March 11, 2019 by Linda Buskirk

Episcopalians are big on discernment, which I have come to understand includes reflection on our questions in light of scripture, prayer, and the counsel of others. For instance, when someone gets a holy nudge to serve God in the church, we assemble a supportive group to help him/her “discern the call” to be ordained as a deacon or priest. We understand this is a big decision that takes time. We value praying about it in community with others.

In the Episcopal Church Foundation’s proven methodology for capital campaigns, the first of three phases is called “discernment.” During this time, which requires no deadline, the congregation is invited to discern its call as a faith community, and to determine which capital improvements would best support that call. Those who perform repeated emergency surgeries on the boiler, or the organist who keeps the music coming through skillful application of duct tape and screwdrivers, or the nursery attendant who wraps babies up like burritos to keep them warm – sometimes “hands on” folks like these get a little agitated about discernment. What’s to discern?! Let’s fix things!

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March 5, 2019 by Greg Syler

It’s the season of congregational Annual Meetings, the time to pull out the reports, summarize the year, articulate the ways in which God is making clear God’s preferred future, and enjoy possibly one of the best potlucks of the year. Annual Meetings are an important part of congregational life, and one of the real highlights for church geeks and insiders.

But an Annual Meeting and, more to the point, the diminishing return on investment (time spent on the meeting versus the ways in which it ‘moves the needle’) points to a growing disconnect between a beautiful heritage and critical need. Our church’s representative democracy is a lovely thing, and a heritage I prefer to keep. At the same time, however, we need to admit that we’ve created a cumbersome and top-heavy institution. Simply to carry out the local parochial version of The Episcopal Church, year after year after year, requires a great deal of volunteer hours and oversight and coordination and management and communal good will. It’s been stated elsewhere, and this is no joke, that we’ve finally perfected the perfect version of an excellent 18th century institution. Only problem is it’s the 21st century.

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March 4, 2019 by Annette Buchanan

In Romans 16, greetings are sent to a variety of people in this Christian community culminating with verse 16, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” Instructive in these verses is that the majority of greetings emphasize the positive works that the recipients have accomplished in their ministry.

Examples of these accolades include: “benefactor of many people”; “risked their lives for me”; “ hard work in the Lord”; “being chosen in the Lord”; “our co-worker in Christ”; “fidelity to Christ has stood the test”; “the first convert to Christ in Asia”; “my dear friend in the lord”; and "being my mother, brother or sister in the Lord".

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March 1, 2019 by Greg Syler

The Commissioners of St. Mary’s County, Maryland recently undertook a study to identify the gaps between the services the County’s social service providers offer and those persons who lack access to resources. The ‘Gap Analysis’ revealed a host of hard-hitting facts and has spurred conversations across multiple sectors in our fast growing, economically prosperous (among a few) formerly-rural community.

For the past six months, I’ve been on a team of people commissioned by our elected leaders to make recommendations about how to translate into action what we’ve learned through the Gap Analysis. We are slowly drilling down near some root causes of the gaps, and truly helpful initiatives are beginning to emerge from our work.

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February 26, 2019 by Alan Bentrup

Culture has completely shifted. I’d go so far as to say there’s a good chance that Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) for most of the last century was artificially inflated (and not just because the ushers double-counted).

People went to church because culture went to church. It was written into the laws of our cities, counties, and states. That’s why stores would close down on Sundays. That’s why so much of the whole world would stop on Sundays.

Because culture went to church, but now culture has shifted.

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February 20, 2019 by Melissa Rau

Serving on the vestry can be both rewarding and challenging. This month, we share resources that will help you feel more equipped to lead with confidence. Please share this digest with other members of your vestry and clergy, and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.

1. Have you or your vestry ever said that they wanted to do something, recognize the importance of doing it, but don’t really make any traction toward getting it done? In Overmaking Decisions, Anna Olson suggests things your vestry might consider in “right-sizing” your decisions and moving forward more intentionally.

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Topics: Leadership, Vestry
February 18, 2019 by Janet Lombardo

I serve a lovely church on top of a hill in a vacation community. The church is surrounded by lakes, and almost doubles its attendance in the summer. I serve as their part-time interim Rector. The church community has been declining, they have lost two thirds of their members in the last 10 years, and much of their energy has been spent caring for their aging buildings.

There are three buildings on the campus, the church building, the rectory and the parish hall. The church is beautiful. It was built in the 1840’s and is a typical New England white church with red doors, stained glass windows and a steep pitched roof. The church is beloved by the community and has been well cared for. The rectory has not been used as a rectory for decades; it is used mostly for office space and meetings, and is in very poor shape. The parish hall is almost as old as the church, is poorly designed and lacks function. The congregation has talked for years about renovating the parish hall, there are plans that date back to the 1960’s, but nothing has been done. These three buildings consume most of their energy.

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February 14, 2019 by Alan Bentrup

I hope you’ve kept up in our reading of Romans. If so, we’ve been in Romans 12 this week. As I read through this chapter, I’m struck by what Paul is pointing out. He lists several gifts that may be given to some of us: Prophecy, preaching, exhortation, ministry, giving, leading, compassion.

That list isn’t exhaustive, but it is interesting. We’d agree that not everyone has the spiritual gift of preaching or prophecy. But giving? Compassion? Those seem like qualities all followers of Jesus should have. But Paul seems to be saying here that some folks will be particularly gifted in those areas.

But that’s not even the most interesting thing to me in this chapter. After we get through that list of qualities that some folks might have more than others, Paul then hits us right between the eyes with a quality he assumes all followers of Jesus will have in abundance: Love.

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February 11, 2019 by Greg Syler

When I first arrived at one of my parishes, St. George’s in Valley Lee, Maryland, I found in the center drawer of the desk in the rector’s office a bunch of 3 x 5 index cards, scrawled with handwritten notes. “Visited Mildred X,” read one note, detailing the date and time of visit, location, and how she was feeling. “Took Holy Communion to Cedar Lane,” went another, summarizing the scripture lessons and number of persons present at that afternoon service of worship. The interim priest, a clergyperson evidently gifted with pastoral care, had nourished a rather extensive pastoral care network, and he had developed a fine system of reporting, back and forth, such that he was in the loop but wasn’t the sole caregiver. It was an old-fashioned approach, and the filing system left somethings to be desired (they were just cards shoved in a desk drawer, after all), but it was a beautiful testament to a lovely way of doing church together.

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February 5, 2019 by Richelle Thompson

I don’t imagine Paul had any idea that his letters to the people in Corinth or Rome or Galatia would become part of the Christian canon. His focus was not to become a famous author whose words would guide and inform Christian thought for centuries. Rather, he was reaching out to friends, to communities, to urge them through personal invitation to come to Jesus, to learn about mercy and grace, salvation and sanctification.

I’ve been reading Paul’s Letter to the Romans during the Good Book Club, an initiative sponsored by Forward Movement and supported by partners across the Episcopal Church, including the Episcopal Church Foundation. The goal of the Good Book Club is to encourage a daily habit of reading scripture, believing that encounters with God’s Word are transformative. I’m learning a lot from Paul—in part, realizing that I still have a lot to learn. This missive for the Romans is not for the faint of heart; it is profound and complicated and sometimes confusing (Paul might have done well to call upon the assistance of an editor!).

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January 30, 2019 by Linda Buskirk

In my work with congregations, I frequently find faith communities challenged by “communications.” Roles such as weekly e-news writer, monthly newsletter editor, or managing platforms of e-mail distribution, website and Facebook, etc. go unfilled. Or, if the priest is young and tech savvy, s/he just does it all – in addition to everything else.

When I come across an active communications ministry, I ask lots of questions, hoping to pass on ideas to others. That’s just what I did when I met the talented and dedicated Communications Commission Chair for St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Christina Connelly.

What got my attention about St. Alban’s was a video on its website and Facebook home. The video features several church members sharing their journeys and their discoveries of a loving congregation and denomination. Their statements reveal both the diversity and similarity of where they’ve been, what they have found and what they love about St. Alban’s.

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Topics: Communications
January 24, 2019 by Anna Olson

I sometimes surprise people by loving Paul. People expect me – as a woman, a feminist, a lifelong fan and (I hope!) practitioner of liberation theology – to squirm at least a bit at the mention of Paul’s name. So I figured that as we as the Episcopal Church embark on reading Paul’s longest contribution to the Biblical canon, I might just share all the reasons I love Paul, just in case your enthusiasm for reading the letter to the Romans needs a little boost.

I’ll start by clarifying that I subscribe to the widely held academic view that the seven letters properly attributed to Paul himself are 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 Corinthians, Philippians, Philemon, most of 2 Corinthians and Romans. If Paul was the credible author of some of the later epistles written in his name, we’d need to have a further conversation.

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January 23, 2019 by Melissa Rau

It’s that time of year again when many vestries are orienting new members. This month, we are offering five resources to help vestries start the year off strong. 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 this monthly digest.

1. Has your congregation shared ECF’s Vestry Resource Guide with every one of its vestry members? Whether you are a vestry veteran or an initiate, this guide will help you clearly understand your role and help the vestry and clergy leadership become a cohesive team.

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Topics: Vestry, Leadership
January 17, 2019 by Annette Buchanan

I had the opportunity to help plan a very small funeral for my grand-aunt in Florida this month and concluded it would have been so helpful if there was a template or process that we could easily reference. I am hopeful this exists in many congregations especially with the frequency of funerals. For congregations without permanent clergy, the leadership surely needs guidelines on how to proceed.

Whether the funeral is in a chapel for a few family and friends or larger with full church and clergy engagement we seem to be starting from scratch for each planning. I had one helpful source, which were the many funeral bulletins my mother had at her home of family, friends and church brothers and sisters that have passed, not sure why she kept them all. Given this source and additional conversations, suggestions for a process are as follows:

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January 14, 2019 by Mike Chalk

Every so often the leadership of a congregation decides that it is necessary to spend some valuable time discerning what needs to be addressed. The motivation to discern could be related to the growth of the parish, the outreach component of the church’s ministry, or how the building structure is impeding the mission of the church.

Unlike most nonprofits the church includes God in the conversation concerning next steps. “What is God calling us to do?”

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January 10, 2019 by Alan Bentrup

One of the more unlikely recent stories in the business world is the resurrection of Microsoft. Once thought to be out of touch with the modern tech industry, the corporate giant has become (at least for a time) as big as Apple.

There are many explanations given for how that shift has taken place. But, you’re not here for business analysis. Why would we, as the Church, care about a revitalized business?

Karl Barth once famously said, “Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.” I think what he realized is that, when put through theological reflection, there’s much we can learn as Christians from the news around us. Including business news.

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Topics: Change, Discernment
January 8, 2019 by Linda Buskirk

In his letter to the Christian community already established in Rome, Paul provides deep insights about God’s plan for the salvation of all people and its fulfillment through Jesus. Paul longs to travel to Rome to continue teaching in person. But early in the letter, he humbly states that he would benefit from such a visit too: “That is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” (Romans 1:12)

Mutual encouragement through our faith is a beautiful thing to experience, and to witness. I see it each time I train a congregation’s capital campaign “gift ambassadors” – the volunteers who will meet one-on-one with fellow parishioners to invite them to give to the campaign.

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January 4, 2019 by Linda Buskirk

A new calendar year brings renewed resolutions to do things right. When it comes to diet and exercise, common sense generally is the answer (sigh): eat less, move more.

Recognizing a “common sense” for a congregation can be more complicated, especially if you’ve done a good job of gathering a diverse leadership team bringing varied experiences, values and convictions to the table. There may be several options for every issue, from the budget to determining new ministries to advance justice or serve the poor. Oh, why can’t the answer be obvious?

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December 28, 2018 by Jeannette McDonald

It’s that time of year when we are making decisions about how much we give to our church. Will I pledge annually or just put it in the collection plate when I attend church? Do I give what is left over or do I “give until I feel it?”

If we truly are following our Lord’s teachings, then some of us might have a guilty conscience. We may give regularly to our church but often it doesn’t have the same priority as mortgages, utilities, college, car or recreational loans. We think those have bills come first, then food, clothing, entertainment follow – there it is, there is what I can give to the church - the crumbs, the leftovers.

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Topics: Stewardship
December 19, 2018 by Melissa Rau

This month we offer five resources to help your congregation prepare for Christmas. 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. This Advent Parish Checklist by Cathy Carpenter is a great tool for churches preparing for Christmas, ensuring they are ready to receive and welcome visitors (among other useful ideas). Check out this handy resource and learn new ways to be better prepared for this festive and important time.

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