In the beginning phases of the pandemic as our churches started closing, there was a lot of concern from church leadership about the financial stewardship from our members. This concern was not misplaced, many churches pre-pandemic were not able to meet their monthly commitment based solely on giving from congregants. Many were surmising that the fall-out would be permanent church closures.
So how would the pandemic impact these categories of givers:
1. The many faithful who pledge and fulfill that commitment
2. Those who do not pledge and are regular givers
3. Many who give only when they are physically present at the church service
4. Others who are unable or unwilling to contribute
“Spread for me a banquet of praise,
serve High God a feast of kept promises”
- Psalm 50:14 – The Message
After months of churches scrambling to add or improve electronic and/or mobile donation options during the pandemic, it seems safe to assume that online giving is here to stay. What I wonder about is how churches are faring if they previously did not strongly promote the concept of annual pledging. Sure, people may find it easier to donate online, but how do they determine the size of their gifts if they did not promise to give a certain amount this year?
There are bottom line reasons why most faith communities appreciate those who pledge to give a certain dollar amount in the year ahead. The most obvious is that the total amount pledged helps the Vestry set the overall spending plan (budget) for the next year.
Good morning, Steward!
I wonder what would happen if, instead of having a Buildings and Grounds Committee at the church, we had Site Stewards. And instead of a Chair of the Buildings and Grounds Committee, we had a Chief Site Steward. I wonder how it would be to call the Administrative Assistant the Administration Steward, or to call the newly emerging tech and digital assistant for worship the Tech Steward.
Every month ECFVP offers five resources on a theme. This month we've asked Paul Klitzke, Rector at Church of the Ascension in Dallas, TX, to offer a vlog sharing how he uses the different resource types on Vital Practices. Please find his choices below. Please share this email with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and this monthly digest.
Who could have imagined the upheavals 2020 has brought upon us? Along with every other institution, churches have been turned upside-down. In many cases necessity has been the mother of invention, as with the explosion of online worship. In other parts of our common life, such as youth ministry, it’s been tempting to throw up our hands and wait for a better time.
We’d like to share two experiences of adapting to the pandemic, with the hope that they’ll open up some possibilities in your setting. The first arose from young people and their youth leader responding to needs in the community and making an impact. The second explores the question of how a youth group can safely gather in person again. We’ll begin by describing the unique setting in which these experiences took place.
Change is inevitable; and, vestries are the key to the transformation. Governance for the sake of governance gives little attention to transformative leadership; but governance that focuses on missional ministry brings not just new structures but also new meaning. By leading such transformational change, the vestry creates the opportunity for the church to find not only vitality but growth. “The transformation of the church can be accomplished without losing what is precious to it, but it cannot avert change …the real work is to live into and through the dissonance that automatically comes with change, emerging with an even stronger faith.”
At our 2019 Diocesan Convention, citing Jesus in Luke 5, Bishop Gutiérrez urged us to ‘take our boats into deeper water to catch more fish’. Staying safely by the shore, maintaining the status quo, doing only what we knew how to do was not going to bring in the catch we were seeking. Instead he instructed us to “live fearlessly, and …continually reassess if our current structures are working. Let’s reassess and if they are slowing us down, if there are obstacles, if they keep us close to the shore, throw it overboard. Review what people are doing around the world and develop new structures that will help us to be innovative, agile, and keep going deep.” The charge of the transformative vestry is to go deeper into the un-chartered waters of ministry, following the missional template that Jesus gave us, only to discover a church we may not know but to which our faith will lead us.
This has been a trying year. The Church in 2020 has gone through major adjustments in light of the Pandemic. Even with Facebook Live services and Zoom Bible Studies, many miss participating in the Eucharist, the singing of hymns, coffee hour, and other rituals that bind communities of faith.
Yet, there is a bright side to the present circumstances. This is a great opportunity to strengthen our spiritual lives in ways that often come when our lives are still. Here are some practices we can implement as we also practice our social distancing and our quarantines.
1. Reading the Bible: Ok. Ready for this? Some of us attend churches where both Word and Sacrament are pillars of worship, but if we are honest, the actual practice is Sacrament over Word. We love the beauty of the Eucharistic rituals, yet there is not a bible to be found in the pews: only prayer books and hymnals. Some of us need to brush up on the Word of God and meditate on it day and night (Joshua 1:8).
Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” Matthew 9:17
As the Canons for Growth and Support in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, we are called to assist churches in transitioning from the traditional model of church (membership-driven with a financial base in which endowment, capital improvement, and parish administration are primary components) into envisioning and articulating a new way of “being church”. Whether a church was founded as a result of suburban ‘white-flight’ from the city or remained tied to its historical urban roots, these churches have a common denominator, namely that they have lost their connection to the community. The reasons for this disengagement are many and a topic for another discussion, but changes in both the neighborhood and church membership have resulted in the disconnection.
July and August are normally vacation time for many within the church. Attendance by parishioners decreases and there is a scramble to find supply priests while the clergy are away. We fret about tithes and many committees including vestries suspend their meetings and deliberations. We share our vacation plans, are thankful for the much needed rest, and hopeful that we will be reinvigorated for the work ahead. The good old days!!
With the public health issues of COVID-19 and systemic racism raging across our country, this summer’s vacation plans are different, and in many cases nonexistent. Practically, it may not be safe to travel or congregate with groups including family members. Others may be fearful given the continuous broadcast of civil unrest.
The liturgy of the Episcopal Church is strikingly beautiful. The revenant execution of both Word and Sacrament draws many to a deeper relationship with God. But if we’re honest, many of us in the Body of Christ have witnessed another liturgy at work within its members, revealing a corporate disease of the heart. To clarify, I will give an example of the ritual within this sinful liturgy.
Approximately 3 years ago, I was a new doctoral student and had been an aspirant to Holy Orders for quite some time. I was also working full time at an Episcopal Church in the North Texas area. I was well aware that locally, only about two or three Black people had made it through the discernment process, but I was hopeful. However, shortly after my start in the church, both parish and diocesan leadership decided to place a white male from another diocese, who had yet to finish his prerequisite seminary education, at the church for the discernment process. They wanted me to help train him yet denied my own discernment process. When I began to speak up about what I and others saw as racial injustice, they removed me and tried to silence me.
Every month ECFVP offers five resources on a theme. This month we've asked Miriam McKenney, Forward Movement’s Director of Development and Mission Engagement, to choose five resources for healthy churches that resonated with her. Please find her choices below.
Did you know there’s a Christian holiday that celebrates the sacredness of mountains? It’s called the Transfiguration, and it takes its name from a Bible story. Jesus took Peter and two other disciples up on a high mountain, where Jesus was transformed right before their eyes. His face “shone like the sun” and his clothes became “dazzling white.” The Voice of God rang out and the disciples fell to the ground in terror.
Everything is different when we go up in the mountains, right? Daily life is left behind, with all its habits and routines. That’s why mountain outings can be so refreshing, and why people have always gone there to seek visions. Bishop Steven Charleston wrote that “Matthew 17:1-8 has all of the classic elements of a traditional Native American quest. Jesus has prepared himself; his lament is so deep that he has predicted his own death. He goes up to a high place, accompanied by spiritual supporters, and stands alone before God. A vision occurs, so powerful that his friends actually see it.”
 Steven Charleston, The Four Vision Quests of Jesus, p. 120
We’ve been in Covid time for more than four months now. It has taken a while for us to realize our spiritual needs and desires and our abilities to meet them. The human contact, the Eucharist, the singing together, are all missed sorely. We find some of our spiritual longings are met by Zoom, a technology developed just in time to allow us to see each other, to connect, to gather, to pray together on Sunday.
Still, through the weeks, the end of the day is hard. More and more, people report having trouble getting to sleep, especially if they have checked in on the news in the hours prior. The what ifs, the hows, and the realities of our personal lives, the community and the nation are alarming or frightening or discouraging at best. Those who live alone have no one with whom to process the day, the week, the season. Others welcome a transition from day to night just as much.
Community college campus ministry is likely the Church’s biggest blind spot, greatest overlooked missional opportunity, and even worse, a prime example of inadvertent systemic racism and classism. Which means it’s time we started asking ourselves, “Who are we missing?”
Over my 25+ years of ordained ministry, I have observed that as a general rule congregations and judicatories seem to put much more resources into campus ministry at 4-year colleges and universities than they do into 2-year community colleges. Not that campus ministries at 4-year institutions get all that much attention compared to typical congregation-based ministries, mind you. Most clergy seem to view campus ministry as a “junior varsity sport” when it comes to vocations, and those who start there quickly come to see congregation-based ministry as a better career move.
Anyone who attends an Episcopal baptism service is foolish to participate.
You see, everyone who attends is asked to make vows before God. Making vows to God you know you will not keep is a bit foolish, and maybe dangerous. If you want to be frightened over the promises, and impressed if anyone makes those vows intending to keep them, look in the Book of Common Prayer, specifically page 304. The final one is: Will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being?
The first part is easier. It should involve more but it could be fulfilled by marching at a rally, voting for the right candidates, working at a food pantry => ALL GOOD THINGS. I am not minimizing them, just acknowledging they are doable.
The second part – never doable. At least for me. Respect the dignity of every human being?
“Love God. Love your neighbor. Change the world.” In my diocese, we all know this catchphrase by heart. I thought of it again as the grief, anger, and frustration of the black community erupted after the senseless death of George Floyd. As a seemingly unending video reel of protest, violence, and outrage played on social media, I felt more and more isolated and frustrated as a woman of color—not only in the world, but particularly in the church. I love God. I love my neighbor. But can the world actually change?
Our faith says yes. The world can change if we change it. Doing so requires us to be open to times like these – transformative spaces of immense spiritual growth that have the potential to change us forever. If we are able to be resilient in those times, we can adapt to the stressors of spiritual growth constructively, remaining grounded yet responsive, open to all potential possibilities. When we emerge from these times of intense spiritual growth, our transformation strengthens our discipleship and changes how we encounter the world. I am interested in how best to equip lay and ordained leaders for this kind of transformation by providing trauma- and psychologically-informed support, grounded in spiritual practice, that encourages us to be resilient as we transform.
In a world before the pandemic, many of us may have felt that our glass was half full or that our cup runneth over. But for many of us engaged in the ministry of faith formation, it now feels like we are trying to drink from an empty cup while trying to fill up the cups of others. And once we are aware of our cup's emptiness, we can take steps to fill it.
This is the conclusion of a two-part article. The first part described a survey created and sent to faith formation professionals and volunteers asking them to rate their level of functioning. You can read more about how the survey was conducted and the results here.
COVID-19 and the uprisings in response to the murder of Black bodies have brought into sharp relief the continued economic, health, environmental, and racial injustices and brutalities impacting the Black community. Some have felt helpless, anxious to respond compassionately and participate in effectual work that changes brutal conditions, but feeling at a loss about where to begin, overwhelmed with the magnitude of the task.
And the task is overwhelming. Neither health inequities nor police injustice began with COVID-19. Both are the result of long-term, structural injustices. They are the result of how we are situated socially. Where you find yourself today is the consequence of where you were months or years or even generations ago. Many feel flat-footed because of decades of separation. The good news is, whatever you do now can change where you will be, where we all will be in the future.
We’re all longing for meaningful connection in this strange, new land of Coronavirus, and especially as we try to be church online.
But, in fact, we’ve seen virtual connection that is beautiful and holy – in the face of Mister Rogers, that Presbyterian pastor-turned-TV personality. Mister Rogers knew how to connect with his viewers. So much so that many of us who watched would answer his deeply personal questions, right there, out loud, in our living rooms.
How can we ensure Mister Rogers moments – and more – in our worship, meetings, formation, and fellowship? In serving an Episcopal parish in my hometown of Memphis, TN this summer, I am wondering what might guide our vision going forward. What questions should we ask ourselves about being church in 2020? How can the online experiences, birthed so quickly in the past 15 weeks, be retained, enriched, and expanded?
This initiative started, as many have during the pandemic, as a post on Facebook. Sandra T. Montes asked clergy women of color to send videos of them dressed “before and after” clericals. The message entered many circles and women clergy were joined by lay women. Sandra offered her time, talents, and resources to gather an amazing group of 60 women from different ages, backgrounds, nationalities, and offices within the Episcopal Church.
The sisterhood, hermanas, joined the chain of wombs that labored in producing this beautiful project of love to celebrate our ministry in the Episcopal Church. The videos of the women were shown as songs interpreted by singer-songwriters committed to the music ministry in the episcopal church played in the background. Jeannine Otis, Ana Hernandez, and Sandra T. Montes have mentored and supported worship and other ministries throughout the Episcopal Church for many years, each with different musical styles and rhythms.