November 21, 2017 by Anna Olson

By this time, the well-organized among us will have carried out our carefully laid stewardship campaign plans and will be reaping the harvest of generous pledge cards. The rest of us will manage somehow to keep things flowing for another year, using whatever combination of grit, habit, late mailings and frantic or low-key appeals.

In the pledge-driven madness, let us not forget the other half of good stewardship: faithful and realistic budgeting. Whether we have had glorious pledge campaign success or more of a white-knuckle experience, the church budget -- now under preparation in most of our congregations -- can elevate or sink the best efforts at generating support for our ministries.

To be useful, budgets have to be realistic. This might seem to go without saying, but I have seen many churches trim ruthlessly on the expense side, while taking a wildly optimistic (if not downright fantastical) approach to the income side of the church budget. Heck, I’ve done it myself in more than one place, on more than one occasion.

Here are a couple of guidelines to start with.

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November 14, 2017 by Brendon Hunter

This month we offer five resources to help your vestry, bishop’s committee, or other leadership group take a productive and life-giving retreat. Please share this digest with your parish leadership and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.

1. The Vestry Goes on Retreat

The Vestry Goes on Retreat shares how retreats can be a time of fruitful work, relationship building and most importantly, honest conversations about the life and health of a church.

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Topics: Vestry, Discernment
November 13, 2017 by Linda Buskirk

Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling. Psalm 43:3

We seek God's light and truth to lead us, and we envision that it will lead to eternal life. But what path to take? It's a question with which we grapple as individuals, and as faith communities joined in our church homes.

Grappling is a great reason to make time to consider more than what "our" most pressing needs are (deficit budget, leaking roof, etc.), but rather how well our faith community is following Jesus’ reminder to the church leaders of his day, challenging them to understand God’s Word: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” (Matthew 12: 7)

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Topics: Vestry
November 7, 2017 by Annette Buchanan

With the frequency of hurricanes that have recently occurred it begs the question how prepared are our churches for any catastrophe. Whether its fire, flooding or a mass shooting we do need to have a Disaster Preparedness Plan to address the physical and emotional needs of our congregation.

The Church Pension Group in its monthly newsletter points us to the Facilitator’s Guide on the Episcopal Relief and Development website. There we find a number of resources to help introduce this disaster preparedness discipline as part of our normal church life. Their best practices suggests that churches have a focused meeting to assess and provide remedies for any type of disaster including identification of the primary person within the congregation that has the responsibility for preparedness. There are also resources at the diocesan, provincial and national levels to assist with this activity.

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March 15, 2017 by Brendon Hunter

How can we meet better? This month we offer five resources to help your vestry or other church group have more engaging and productive meetings. 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.

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March 14, 2017 by Linda Buskirk

Lynne Switalski was just coming off a 3-year Vestry term when she was asked to be the Senior Warden at Saint Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church in South Bend, Indiana. Nine months into that position, the Rector announced he had accepted a call at another parish. Lynne was propelled into a Rector search process, office cleaning and reorganization, and hiring a secretary. With a smile, she calls this her “trial and error learning phase.” Now, with 6 ½ years of experience, Lynne offers these pointers for new Senior Wardens:

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February 15, 2017 by Brendon Hunter

Are you interested in practical, spiritually grounded resources for your congregation? Subscribe for free to ECF Vital Practices for 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 digest delivered to your inbox.

This month, our digest features 5 ways to help your vestry hit the ground running.

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Topics: Vestry
February 9, 2017 by Linda Buskirk

In the social profit sector, the leadership role of the board of directors is so important it is considered a “capacity factor” for the organization. If the board is weak in its knowledge, governance and engagement, that weakness will hold back the agency, no matter how dynamic and productive the chief executive and the rest of the staff are.

As a consultant to not-for-profits, I created a list of “ten traits of a terrific board member” for use in governance training. For your consideration, I’ve amended the list for Vestry members:

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Topics: Vestry
January 31, 2017 by Linda Buskirk

I don’t know all of the particulars about who and how the lessons of the lectionary were chosen, but it seems to me they must have been thinking about Annual Meetings when they chose the ones for Sunday, January 29, this year.

From Micah: “O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

From Psalm 15: “Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right, who speaks the truth from his heart. There is no guile upon his tongue; he does no evil to his friend;”

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January 19, 2017 by Brendon Hunter

Are you a vestry member or other church leader interested in practical, spiritually grounded resources for your congregation?

Subscribe for free to ECF Vital Practices for 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 digest delivered to your inbox.

This post introduces you to our digest for January, featuring 5 ways to help your newly forming vestry get off to a strong start.

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Topics: Vestry
January 18, 2017 by Linda Buskirk

Teams that work well together understand that each member must respect the others’ opinions and priorities. Together, they find and honor what they value in common.
As you plan the first meeting with a “new” vestry, consider this exercise that helps identify shared values. It also serves as an ice-breaker that goes much deeper than, “Please state your name, how long you’ve been attending St. Swithens, and your favorite liturgical color.”

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January 2, 2017 by Linda Buskirk

New year, new vestry, same old issues. If that sounds familiar, consider your 2017 time together as opportunity to create a holy balance of prayer, formation, vision-level strategic thinking and routine business. It’s so easy to let the rush of life and issues of the day rule vestry agendas. Making a commitment to keep spiritual growth a part of your time together will prove more beneficial than just meeting the basic needs of “the business of the church.” Here are some ideas for creatively planning your meeting year:

February is an Ideal time for a Vestry retreat, particularly to incorporate new members into the leadership team. If you can swing it, take a road trip to the 2017 Church Leadership Conference at Kanuga Conference and Retreat Center in western North Carolina, February 17-19, 2017. Click here for more information and registration.

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Topics: Vestry
November 23, 2016 by Annette Buchanan

Annual meetings are being held in many of our congregations in the next few months. We will have the opportunity to elect leaders to include wardens, vestry members and delegates to diocesan conventions.

It is important for us to reflect on how we select leaders within our churches.

For many the criteria is to have someone from the “inner circle”, which may mean being from the right family or having the right status in the community. For others selection is by default, they are the last person standing, no one else wants the position or they do not want to give it up and others are afraid to wrestle it away from them. For some their names were selected while absent, others were pressured into taking the position even though their hearts were not in it, and for a few their egos were stroked – you are the only one that can do this job.

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Topics: Leadership, Vestry
October 19, 2016 by Brendon Hunter

In the October Vital Practices Digest, we offer 5 resources for planning a spirit-filled retreat for your vestry or other leadership team, with the 5th a resource to help establish 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: Vestry
April 21, 2016 by Greg Syler

At St. George’s, we have a worship committee. Actually, it’s in our by-laws, so I suppose it’s a capital ‘W’ – Worship Committee. Perhaps that’s not so strange, considering all the various things we’ve turned into committees over these many years – we have been very busy perfecting the fool-proof institution called church.

For the most part, however, it’s a committee that never meets, at least not consistently with an eye toward some goal or focus. They’ve met sporadically, here and there, and I’ve even called for meetings in the past when I’ve had something I needed to wonder about, aloud. While we were going through the early stages of transition in our music ministry, I asked the vestry to endorse a broadly representative group I helped assembled. Together with them, we came up with the name ‘Music & Arts Exploratory Group,’ intentionally avoiding the word ‘committee’ because a ‘group’, as such, can do its work well and with intentionality and then, in its own time, disband organically.

If for nothing else, I’m troubled by having something encoded in our by-laws, something established in our (allegedly) common self-understanding that we simply don’t do. Why have a worship committee at all?

To show my true colors, here, it’s my view that the Canons of the Episcopal Church don’t envision anything resembling worship committees. Worship is the very lifeblood of who we are as Christian people and, more so, the church is careful in passing along the deposit of faith. Local variants always exist, of course, and always have existed, but the Canons don’t seem to grant equal measure to those particular expressions. To that end, the Canons are expressly clear about who has oversight of worship and music: in music, it’s the “Member of the Clergy” (who “shall seek assistance from persons skilled in music”), Canon II.5*; for worship life, in general, it’s “Rectors and Priests-in-Charge, …subject to the Rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer,” Canon III.9.6(a)(1)** In order to uphold what we believe is distinct and life-giving about the mission of the Body of Christ, namely that we exist, first, to offer “our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving” to God, there must be sound doctrine and, on that basis, clearly articulated practices of worship. This is not a matter for the local congregation; this is the mission of the church universal.

That said, however, (and before I get accused of sounding like my interest is in preserving the hierarchy!) I believe that the church is encouraging all of us to get quickly beyond questions of power and decision making authority and, instead, focus on what we should be doing on the local level, in each of our congregations and communities of faith. If we can’t, ultimately, re-write Eucharistic prayers and come up with our own orders of worship, we should be regularly reflecting upon how and in what ways our worship life makes us more engaged, more thoughtful, more justice-oriented, more receptive, more curious women and men; more like disciples of Jesus, and less like curators of this precious institution. Together in our congregations and communities of faith we should be digging more deeply into our walk with Jesus, and how we are trying and succeeding and, sometimes, trying and failing to be disciples of Jesus. Removing the question of who decides what about worship frees us up to do this vastly more important work.

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Topics: Vestry
January 18, 2016 by Linda Buskirk

If your vestry is planning an annual retreat, make sure you include some time for prayerfully affirming or discerning one or more of these key elements of your congregation’s identity: Ministry Strengths, Mission, Values and Vision.

Ministry Strengths are gifts for ministry. God gave you these, whether they are talents, a location, or a heart for a particular cause such as homelessness. Identifying strengths is strategic because it helps leadership recognize what naturally makes sense for you to do.
After all, since God assembled your strengths in your church, it’s wise to take some time to discern what he wants you TO DO with them.

That means, defining your Mission – what you DO – what you are called to do. Your congregation’s mission is the second part of its identity. Maybe you articulated a Mission Statement years ago. It is healthy to pray about it every year. It is still valid? Does it align with your ministry gifts?

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Topics: Vestry
January 7, 2016 by Brendon Hunter

What was trendy in 2015? The most helpful tools available?

As part of ECF Vital Practices’ celebration of the 12 Days of Christmas, we “unwrapped” one of the twelve most popular posts that were added to the site in 2015 on our Facebook page and Twitter feed. Did you miss one of them?

Here is the complete list for your enjoyment and reference:

Coffee in Church?

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Topics: Vestry
December 25, 2015 by Brendon Hunter

Merry Christmas! Are you ready to celebrate for all 12 days?

On ECF Vital Practices, we’re keeping the celebration of the 12 days of Christmas with our very own ECFVP Christmas Special - all without commercials or small parts and instructions attached, just click and enjoy!

Here is our lineup:

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Topics: Vestry
December 16, 2015 by Brendon Hunter

Top Ten Resolutions for Church Leaders in 2016

ECF Vital Practices, after taking a look back at the questions you asked us in 2015, has pulled together a top ten list of resolutions for congregational leaders to consider in 2016. If you find this list helpful, please subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive updates twice a month with recources for your congregation.

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Topics: Vestry
October 23, 2015 by Kanuga Camp & Conference Center

Even the most well-intentioned person can grow weary during a meeting. We’ve all experienced it. Your attention gets distracted, you start thinking of other things that need to be done and then WHAM you’re called on in the meeting, and you don’t know the topic. For some, this is just a bad dream from which to awake. For others, it could be an embarrassingly real situation, but one that might be avoidable.

As the leader, you want everyone to pay attention and contribute to the meeting. But, the reality is that people’s energy levels—and attention spans—waver during a meeting, especially a long one. What can you do as the leader to keep your team’s energy levels up? What steps can you take to manage your team’s needs so they can be at their best?

“You can take action before you meet to help your team’s energy remain high during your meeting,” explained Bethany Frazier, one of Kanuga Conference & Retreat Center’s teambuilding experts. “It all begins with the agenda.”

Is this necessary?

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Topics: Leadership, Vestry