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.
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.
Make room! Clear the way! Jesus is coming, so let His car into your traffic lane.
And onto your calendar too. Make room for good, like baking cookies to deliver to shut-ins, buying gifts for Angel Tree children, staging the chancel for the Christmas pageant, and a hundred other acts of love and joy.
We who are active in the church do this because we made room in our hearts for Jesus some time in the past, and He stayed. When we think about this as we hustle and bustle, we might say, “Now Jesus, there is plenty of room. You sit and keep me company as I finish wrapping these presents.”
Do you have a date set for your next Vestry/leadership retreat?
In our goal-oriented society, it may sound odd, or even dereliction of duty, to replace a monthly decision-making meeting with a retreat to “vision” about “the big picture.” Yet the very difficulty of setting aside pressing issues is what makes a retreat so important. Simply put, if we don’t designate time to think about the big picture, we generally won’t. Here are three ideas for planning a retreat that will help your congregation move forward:
First, set the expectation that an extended annual retreat is important, and all leadership team members should attend. Set the date and far enough in advance for calendar commitment to be made. This expectation should be discussed with potential Senior Wardens and candidates for Vestry.
This Thanksgiving I visited my young cousin who was hosting his first dinner. Just before leaving he said to me, “I now really appreciate all the dinners you’ve hosted over the years. I did not realize what happened behind the scenes as I always arrive in time to eat and then leave after an evening of fun. It’s a lot of work!”
For many years at our church, five large containers of bread and pastries are donated weekly by a local restaurant to our Feeding Outreach Ministry. A new vestry member was surprised on discovering that behind the scenes each week someone had to pick up the containers and bread, and others had to sort and bag the bread and clean the containers, in addition to completing an annual application. We laughed and asked if she thought the “Bread Fairy” did all the work.
This month we offer five resources to help your congregation manage conflict. 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. In this webinar, First Steps in Understanding Church Conflict, Christy Shain-Hendricks reminds us that conflict is relational and natural. Watch and learn about a few elements that contribute to conflict and how it’s possible to make our way toward reconciliation and peace-building.
Is there an emoji for “feeling reflective?” If so, that’s me this Thanksgiving week. Here are some reasons I am grateful for the work to which I’ve been called as a capital campaign and Strategic Solutions consultant for the Episcopal Church Foundation.
As Episcopalians, we’re big on community – on worshipping and praying in community with the faithful around the world. Most of us do that mainly through our local congregation. I get to do it with faith communities around the Midwest and beyond.
We go to great lengths to welcome people in our homes - but those folks we invite all too often are people that we know and love already. Most folks who come to my house know me, and understand my worldview, and we probably get along socially.
And I think too often we do the same thing with our congregations?
That’s being nice; that’s not hospitality.
When I saw a new book, Walk in Love: Episcopal Beliefs and Practices, promoted on the Forward Movement website, I ordered it as a gift for a Roman Catholic friend who is on his way to being received into the Episcopal Church. As soon as it arrived, I began reviewing its contents and quickly ordered a second copy to keep.
Reading Walk in Love is like enjoying a fireside chat with a good friend who knows a lot more than you do but doesn’t make you feel that way. Authors and priests Melody Wilson Shobe and Scott Gunn comprehensively reveal the “what and the why” of what we believe and do, in friendly, conversational style. There is familiarity in their explanations, but plenty of “ah-hah” moments as deeper understanding sinks in.
This month we offer five resources to help your congregation with church budgeting and finance. 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. In his article, Church Finance—Where Endurance Matters, Robert Button shares his wisdom as a vestry member and a church treasurer. From stewardship and budgeting, capital campaigns, and internal controls and audits, to the long view, this is a great overview of why church finance matters and how it can be spiritually fulfilling to those called to steward church finances.
“How did it go?” My mom’s words came through the cell phone ear piece with equal parts excitement and apprehension.
“I have learned things about church design that had never occurred to me before,” I answered flatly with a tinge of exhaustion. I had just attended my first service with a six-week old baby, and I would see things with new eyes from now on in every church I visited thereafter.
You see, church design matters to me as a member and worshipper, but it also matters deeply to me as an ECF capital campaign consultant to churches around the country that are considering investing hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in renovations or new buildings.
For the second time in just over a year, my work has focused on hurricanes. Last year it was helping my parish and the city of Houston navigate life during and after Hurricane Harvey. Earlier this month it was waiting and preparing for Hurricane Florence.
Needless to say, storms and flood waters have consumed much of my thinking.
Maybe that’s why I’m so struck by the picture at the top of this post. Something’s wrong there. Who would build a bridge in the wrong place?
In my travels this Summer I had the opportunity to interact, albeit briefly, with Anglican churches in the Bahamas, Panama and London. What these experiences illustrated is that while sharing similar religious tradition and worship styles, cultural nuances are very important and offer an opportunity to learn, incorporate best practices and grow in our ministry.
As Episcopalians and Americans, oftentimes in our local and international travels we have a mindset of being more evolved and therefore enter into these interactions without a spirit of inquiry and discovery.
In celebration of ECF Vital Practices’ eighth anniversary, we went back through our archives to bring you some of the most popular articles from our past eight years of being an online resource. Each of the following articles was among the most read during a specific year. We curated them to have a variety of topics and writers, and are happy to share them with you here. We hope you enjoy them!
I’ve found a way to make Christmas last all year. Or at least a bit of the spirit of the season.
When I store the decorations for another year, I’m always faced with a dilemma: What should I do with the Christmas cards? It’s the one time of year that folks send a snail mail card, and even if most have a simple signature, they are still a tangible connection to a longtime friend, a faraway relative, neighbors, and fellow parishioners. I hate to throw them away but I also don’t want to become a Christmas card hoarder.
A few years ago, a friend (and Episcopal priest) sent me a handwritten note in the middle of the year and explained that she kept her Christmas cards for a special purpose. Each week, she would draw a card from the pile, add the person to her prayer list, and then write and mail a note.
Saying thank you for a gift is good manners. So when donations or annual pledges are made to the church, most churches mind their manners and send thank you notes as well as official receipts acknowledging commitments.
Thank you notes are private communications. The issue of whether to publicly thank donors, by name, depends on the culture of each faith community.
As a congregational consultant, I’ve visited parishes in which nearly every space or thing installed has a name plate acknowledging the giver who made the pew/pulpit/font/organ/window/sacristy/choir room/chapel possible.
As the Presiding Bishop continues to call us deeper into the Jesus Movement, especially now that we have the Way of Love as a tool to guide us deeper into relationship with Jesus and our neighbor, it’s time for us to start talking about what a Jesus Movement Leader looks like. We need leaders in this movement. Bishop Curry and Canon Spellers can’t do it all on their own!
For my part, I’ve been watching some of the emerging leaders and taking note at how intentionally they walk into their leadership roles. I’ve noticed that many of the leaders of the Jesus Movement take up less space in their leadership role. It has been eye opening for me. It has lead me to my own mantra in leading Forma these past two years: “How much space do I need to take up before I can make space for someone else?” or “Take up less space!”
The Discernment phase of a capital campaign is as important as either the Feasibility Study or the Solicitation phase, and it is a unique part of ECF’s capital campaign method.
During Discernment, information is shared, questions are raised, discussion happens, and a consensus for a vision for the future is crafted by the entire community. The fact that everyone is personally invited to participate, and everyone is listened to not only creates a vision for the community, but it also inspires individuals to buy into the vision and feel it is their own.
This month we offer five resources to help your congregation practice stewardship. 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. In Reframing Stewardship, Greg Syler shares how St. George’s in Valley Lee, Maryland engages in stewardship and financial generosity. Instead of stewardship drives, St George’s focuses on an annual pledge drive. In this article, Greg unpacks the difference between the two and why it matters.
We all know it’s coming. Letters are being written, folks are being asked to share their stories from the lectern, pledge cards are being designed. The annual giving campaign will soon be underway.
Unless it got started months ago. More and more, congregations are recognizing stewardship as an ongoing ministry. Activities occur throughout the year, such as celebrations of gratitude, education about different ways to give, and stories about the impact of gifts. Their communications shine a light on discipleship, not just the obligation of “membership.”