to sing the song more frequently when I first started attending about six years ago, and both the church and I have changed a lot since then. Maybe I was feeling some nostalgia for the people who have moved away or maybe I was remembering that sense of loneliness (and sleep deprivation) I often felt at that time.

I’ve been reading a book called Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzel, and in it they write about implicit and explicit memories. Explicit memories are those clear pictures or scenes that we can pull up in our minds. But beneath that, there are the feelings, sensations, and associations that are triggered by other experiences and memories—the feeling of nostalgia that might accompany a certain smell, or a song that makes us sad for unknown reasons.

Sometimes we can determine the meaning and source of these implicit memories, but they’re not always obvious. We may not even realize what’s going on, we just find that we are suddenly sad or angry or some seemingly unrelated memory comes up. I still haven’t figured out what exactly triggered that feeling of sadness at church the other day.

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Topics: Leadership
January 25, 2016 by Jeremiah Sierra

One of my favorite television shows is the BBC show, Sherlock. It's all about Benedict Cumberbatch's flashy and clever version of Sherlock Holmes, and of course his partner, John Watson. While the show is about Sherlock, it is just as much about Watson. It wouldn't be any fun to watch if it weren't for him. 

This past Sunday we read 1 Corinthians about the body of Christ: “The members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this.”

I think it’s natural for our eyes to be drawn to certain people. The clever or eloquent, the people who naturally take the lead. But you also need the quieter and reliable people who make sure someone is around to unlock the doors and unfold the chairs and move the tables. 

These roles are not set in stone, of course. On Sunday morning I went to All Saint’s in Park Slope, where the rector, the Rev. Steve Paulikas, pointed out that not only are we different parts of the body, but we may be different parts of the body at different times in our life. 

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Topics: Leadership
January 20, 2016 by Brendon Hunter

Are you interested in practical, spiritually grounded resources for your congregation?

Subscribe to ECF Vital Practices: A collection of articles, tools, and resources by and for congregational leaders. With a subscription, you’ll receive 12 issues of Vestry Papers as well as the monthly Vital Practices Digest delivered to your inbox.

In this month’s Digest, we’re offering 5 ways to help your newly forming vestry get off to a strong start, with the 5th resource to help your congregation strengthen your practice of year-round stewardship.

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Topics: Leadership
January 6, 2016 by Nancy Davidge

Happy New Year!

For many the beginning of a new calendar year represents an opportunity to start anew, to ‘reboot’ if you will, things that just aren’t working as they should. To kick off the new year, we invited experienced leaders from across our Church to share a leadership approach, experience, or strategy for refreshing or renewing a vestry or other leadership team.

Here are their offerings:

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Topics: Leadership
December 21, 2015 by Sandra Montes

Cuando pienso en lo que ha pasado durante el año, tengo mucho por qué estar agradecida. Una de las bendiciones más grandes ha sido poder trabajar en ECF. Como parte de mi trabajo he entrevistado a varias personas que me han inspirado. Algunas entrevistas que me han encantado y ayudado en mi andar diario con Dios no han sido vistas por mucha gente. Así que les dejo con tres video-entrevistas que nos recuerdan que la vida es un caminar de fe y nuestra fe tiene que salir al mundo.

Jesucristo es nuestra identidad 

Josefina Beecher de la Diócesis de Olympia nos comparte cómo podemos vivir la vida como una persona que sigue a Jesús.

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Topics: Leadership
December 18, 2015 by Kanuga Camp & Conference Center
When a group such as a vestry gathers for a meeting or retreat, much of the time is spent as one large group. There are times, though, when it can be beneficial to break into smaller groups for a specific task or point of discussion. Small group work can lead to better engagement and increased collaboration among group members. 
How you break into groups can be important. We tend to break into a small group by pairing with the person next to us or seeking out the person we know the best. Try things differently next time.
Encourage the group members to partner with people they may not know well, so they can get to know other members of the group better. If you are the leader of the group, guide the members with ways to form smaller groups. Some ideas include:

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Topics: Leadership
December 14, 2015 by Jeremiah Sierra

My wife, Denise, and I are having a baby girl in June. In many ways I feel ready to have a baby. We’ve been talking about it for a while and we’re both very excited. We’ve seen the appropriate doctors, Denise is taking vitamins, we’re doing our best to make sure our dog is well trained, and we’ve started looking into cribs and toys and all of that.

But I’ve also realized lately that there’s only so much you can do to prepare. How can you be completely prepared for a person you’ve never met, to do things you’ve never done? You can’t. This is a lesson I’ve learned over and over again, whether adopting a dog, planning a fundraiser, or simply filling out my calendar for the week.

Just as Mary and Joseph didn’t really know what kind of child they would receive, neither can we totally prepare for what life will bring to us, as individuals or as a church. The prophets told Israel to prepare the way for the Lord, and then God gave them a baby. Rather than anticipating every scenario, preparation is more about willingness to receive what comes to you.

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Topics: Leadership
December 4, 2015 by Kanuga Camp & Conference Center

Editor's note: The Church Leadership Conference brings together vestries and other congregational leaders for learning, reflection, and formation. It’s a time and space for vestries to ask the big questions facing their congregations, featuring outstanding speakers and workshop leaders presenting ideas and resources, not only to inspire, but also for practical tools in ministry. Register for the 2017 Conference here.

Taking a break during an important meeting may seem like a waste of time for the leader of the meeting, but, if planned for, it can turn out to be some of the most productive time your group spends together. Not only will an intermission help people get an energy boost and return to the meeting with fresh ideas, but it can be a time for team building. Team leaders often overlook this possibility. However, consider when you’ve made connections at a conference or retreat in the past. It’s not usually during the session itself, but over coffee during a break. Consider making the most of your meeting breaks the next time your group gathers. 

Of course, if you have just a five-minute break, it’s unlikely that there’s time to do anything other than truly give people a breather. It’s okay to allow that to happen without an exercise or suggested activity. If possible, provide a refreshment area with tea, coffee, and maybe juice so people can revive themselves before returning to the group. 

Short break ideas

“When you have a 10–15-minute break, this is where opportunities can bubble up,” says Bethany Frazier, a team building staff member at Kanuga Conference & Retreat Center. “Consider providing a relaxed gathering space away from the meeting area where members of the group can mingle after taking the first five minutes to refresh themselves.”

Before the break begins, encourage your group to visit the area to discuss casually what they just learned from the meeting. 

“Not only does this time serve as a break from the meeting, but it also serves as an opportunity for members to be engaged and process any new information discussed in the meeting,” explains Frazier. “This type of break may help you achieve your overall meeting objective of conveying new information or generating new ideas.” 

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Topics: Leadership
November 20, 2015 by Kanuga Camp & Conference Center

Just as a child grows in stages, a vestry or group with a purpose evolves in phases. Creating a high-performing team does not happen overnight. It takes care, nurturing and effort to create a successful group.

Some have even named these group developmental stages. For example, Bruce W. Tuckman introduced the concept of “Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing” in 1965. A good explanation of this theory may be found in the most recent Vestry Resource Guide created by the Episcopal Church Foundation.

It’s important to keep in mind that these stages may not progress in linear fashion.

“You might jump from forming to norming, and the group ends its life cycle—such as a vestry member rolling off and a new one joining—before having the chance to enjoy the performing phase,” explains Christine Murawski, teambuilding staff member at Kanuga Conference & Retreat Center. “Also, every time a new member joins the group, the team will likely repeat these developmental stages.”


The forming stage occurs in the beginning when most members are amiable and eager. It’s important for the leader to be clear with roles and expectations at this stage, both with the group as a whole and with individual members. This is the time for ice breakers and other exercises that can build trust within the group and reveal the gifts that each individual offers. It’s also important at this stage to make sure the group knows why they are there and their purpose.

“This stage is a good time for the group to create a covenant regarding how they will treat one another and handle conflict as it arises,” says Murawski. “An example of this type of agreement occurs at Mountain Trail Outdoor School at Kanuga when a new group arrives. After settling in, the students are tasked with creating ground rules for their time at the school. It’s important for the group members to create the guidelines and not have the leader simply hand them out. If created by the group, they are more likely to follow them. Rules created by the students may include ‘We won’t yell at one another. We will not take things that do not belong to us.’ Of course, these are children’s rules and may not apply to adult vestries, but the idea is everyone agrees on what is acceptable behavior.”


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Topics: Leadership
November 18, 2015 by Brendon Hunter

Recruiting Vestry Leaders

In the November Vital Practices Digest, we’re sharing five resources to help you prepare for and prayerfully recruit new leaders for your congregation’s vestry, bishop’s committee, or other leadership team. Our fifth resource is to help congregations strengthen their practice of year-round stewardship.

Please share this digest with other leaders in your congregation and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and the Vital Practices Digest.

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Topics: Leadership
November 6, 2015 by Kanuga Camp & Conference Center
When you have a new group, it’s important to take the time to get to know each other better, so you have the best chance of working well together. Incorporating teambuilding exercises at the beginning of your first meeting may help group members have a better understanding of each other and feel more connected to one another. 
What’s new?
First, let’s define “new team.” You may be surprised to learn what constitutes a “new” group. Of course, if you are all starting out on the same day, it’s a new group. But what if you have a vestry of seven with six members remaining and just one new person beginning? Believe it or not, you then have a whole new group.
“It’s not practical to expect the one person to play catch up with the group’s dynamics and connections,” says Bethany Frazier, a teambuilding expert at Kanuga Conference & Retreat Center. “Even if just one person is new to the group you have the makings of a new team. The dynamics change when even just one new person is introduced to the group. It’s best to take the time to do a little teambuilding work to make the most of your efforts.” 
Start at the beginning
It may be tempting to move quickly through ice breakers to get your group acquainted (or reacquainted) with each other so you can move along with the other business at hand. Don’t rush it. Sequencing team building activities is important. Begin with a very general exercise – nothing too personal. Lead an exercise or activity that does not require people to be in close contact. Keep it light. 

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Topics: Leadership
October 26, 2015 by Linda Buskirk

It’s that time of year when many phone calls or coffee hour chats will include the fateful question, “Would you please consider running for vestry?”

Traditionally, many people view vestry membership as similar to serving on the board of directors of a not-for-profit agency. And truly, there are many similarities. As our new Vestry Resource Guide explains, “Vestry members are legal representatives and agents of a parish, charged with specific responsibilities by the canons of The Episcopal Church. They share leadership responsibilities with the rector.”

If this is the main dimension of your church vestry, perhaps the vestry could benefit from some prayerful discernment about how it provides leadership and direction that supports vibrant ministry and growth. Here are some questions to get that conversation started:

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Topics: Leadership