Once again, Episcopalians (and others!) are participating in the Good Book Club. This time, we are reading through the Gospel of John, and this week is mostly John 8. As I read through John 8, I see many themes: sin, forgiveness, death, new life, and more. But again, one overarching theme: Discipleship.
John 8 begins and ends with crowds and stones. It opens with a crowd gathered around a woman caught in adultery and ends with a crowd gathered around Jesus. The crowds saw an adulterous woman and a demon-possessed liar, and the crowds wanted to kill them both.
But Jesus saw something different. In the woman, he saw a child of God. And in himself, he saw the son of God.
This month we offer five resources on lay leadership. 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.
1) Growing up evangelical Pentecostal gave Jade Mohorko Ortiz a unique appreciation of vestries in the Episcopal Church. In Trust the Process, she explains why having a vestry is so significant and shares helpful suggestions, especially for churches that are multicultural and multilingual.
What did you expect?
Did you expect a Christmas miracle that would turn tense family relationships into joy at the dinner table? Did you set extra chairs in the sanctuary expecting an overflow crowd? Did you hope that hearing the Christmas story would bring you peace? Whether you daily meditated around an Advent wreath or shopped, wrapped, cleaned house, baked, hosted, and mixed cocktails for the party, what were you hoping for the most?
We hold such high, hopeful expectations for Christmas. When they shatter like a fragile ornament, shards pierce our soul with loss and regret.
That’s when the first 18 verses of John’s Gospel come in handy.
I’ve spent a great deal of my ministry in St. Mary’s County, Maryland – the southernmost tip of the Diocese of Washington – connecting with other leaders in other churches, especially other Episcopal churches. I’ve built collaborative networks with other church leaders and, indeed, churches. In time, we have built a truly collaborative business model – two parishes becoming one parish (merging), something beyond the obvious limitations of the ‘one parish, one priest’ model.
This has been good work. Also, it’s essential work. Anyone who’s served on a vestry in, say, the past fifty years, or any clergy leader in The Episcopal Church today knows how essential this work is. There really is no other way we can keep open, let alone encourage every single Episcopal congregation to thrive unless we work together and find new, more sustainable business models.
That’s the straightforward message, and a message I’ve been crafting and working toward for more than a decade in ministry.
We have often discussed how important it is to tell our story, whether personal, congregational or denominational.
We have made telling our story a priority at General Convention in years past and many dioceses have adopted this message including the Diocese of New Jersey that has used it as a convention theme for many years. Today we are also using the process of storytelling in our Evangelism initiatives across the church.
However, while well intentioned, we all have anecdotes about the Episcopal Church being the best kept secret, including our own congregations. Thank God for Presiding Bishop Curry, who enabled us to now say, that we belong to the church of the preacher at Megan and Harry’s wedding.
They may not have the fragrance of frankincense or the mystery of myrrh, but here are three gifts worth their weight in gold to your faith community.
Bless your church treasurer, rector or your entire Finance Committee or Vestry with copies the recently released Finance Resource Guide. According to the Episcopal Church Foundation, this book is of value to newly ordained priests, veteran parish treasurers, and everyone in between.
The Finance Resource Guide offers a basic, practical, and theologically grounded resource for lay and clergy leaders to navigate the complex but essential tasks of raising, stewarding, and expending financial resources for local mission and ministry.
This month we offer five resources for Christmas reflections. 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.
1) Did you ever think, why, oh why, did I host that last Christmas party? In Bearing Gifts, Hosting Parties Richelle Thompson invites us to slow down and enjoy Christmas, while joining the Epiphany party trend.
When I was growing up, my family and I went to the early evening Christmas Eve worship service. It had the most kids, and I can remember some years when that service was, essentially, the Christmas pageant. After worship, we loaded into the station wagon, came home, ate dinner and my parents allowed us to open one present. It had already been a long day up to that point, and I remember being so tired – and filled with so much excitement about the next morning – that I don’t ever recall having a problem going to sleep that night.
Fast forward twenty years or so, and I got ordained a priest in The Episcopal Church. That’s when Christmas Eve, of course, took on another meaning and identity – it was a work night, although one of my favorite work nights of the year. For the past fifteen years, ever since my ordination, Christmas Eve has been a great night to work and worship. It’s also meant that I show up to every worship service, not only the early evening ones but that later one, the beloved so-called “Midnight Mass.”
Thus enters my annual time-warp!
Like so many of my fellow Episcopalians, I love the season of Advent. Really, I like all three winter seasons – Advent, Christmas, Epiphany.
I live in the northern hemisphere, so these winter seasons coincide with the dark days of the year, which match up well with the themes of Jesus, the Light, coming into the darkness of the world. “Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light!”, we pray in the Collect for the first Sunday of Advent. “Jesus, the Light of the World”, we sing in Christmastide. And, in the season of Epiphany, we celebrate at that we are “the light of the world”, called to carry that light out for all the world to see.
But, in recent years, I’ve had my consciousness raised by the testimony of dark-skinned clergy and laity, those for whom the popular hymn, “I want to walk as a child of the light, I want to follow Jesus” causes pain.
If you say, “We need to make some changes around here,” people get nervous. Less resistance may come if you ask, “What gifts/talents do we have that we can use in ministry?” But even with such an “appreciative” approach to change, congregations may not have the vision or confidence to try something new to serve others outside the congregation.
Let’s face it – inside ministry is easier. Inside our faith communities, we know each other. We have people among us who have needs and we know where to find them and, generally, they look and sound like us. Sure, we can love outsiders, increasing our welcoming to people who walk through our doors. We can give money to or volunteer with agencies who serve those with socioeconomic challenges.
But do these actions involve change to move us out of our comfort zones?
There is a growing movement of food awareness in our society and in our church. Fruit is being added to school lunches, soda machines now include water and juice. Movie theaters now provide information about the calories in every snack they offer -- a small popcorn often runs over 500 calories, and a soda more than 400. And then there is the sugar content…
But our growing food awareness isn’t just about calories and fat content. Nor even about healthy diet, though that is part of it. More and more, we are also becoming aware of the source of our food – where it comes from, how it is grown, the treatment of the laborers who harvest it. It is certainly a secular movement, with the health food stores of the 1970s becoming substantial chains, and leading grocery store chains without health food heritage are finding ways to get on board with the trend. Foods are promoted as organic or fair trade, and some small sections of the market are set aside for local products or produce.
This month we offer five resources on generous hospitality. Please share this digest with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practicesto receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.
1) Do you take notice of members who aren’t at church? How can we practice mindfulness in caring for our church family? In his blog, Who’s New and Who’s Missing, Peter Strimer shares his method for keeping everyone in the loop of ministry.
Whether you think it’s merely a fad or you know someone who has been severely affected by Celiac’s Disease, many Episcopal faith communities have made the decision to make certain accommodations for those who abstain from any food products made with gluten (wheat, barley, and rye). Though most coffee hours haven’t yet made the leap, many an Episcopal Eucharist boast they have gluten-free wafers upon request. Which is great. Sadly, though, the accommodations fall short.
Though I, myself, am gluten intolerant, I don’t feel ill if I ingest gluten. One of my daughters, on the other hand, has a severe gluten allergy and can get pretty sick. Consequently, Mama Bear pays attention. Since most of the internet traffic on gluten-free (GF) accommodations at churches were about how the Roman Catholic Church has banned gluten-free wafers (a non-wheat host is heretical in their eyes), I decided to share some best practices for our Episcopal friends who want to be truly hospitable to those with gluten allergies.
In our congregations as well as dioceses we oftentimes have the opportunity to hire a new staff person whether a youth director, financial officer, musician, administrator or sexton. A question for us all is whether we are using good HR (human resource) practices to hire these individuals or are we filling these positions with “Family and Friends”.
Recently at our commission meeting we compiled a list of best practices for lay positions which are below. Do consider as leaders how well we are adhering to these items.
· Form search committees for appropriate lay positions across the church
· Utilize best practices for the job search process to maximize interest from lay people
· Determine whether positions being considered for clergy can also be performed by lay
· Determine whether lay positions being considered are for Episcopalians only or can be filled by those familiar with the Episcopal church
A history day offers an opportunity to engage a group of leaders and perhaps even the entire congregation in recognizing and reflecting on how the faith community understands and uses money. This is an especially useful exercise early in a new pastor’s tenure or in conjunction with a capital campaign or other finance initiative, but can be enlightening anytime.
Depending on the number of participants involved and the number of years a congregation has been in existence, such an exercise requires anywhere from two hours to the better part of a day. The exercise can be constructed around a meal. The ground rules call for no history books to be used – the important information to be gathered is what the congregation remembers as its story.
It’s not often a resource can be used by both children and adults, as a formation tool and a gift for visitors, and as a celebration of the arts and the gifts of parishioners. But one congregation struck the trifecta.
Grace Episcopal Church in Anniston, Alabama, created its own coloring book with art solicited from members of the congregation featuring different facets of the building and liturgical accoutrements as well as local traditions. Published by the Christian education department, the coloring book is offered for the simple enjoyment by children and adults as well as for formation. A glossary in the back explains each picture. So, for example, an image of the aumbry might be familiar to folks who attend the church but who may not know its function. The handy glossary explains (along with a key for pronunciation): “AHM.bri: The aumbry of Grace Church is recessed into the east wall of the sanctuary near the altar. It is used to store the reserved sacrament. A sanctuary lamp hangs over the aumbry to indicate that reserved sacrament is stored within. The aumbry was dedicated in 1961.” Other images include the chalice and paten, the baptismal font, the pitcher used to hold the water of baptism.
Oliver J. Hart, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania from 1943 to 1963, confessed his struggles at one time with integrating churches in the Philadelphia area, telling The Philadelphia Bulletin: “It’s not just a question of Negro and white. It’s a problem of people moving from one place to another. If you could just put your churches on wheels, it would be much easier.” (Quoted in D. Contosta, This Far by Faith)
It’s a cute idea – churches on wheels. It’s also a compelling question. I wonder if we could at least find a way to put our buildings and received assets on foundations which are significantly easier to shift when, invariably, neighborhood demographics shift. One real asset of The Episcopal Church is our buildings. We have a lot of buildings – parish halls, rectories, other houses, chapels and churches. It may be that we have too many buildings, and too many aging, expensive buildings, at that, but we are quite rich in the asset-holding sector!
On the Feast of All Saints, November 1, the Church gives us an opportunity to reflect on the faith and witness of those who have died in the faith of the Church. In prayer and song, we remember all the saints, “who from their labors rest.” In traditional practice, The Feast of All Saints is the day we remember the Saints with a capital “S”, those who have been recognized by the Church for their faithful life and death The following day, November 2, is the “Commemoration of all Faithful Departed”, when we are encouraged to remember saints with a small “s”, those who have inspired us personally — parents and godparents, teachers, clergy, mentors, and more.
In many churches, the two remembrances are conflated the following Sunday, in a celebration unofficially called “All Saints Sunday.” While the distinctions between the capital “S” Saints and the small “s” saints may be ecclesiastically significant, pastorally, the blending of the two is inspiring and kind. As the secular world recognizes and adapts the Mexican celebration of the “Day of the Dead” more and more — in schools, public libraries, and homes — we can see that we all, at some level, yearn to remember our ancestors in faith, family, and love.
There once were young parents who decided to find a church family with whom they might raise their family in the faith. Though they’d attend the occasional Christmas and Easter service, they wanted to be more intentional. They committed to attending regularly, and after a little, they began being recognized as regular church attenders. People began to learn their names and that of their little girl. They eventually met with the priest and decided to have their toddler baptized.
As their little girl grew, they began looking forward to when she could participate in Sunday morning formation. It was about that time when they learned they’d become parents to a second child.
This month we offer five resources on community outreach. 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.
1. What does a New Orleans magician have in common with the early church? In Street Performers, Strangers, and Community, Alan Bentrup makes the connection that the early church drew people to it by virtue of what that smaller community was doing for the larger community – caring for the poor, feeding the hungry, etc. What could our modern church learn from that experience?