“Stewardship” is a word we hear often in the church, especially beginning at this time of year and ending before Advent. What we in the Episcopal Church often mean when we say “stewardship” is the annual pledge drive conducted each fall, which is designed to secure financial commitments from members to fund the following year’s mission and ministry.
While I was raised in the Episcopal Church hearing this language, and while I still slip into using it myself with my ECF clients and in my own church, I’m here to ask that we please change our ways. In the secular nonprofit world, where I received my fund development education and first ten years of professional experience, the word “stewardship” does not connote asking for money; asking for money is “solicitation.”
Believe it or not, it’s that time of year again. It’s time to start planning to encourage your donors to make gift before the end of the year! We hope that you have been encouraging giving throughout the year. Even so, many donors discover, due to summer vacations and various other reasons that they have fallen behind on their pledges. The last few months of the year are a great time to send giving statements to your donors as gentle reminders of their previous commitments and to remind them about additional ways to give.
Sometimes a good idea comes in a pint of ice cream.
I live near Cincinnati where we put chili on our spaghetti and the hand-churned ice cream from Graeter’s reigns supreme. The regional company releases seasonal flavors and earlier this month began selling Elena’s Blueberry Pie. Except Blueberry only had one “e” on the front of the pint. Copy editors facepalm in unison.
I don’t know how many people reviewed the graphics for the pint container, but I suspect a bunch of people signed off. I can only imagine the stomach-dropping moment when the first person realized the company had printed—and already distributed—several thousand containers with a third-grade spelling error.
But here’s where the story takes an interesting turn. Instead of spending tens of thousands of dollars reprinting and replacing all the containers, the company announced that it would donate that same amount to a cancer research nonprofit The Cure Starts Now.
Pleasant and effective. That is the positive description of the ongoing Stewardship Ministry of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan.
I wrote about St. John’s personal approach to stewardship in 2018. It started with writing different letters to people of different generations (Why Do You Give to the Church?).
St. John’s Stewardship Chair John Harberts said the experience of communicating differently with different people made their whole task more personal. They took it a big step further, with Stewardship team members committing to stay in touch with a number of parishioners throughout the entire year. (For more details, click here).
From its beginnings, Christians have used metaphor to describe and teach about the Church. Most enduring is Paul’s metaphor of the Church as the Body of Christ, with each Christian a member of that Body. An eye, an ear, a foot, all important and contributing to the life of the whole. Cyprian and Augustine in the early church, and Luther and Calvin in the Reformation, notably referred to the Church as a Mother (to go with God the Father) and as the Bride of Christ. In the 20th century, Robert Farrah Capon wrote of the church as a hat on the head of a mystical body, allowing the mystical body to be located.
Metaphors usually don’t hold up under intense scrutiny. But they can certainly help us to see, to describe, to understand. Given that, and also the many examples of metaphors in the life of the faithful, I propose that to engage in metaphor is a vital practice of the Christian life. Doing so can teach and inspire in circumstances where literal descriptions fail or fall flat.
It is in this vein that I offer the metaphor of the Church as corgi. I refer to the little dog with short legs and cheerful spirit, popular on the internet, in photos, and household decor.
The latest parochial report statistics are out, and the annual hand wringing over decline has started. With all of the questions being asked (and blame being placed) around the statistics and what it means for us as a church body, I was reminded of a book I recently read.
General Stanley McChrystal’s book, Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, discusses how he and his team redesigned Special Operations in Iraq to fight Al Qaeda, and how such lessons can be applied to all kinds of organizations in both the public and private sectors. He didn’t mention the church, specifically, but so much of what he wrote applies to us as well.
What Gen. McChrystal realized was that he was leading an organization that was designed to fight previous wars, and he and his team were wholly unprepared for the new context in which they found themselves.
In August 2019 we commemorated the Quadricentennial (400, 3:00 pm, in remembrance of this critical date. There were also events in Ghana celebrated as the “Year of the Return” encouraging visits to the place of origin for many African-Americans. I also visited Jamestown this summer and learned a lot more about our American history including the critical role of the church in the chaotic times of the countries’ formation.
Commemorations are also very important in our church life, regardless of whether we are celebrating a tragic or happy event or flawed or heroic individuals. The church has provided us with liturgical resources including Holy Women Holy Men, and more recently A Great Cloud of Witnesses to highlight the many individuals who through their lives have furthered the ministry and mission of the church. Many churches do commemorate their own patron saint, however so many more can be explored and utilized from our church history.
In 2017, I had a client in the midst of a Feasibility Study when their beloved Rector was elected to be a Bishop in another Diocese. One would think this would mean the end of their hard work toward a campaign, but it came at the right time. The personal interviews had been completed but the majority of the parish had not been invited to respond to the survey. Because of this, their report provided a true picture and temperature for moving forward with the campaign.
While there was some concern, the overall theme of the report was that they could move forward and had the potential to raise just over $1 million for the projects that were under consideration. What the Vestry needed to do then was decide how they would move forward. They had the good fortune to have a strong committee and an outgoing Rector who both wholeheartedly supported moving forward into the solicitation phase of the campaign.
This month we offer five resources on evangelism. 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.Does your congregation yearn to bring others into church but are not sure how? In Evangelism for the 21st Century, Day Smith Pritchartt from the Episcopal Evangelism Society shares stories of some of the projects she’s worked on to serve as inspiration.
In most faith communities, prayerful planning and preparations are about to launch annual giving campaigns. Many people frame this as “the time of asking for money.”
Thinking of the annual campaign as an invitation rather than “an ask” puts a different frame around the picture. An invitation generally means a request to join someone in doing something.
An invitation transforms a polite ask (“Please submit your pledge card because the church needs your support”), into a personal recognition that we’re all in this together: “We invite you to join us – the Stewardship Committee, Vestry and our Clergy - in making a financial commitment to St. Stephen’s for next year.”
In the Great Litany, prayed by many on the first Sunday in Lent each year, we ask God to deliver us from dying “suddenly and unprepared.” And while our culture seems to value a quick and painless death, the church understands the grace and the opportunity made possible by a prolonged dying process. Tortuous as slow decline and diminishment can be, it can allow for a faithful preparation — reconciliation with friends and family, a time to express fears and to be offered healing, a time to get financial and legal affairs in order, a time to celebrate the life given. Much of this is to be done by the person who is dying and by the closest members of their family, when possible. But the church can help. Indeed, sometimes the church can take the lead.
Tom told me of his cancer diagnosis on a beautiful sunny afternoon over a cup of coffee and a sinfully delicious cookie. If he went with the chemo, his doctor had told him, he’d maybe have six months to live.
Tom had been a founding member of the Advocate. He was our first senior warden, and our seventh. He was a steady presence in our rocky first decade. The congregation reeled at his diagnosis. And we wanted to honor him before he died.
This month we offer five resources on transformative 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. Do you hear ‘stewardship’ and think ‘fall pledge drive’? In Transformative Stewardship Calendars, Chris Harris presents different ways to bring stewardship into your parishioners’ lives through the church calendar year.
In my role as a capital campaign consultant for the Episcopal Church Foundation, it’s not unusual to hear Vestry leaders hoping for grants to help pay for building improvement projects because…
“We serve our city in unique ways.”
“Our building is historically significant.”
“Our feeding ministry serves the broader community.”
Yes, but, in the world of grant-giving, the stark reality is that your congregation may not be all that special. When you identify a granting organization that will allow a church to apply (many don’t), expect the competition to be steep from established not-for-profit organizations. Agencies that provide food, clothing, health care, or other services as their main mission have honed their compelling “case statements.” A church that serves a community meal once a week or a free clinic once a month may be deemed to have a weaker case.
This article is also available in English here. Este artículo está disponible en ingles aquí.
Hablar de crecimiento espiritual no es una tarea fácil. Es un tema que se puede mirar desde un sin número de perspectivas porque lo que funciona para una persona, no necesariamente funciona para la otra. Sin embargo, todos podemos estar de acuerdo en que queremos crecer espiritualmente; tener una vida espiritual más rica y profunda. Lo difícil es descubrir cómo lograr ese tan deseado crecimiento. Especialmente si somos parte de algún grupo minoritario.
Si eres miembro de la comunidad LGBTQI+, una minoría racial o de género, sabes de lo que hablo. No es fácil crecer cuando se está tratando de sobrevivir y cuando además, estás buscando cómo sanar las heridas que muchas veces nos ha causado la religión y/o alguna iglesia.
Talking about spiritual growth is not an easy task. It is a topic that can be viewed from a number of perspectives because what works for one person does not necessarily work for another. However, we can all agree that we want to grow spiritually; have a richer and deeper spiritual life. The hard part is discovering how to achieve that much-desired growth. Especially if we are part of a minority group.
If you are a member of the LGBTQI+ community, a racial or gender minority, you know what I'm talking about. It is not easy to grow when you are trying to survive and when you are also trying to heal the wounds that were caused by religion or a church.
In my opinion, the first thing is to stop justifying our existence before those who deny our humanity. The Bible has been used to oppress women, the LGBTQI+ community and those of us who are not white. Putting ourselves on an equal footing is very exhausting. The best thing is to rest in the love of God, being sure that God loves us just as we are and created us as God’s sons and daughters.
Most people prefer not talking about death. Consequently, most people die without a written will. So what happens then?
If you don’t have a will the state has already written one for you. And guess how the state will distribute your assets after you die? Lawyers are first in line, of course. Then taxes, creditors, and finally loved ones. Nothing goes to charity.
Also, your survivors get to pay the maximum in estate and inheritance taxes.
With a will you control applicable taxes, you determine what charities you want to be part of your legacy. You release your family from unnecessary turmoil and delay in settling your estate.
Most of us who are in the Episcopal Church have a love of the liturgy. Or at least an appreciation for it. Some are well-versed in the meaning of the movement and the posture, the theological nuance of the words. Others have been formed by decades of weekly practice, the words of the canticles still rolling off the tongue, the Prayer of Humble Access still echoing in our soul.
But there are many in our pews and chairs who are still learning the rhythms of the liturgy. They know that there are songs, readings, the Peace and the Eucharist, and that the clergy come in at the beginning and go out at the end. But they don’t even think about the idea of being formed as the Body of Christ. Maybe they have a grasp of the liturgical year, but they still think of Pentecost as the day we wear red. And, increasingly, they are likely to attend about once a month, so may only get one Sunday in the shorter seasons. They will not have the continuity and repetition that leads to learning.
I have been privileged to hear many personal stories about the deep commitment people feel toward their parish. I remember a young woman recounting when she became a single parent and how her parish rallied around her providing on-going emotional support, as well as sometimes buying diapers and assisting with baby-sitting her daughter. To this woman, her parish literally became her support network and extended family.
In every workshop I do on legacy giving from one’s estate, there is one I phrase I say consistently: “When someone makes a planned gift of any kind to their parish, that person raises their congregation to the level of family in their estate plans”. Such a gift demonstrates that someone believes so strongly in the mission and ministry of his/her parish, that they would elevate them to the same status as one of their children or grandchildren for the eventual distribution of their worldly goods. Such a gift is not a simple token but demonstrates tremendous passion and conviction for the future ministry of the parish.
When someone makes this choice -- whether a bequest, remaining IRA balance, insurance policy or residuum of a Charitable Remainder Trust or Gift Annuity – that person offers a testimony: “I want to support my parish’s future ministry and to continue to participate in the mission which became so vital during my lifetime.”
My grandfather’s bedtime prayer was the Apostles’ Creed. Knowing that it held this special place in the heart of the man who held a special place in mine made me pay close attention to the words, regardless of the setting, throughout my life. I grew up in the Presbyterian Church, and the Apostles Creed was part of our weekly worship. Nonetheless, for me it was always a love-laced prayer.
Years later, now an Episcopal priest, I am often aware of a contrasting experience of the Creed in liturgy. First, it is the Nicene Creed rather than the Apostles. I know the Apostles Creed is the creed of baptism, and therefore more personal, and the Nicene Creed is more corporate, the “faith of the Church”, meant to be said by the whole congregation. It’s not a prayer.
Liturgically, The Nicene Creed follows the sermon (and sometimes serves as a corrective to the sermon!). It usually begins without introduction, beyond, in some places, an invitation to stand. It is a proclamation, declared with boldness by those gathered, kind of like a pledge of allegiance. This is what we believe!
Whether in capital campaign mode or not, annual giving is the primary source for funding the annual budget for most churches. Here are ten actions taken by churches that resulted in real increases in annual giving: