April 4, 2022 by Ken Mosesian

Recently, the Vestry of All Saints’ Phoenix gathered for a one-day retreat that I was honored to lead. Without discussing any specific comments, I’d like to share with you the essentials of the retreat, and invite you to gather with your Vestry to create a vision for the future.

Now, more than ever, as we emerge from a pandemic that still lingers and face the prospect of an expanding war in Europe, we must create a powerful vision for the future that calls our congregations forward into new life.

In Part 1, we’ll discuss the logistics and the way we framed the conversation. In Part 2, we’ll review the structure we used to guide our visioning.

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Topics: Vestry
March 31, 2022 by Sandy Webb

“In today’s world, if your church needs to choose between a youth minister and a communications minister, you should probably choose the communications minister.” I wish I could remember who said this at a conference I attended long before the COVID-19 pandemic, because I would like to thank him.

This provocative statement shook me loose from an outdated assumption I had made about church staffing. In a culture with an insatiable appetite for the quick exchange of information, we need to consider church communication to be a ministry in itself, not just the infrastructure that supports other ministries. And, we need to prioritize it.

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March 24, 2022 by Michael Carney

Twenty years ago, I heard such a powerful sermon that it’s still vivid today. Bishop Mark MacDonald, now the Indigenous Anglican Archbishop of Canada, invited us to picture Jesus and his followers through the eyes of an eagle, soaring high above them. Imagine the “great multitude of people” gathered to hear the Sermon on the Plain in Luke’s Gospel (6:17).

An eagle looking down would have seen Jesus right in the center, with “all in the crowd trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.” Peter and the other eleven were right by Jesus’ side, surrounded by “a great crowd of his disciples.” Luke makes it clear that all kinds of people were on the road with Jesus: women and men, elders and kids, folks from every walk of life. Jesus connected with all of them, regardless of their backgrounds.

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March 23, 2022 by Cathy Hornberger

This month we offer five reflections on the upcoming Easter holiday. 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.

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March 21, 2022 by Linda Buskirk

ECF’s Vital Practices’ recent focus on “transformative tools” got me thinking about what really makes transformation possible within a faith community.

ECF provides wonderful tools that hold transformative power, including the Finance Resource Guide, Racial Justice Resources, the Congregational Vitality Assessment, and the entire Vital Practices website.

As a congregational consultant, I carry a toolkit jampacked with means for exploring mission, vision, values and strategic priorities, for developing stewardship ministry and even for conducting successful capital campaigns.

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Topics: Change
March 18, 2022 by Ken Mosesian

In my previous blog, we discussed the absolute importance of eliminating gossip as the first step to transforming ourselves, and in so doing, our parish communities. I mentioned at the close of the blog that engaging the work of eliminating gossip was itself transformative.

If you’ve taken on the challenge of improving parish-wide communication, congratulations. This is a truly significant accomplishment that will yield extraordinarily positive results. As I reflected on the next logical step to help us advance, it occurred to me that perhaps we’ve not fully understood how limiting the past two years have been, and in some ways, continue to be.

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Topics: Change
March 15, 2022 by Robert B. Townes, IV

With the consulting work our firm performs across the nonprofit philanthropic spectrum, my involvement as an active volunteer for the Diocese of Atlanta, and the changes wrought by the last two years of COVID-19, a number of my worshipping friends have inquired about what my predictions are for the Church. With both “fear and trembling” and wild abandon, I offer the following.

First, I think there will be a growing demand for churches to raise the funds necessary to increase the production value of their virtual presentations. As with retail companies, both the storefront and online platforms combine to sustain their business model. Similarly for churches, both physical structures and virtual offerings will work together to feed the members of faith communities. And particularly with regard to the younger, “digital native” members and prospective members, virtual attendees will not long tolerate bad connections or poor visuals before moving to a video game or social media site. It will be a challenging assignment for The Episcopal Church to maintain one’s virtual attention. As an example, standing in line for the Eucharist during worship is not “made for prime time” viewing at all. But interesting, informative pre-recorded virtual segments can hold viewers’ attentions until, say, the choir re-enters the worship service picture. None of the production changes needing to be made will come cheaply.

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March 15, 2022 by Ken Mosesian

Transformation. From a cynical perspective, it’s nothing more than another buzzword that’s been overused by consultants like me.

Yet when I read how various dictionaries defined transformation, my heart softened. When we talk about being transformed, we’re talking about a making a significant change – a radical change – as some sources say, for the better.

As we begin to emerge into a post-pandemic world that will most certainly still include COVID, the church is right to consider what being transformed will look like. How do we transform as a church writ large and as individual parish communities?

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March 10, 2022 by Lisa G. Fischbeck

Episcopalians know that words matter. Words in our liturgy express what we believe and form who we become. The same is true of the words we use to tell our particular church’s story.

When telling the story of our congregation, parish or mission, do we refer to the year in which we were founded? Planted? Maybe we just say “started”, or, “We began worshipping together as a community in 1928.”

To be founded or established suggests something set in stone, unshakable. How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord. Christ is made the sure foundation, yes. For an establishment church, the language of establishment and foundation seems fitting. But for a church that is the Body of Christ given for the world, to be launched may be far more accurate.

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March 8, 2022 by Liz Brignac

Many Episcopal parishes have acknowledged that it is past time for The Episcopal Church to confront our nation’s history of systemic racism and to begin building Beloved Community in our congregations and local communities, as we have been enjoined to do by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.

Toward this end, ChurchNext, a ministry of Forward Movement, recently launched a free curriculum: Becoming Beloved Community: Understanding Systemic Racism For Individuals and For Groups. This six-session curriculum is available to any individual or congregation seeking deeper understanding of how systemic racism operates in our country and in our church. It is meant as a launching point for congregations and individuals that want to begin taking active steps toward healing our nation and our church from systemic racism and its effects.

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March 7, 2022 by Sandy Webb

My first challenge as a new rector was a common one: How do I make this team into my team?

I would have plenty of opportunities to recruit new staff in subsequent years, but I had to begin my ministry with a team that had been assembled by someone else. My first step was to establish core values: teamwork, dedication, and excellence.

I wish I could say that my new colleagues and I discerned these principles together, but we didn’t. This was my way of letting the existing staff know the new rector’s style, of establishing baseline expectations that would apply equally to all of us, and of reshaping an existing system to achieve new outcomes.

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March 3, 2022 by Michael Carney

It’s painful to see the forces of darkness at work, even when the violence is thousands of miles away. It hurts because we all know, in different ways, what it’s like to suffer. We picture the people of Kiev (the capital of Ukraine) fleeing their bombarded homes in midwinter. We hear of thousands huddling in subway stations for safety and imagine the terror of tanks invading their streets.

How could that be happening to such a peaceful nation? It’s simple, really: to satisfy a petty dictator’s lust for power and empire. Once again, evil is at work in the world, visible to everyone. Bishop Steven Charleston called it “the shadow of the bully, cast long across the playground of time.” Sadly, it’s not the first time this has happened, and it won’t be the last.

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March 2, 2022 by Donald Romanik

I am fascinated by the Orthodox Church. Orthodox Christians know who they are, know what they believe, and know what they need to do to be faithful members of their local church. Orthodox theology, liturgy and practice are rooted in the Creeds and the historic ecumenical councils of the church. Unlike other Christian expressions, these basic elements of the faith are considered universal and timeless and are not subject to modification through the chances and changes of denominational governing bodies.

I also admire Orthodox Lenten disciplines and practices, especially those associated with fasting. Actually, Orthodox Christians are called upon to fast at various times during the year, including every Wednesday and Friday. And this is a strict fast requiring abstinence from meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, olive oil, and wine and other alcoholic beverages. Recognizing the challenges of such a diet, Orthodox clergy encourage their faithful to adopt these practices gradually and to even consider such a fast only during the first and last weeks of Lent. The stated reason for fasting is not just to follow the rules but, more importantly, to empty ourselves from the cares and concerns of the world – a means of preparation and conditioning which will enable us to serve God and grow closer to God. And, according to Orthodox teaching, fasting involves abstinence from everything that distances us from God and must be accompanied by good works and other spiritual practices.

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March 1, 2022 by Josh Anderson

I’m not sure about you, but I struggle with this stretch of the winter. This part of the year recalls images of Narnia prior to the fulfillment of the Golden Age Prophecy which saw the return of spring to a world suffering in a state of constant winter, never Christmas.

I’ve been thinking about winter a great deal, actually. I’ve been reading the book ‘Wintering’ by British writer Katherine May. In it, May describes “wintering” as “a fallow period in life when you’re cut off from the world, feeling rejected, sidelined, blocked from progress or cast into the role of an outsider.” ‘Wintering’ goes on to provide readers with guidance for transforming the hardships that arise before the shepherding in of a new season.

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February 23, 2022 by Cathy Hornberger

This month we offer resources for the upcoming season of Lent. In addition to resources from ECFVP, below you will find five resources from around the Church to help you observe Lent. 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.

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Topics: Worship
February 21, 2022 by Ken Kroohs

A few years back a speaker at our clergy conference was discussing the church’s experience after 9/11. He showed diagrams documenting that attendance jumped immediately after that disaster, and then drifted back down within three months.

It is too early to be sure, and much harder to measure, but there are many reports of on-line participation being much higher than historical in-person attendance when COVID first began, and now is drifting back down.

Our conference speaker concluded that people were not actually interested. I went up during a break and offered the alternative explanation that people entered church looking for something, but did not find it, so left. (He never responded or discussed that possibility.)

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Topics: Evangelism, Outreach
February 17, 2022 by Ken Mosesian

What’s our response as Christians – individually and collectively – when we find ourselves in the midst of a storm?

My God, why is this happening to me? God is testing me: I’m going to suit up for battle. What a storm! I’m going to grab my surfboard and ride the wave.

We’ve all been in a constant state of multiple unexpected changes since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Work closures, sickness, death, vaccines and boosters, viral variants, mask wearing, kids home from school, relocations, shortages, travel restrictions, and lockdowns have become a regular part of our daily existence.

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February 14, 2022 by Sandy Webb

This will be the least romantic St. Valentine’s Day essay you will ever read. That’s because today is not St. Valentine’s Day.

Check your liturgical calendar: The patron saint of lovers, people with epilepsy, and beekeepers was removed from the Roman Catholic calendar of saints in 1969. He does not appear in the Episcopal Church’s calendar either. February 14 is reserved throughout the Catholic and Episcopal world not for the commemoration of St. Valentine, but to honor the blessed memories of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, ninth century missionary bishops to the Slavs whose story should still inspire us today.

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February 10, 2022 by Greg Syler

I hope you’re reading this blog post after your vestry has finished the 2022 budget. I hope it lands in your email or newsfeed after your 2022 Annual Meeting, and that your church’s finance committee and leadership are already well on their way in this year’s spending / resourcing plan. I hope you stumble upon this post long before anyone in your congregation starts talking about 2023.

Oddly enough, the lull between annual pledge drives, stewardship campaigns, budget setting and Annual Meetings is the perfect time to begin talking about spending and resourcing plans for 2023 (and future years). It’s the perfect time because you can talk freely about budget standards, using this Snapshot of Church Finances. It’s an excellent worksheet prepared by Dan Hotchkiss, senior consultant for the Alban Institute.

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Topics: Finance
February 8, 2022 by Ken Mosesian

It is everywhere on social media:

Got a new car! #blessed

Spending a week in Rome! #blessed

Promotion! #blessed

The use of this hashtag has always troubled me. In my experience, the vast majority of people using #blessed are doing so to celebrate some material gain. The not-so-subtle implication is that before getting the new car, spending a week in Rome, or being promoted, they were not blessed. Perhaps worse, until and unless you acquire things or experiences (that frequently seem to involve large sums of money) you are not blessed.

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