Churches and the personal debt crisis

The Washington Post reports on how churches are addressing the debt crisis in the US:

With the country on the cusp of a recession and many people burdened by the mortgage foreclosure crisis, skyrocketing gas prices and rising grocery bills, religious leaders across the Washington region are increasingly ministering to their members about financial responsibility, encouraging them to control their spending.

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The purposeful work of healing

The Alban Institute discusses the work of afterpastors, who are interim pastors specifically trained to deal with congregations who have experienced a betrayal of pastoral trust. The work is often very stressful for the afterpastors themselves as they absorb the unresolved and unnamed emotions of the congregants.

The term "betrayal of pastoral trust" refers to serious professional misconduct by the ordained leadership of a congregation. This violation could be an instance of sexual abuse or misconduct by clergy or it could be a financial misconduct such as an embezzlement or some other professional violation within their parish.

Afterpastors, or clergy who minister in the aftermath of betrayal of pastoral trust, are challenged with a complex and stressful set of circumstances as they assume the leadership of the troubled congregations their predecessors have left behind. The relationships and interactions in their ministries are frequently characterized by distrust and suspicion. Afterpastors often feel misheard or unheard by lay leaders and congregants, and they often report feeling manipulated, coerced, and sabotaged by lay leaders or seeing their decisions co-opted or corrupted by poor process or underhanded leadership. And many say they are often criticized without cause or unwarrantedly berated for incompetence.

Nearly all afterpastors describe a general reactivity to their presence or position that encumbers their work and relationships. And some describe reactivity so acute that it makes them lightning rods for every upset, conflict, and complaint—large or small—in the congregation.

More often, afterpastors are triangulated in petty, perennial conflicts or caught in webs of mixed messages. Communications are characterized by boundary challenges, power struggles, threats, and coercion. Each requires considerable perspective, diligence, objectivity, and grace from the afterpastor, lest he or she become entangled in the dynamics.

Read more here.

Fallacies of planning

Dan Hotchkiss of the Alban Institute writes:

The classic way to demonstrate loss aversion is to ask two groups of people to choose between alternative plans for vaccinating people against a disease. Without vaccine, the disease will kill 600 people. One group has to choose between a vaccine that definitely will save 200 and another that has only a one-third chance of saving everyone. Most people, given this choice, choose the first vaccine.

The second group is asked to choose between a vaccine that will definitely let 400 people die, and another that has only a two-thirds chance of letting all 600 die. Given these options, most people choose the latter, even though the only difference is that this time the choice is expressed in terms of a loss (letting people die) instead of a gain (saving people). We are more willing to take risks in order to avoid losses than to achieve gains.

This helps explain why new ideas face such an uphill battle for acceptance in most congregations, while old ideas persist unquestioned. Remaining in a familiar building or continuing a cherished worship style does not feel risky even though there may be good reason to believe that doing so may limit our potential to attract new members. Moving to a new location or changing our worship style, by contrast, feels extremely risky because it involves the immediate loss of something we have now. In reality, the risk of clinging to the old may be much greater than the risk of trying something new.

Another related concept is the “sunk-cost fallacy” or “gambler’s mistake.” For a gambler, this is the idea that if you bet a lot of money on a hand, you’d better keep on betting to avoid losing the money you have put into the pot. For congregations, it may be a matter of sticking with a strategy (like browbeating people for their stinginess) long after it has repeatedly proved unsuccessful. In part, this is a simple matter of saving face: so long as you keep on trying, you can blame other people or circumstances for your failure. But as soon as you wise up and quit, you have to admit you’ve made a mistake.

Read it all.

Communities of intentional practice

Wayne Whitson Floyd over at Alban Institute discusses the vitality of congregations. What makes a congregation vital? Common faith? Common cause? Common story or experience? Shared heritage? Does the emotional intensity of the worship or the fervency of the preaching make for a vital congregation?

By contrast, Julia Duin at the Washington Times describes how evangelical churches, which everyone thought were growing like topsy, are shrinking partly because they don't appear to be paying attention to the basics.

Floyd says that a vital congregation is a community of intentional practice, which he says is not a new idea but a very ancient one in the Christian experience.

In my experience, vital congregations are more than a collection of individuals drawn together by similar personal experiences and needs that in turn are expressed through common beliefs or by similar styles of religious life. Vital congregations are communities of practice, where we immerse ourselves in those “patterns of communal action,” that in Craig Dykstra’s words “create openings in our lives where the grace, mercy and presence of God may be made known to us.”

Far from being a recent innovation, “spiritual practice” is actually one of the oldest ways to describe the formation and nurture of God’s people for faithful living. Sabbath-keeping, for example, is according to the Hebrew Scriptures a practice that helps us to pattern the rhythms of our own lives on the creative rhythms of God at work in the world. Or in the Celtic church of pre-Roman Christianity in England, the practice of leadership by monastic abbots occurred not only through teaching, but even more importantly by means of personal example of the spiritual practices of the monastery. Here monks practiced the habitus, or habits, of life and worship that kept alive the vitality of the Christian way of life during what would be a long, dark age.

When congregations attend to becoming communities of spiritual practice, we learn that faithful living is more than going out and doing what people are taught on Sunday. Rather, during every day of our lives, faithful people are who they are today, because they have long practiced faithful virtues as members of intentional communities of faith.

Becoming an intentional community of spiritual practice involves the reinvigoration of what are really quite traditional ways of faithful life in community.

Meanwhile, Duin talks about the experience of people in her circle of friends who have stopped going to their evangelical churches. One church could not organize a consistent way to get a disabled man to church. A single mom talked about her sense of isolation. Another felt that the congregations he experienced nurtured spiritual immaturity.

Religious attendance fell from 41 percent in 1971 to 31 percent in 2002, according to a survey sponsored by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. For years, Gallup polls have shown American church attendance hovering at 43 percent of the population, which would mean 129 million out of an estimated 300 million Americans at the end of 2006. However, two 2005 studies, one by sociologists C. Kirk Hadaway and Penny Long Marler and the other by Dave Olson, a researcher for the Evangelical Covenant Church, show that a more accurate attendance percentage is in the 18th to 20th percentile, half of what Gallup shows.

A significantly smaller number of Americans "are participating in the most basic Christian practices: the weekly gathering for worship, teaching, prayer and fellowship," Mr. Olson said in the April 2006 issue of Christianity Today.

Mr. Hadaway and Ms. Marler faulted the complexities of American life - exhaustion, traffic, two working parents, even children's soccer games increasingly getting scheduled on Sundays - as the main reason people give themselves much more leniency in skipping church.

Over at the site Practicing Our Faith, an intentional spiritual practice is defined as:

Christian practices are things Christian people do together over time to address fundamental human needs in the light of and in response to God's grace to all creation through Christ Jesus.

When we live the practices of Christian faith, we join together with one another, with Jesus, and with the communion of saints across time and space in a way of life that resists death in all its forms - a way of life that is spilling over with the Life of God for creation, for our neighbors, and for ourselves....

....Practices point beyond the individualism of the dominant culture to disclose the social (i.e., shared) quality of our lives, and especially the social quality of Christian life, theology, and spirituality. Our thinking and living take place in relation to God and also to one another, to others around the world and across the centuries, and to a vast communion of saints.

Floyd describes five practices which, when focused on with intentionality, makes for a vital congregation.

The Practice of Discernment, by which I mean discovering who we are in God’s sight—that our primary vocational calling is simply to be the creatures we have been created to be—in relationship, in community, celebrating the goodness of God’s creation...

The Practice of Story-Telling. The stories we tell about ourselves and about God have the capacity to shape—or to inhibit—the people we can become and the lives we can lead...

...If this is true about the practice of telling our personal stories, it is even more crucial for the practice of telling the stories of God—the Practice of Proclamation...

...These stories open up, or close off, the very Practice of Hospitality that we envision for congregational life. Are we merely tolerant of those who are strangers or different from us? Or do we attempt to be inclusive? Or can we go further to risk “radical hospitality,”—moving from mere inclusion to what theologian Miroslav Volf calls “embrace,” or what Adelle Frank at the Church of the Bretheren describes as “intentional vulnerability,” which is what Benedictine Sister Joan Chittester means, I think, when she speaks of living “without clenched fists”?...

...One spiritual practice, as we see, always leads to another, in this case hospitality turning out to be the twin of the Practice of Service....

Read: The Washington Times: Americans leaving churches in droves

Read: The Valparaiso Project on the Education and Formation of People in Faith: What are Christian Practices?

Read: The Alban Institute: Vital Congregations as Intentional Communities of Practice.

Planning as holy conversation

The Alban Institute's topic of the week is planning in the congregational setting. Gill Rendle and Alice Mann write:

Planning can be challenging in the contemporary congregation, where people share a common faith and values but may have very different preferences and needs. Some leaders want to reach out to potential members of the congregation, while others would prefer to direct resources to support current members. Some desire help for their own spiritual growth, while others would like a congregational initiative to address community issues that might shape or support other people. Some want to emphasize ministry with youth, while others hope for help in developing small sharing groups for adults. Some want change. Some want stability. The conversation about what a congregation is to do and where it will direct its resources can be quite complex.

What is a leader to do? How do you negotiate all of the preferences and opinions in order to come up with a plan that all agree with and are willing to support and work on?

Seeing what we say

For people who believe that they are created in the image of God and follow the Logos, we can be very naive about our communications. Lynne Baab says that for our communications--both among ourselves and to those outside our churches--to be effective, we have to look at the whole picture and then, from time to time, evaluate what that picture is really saying.

Conveying a congregation's identity and values clearly and through a variety of means of communication will help the congregation connect to the community around it. At the same time, clear expressions of values and identity will also have a deep impact on the congregation itself. The people involved in a congregation are shaped by what they hear about that congregation. Their expectations for the life of faith and for their involvement in the community are influenced by the ways in which the congregation talks about itself and its values.

For decades congregational leaders have been making decisions—both consciously and unconsciously—about identity and values and how they are communicated. The nine myths below lay out some of the underlying issues that may influence these choices and their effectiveness.

Myth 1: We've got a mission statement, so we've figured out who we are.
Leaders and members are tempted to believe that once a mission statement is in place, the congregation can get on with doing ministry. A mission statement, however, is simply one small way among many that a congregation can communicate its heart and soul. In fact, everything about a congregation communicates. Its bulletin, newsletter, and website may include its mission statement, but the photos, layout, and additional text also contribute to the reader's perception of who the congregation is. The actions of a congregation—its worship style, preaching, ministries, and mission activities—speak of its DNA, its story.

Myth 2: Our identity is rooted in our faith.
Leaders and members are tempted to believe they don't need to spend time considering the specific identity of their congregation because they assume their faith values provide the DNA for their congregation.

Myth 3: If we focus too much on figuring out our own identity, we may become self-absorbed.
While focusing on it all the time would definitely cause an imbalance, many congregations are already out of balance in that they focus too little on the way their actions, publications, and use of symbols communicate their priorities and the distinctiveness of who they are. "Who are we and what are we about?" is a key question that needs to be front and center for all congregations.

Myth 4: We don't need to think any further about the implications of new communication technology because we already use it well.
Focusing on the deeper questions, the issues that lie behind the use of new technologies, is important. Congregational leaders need to consider how everything the congregation does—communication technologies as well as things like programming and the use of physical space in the building—speaks about the congregation's priorities.

Myth 5: We're a traditional congregation, and we have chosen not to use most of the new communication technologies. We've figured out our identity; it's the same as it's always been, so why complicate things?

Myth 6: We avoid the new technologies because we're leery of the consumer culture, and we don't want our congregation and even our faith to turn into yet one more consumer item.
I see congregational identity as an issue that relates to much more than selling something. Very simply, everything we say and do communicates what we consider to be important, and what congregations communicate about faith values shapes how members act on their faith. Therefore, from time to time, congregations need to stop and evaluate what they are communicating.

Myth 7: Our congregational values are being communicated effectively through words. Our pastor and leaders preach the sermons and put a lot of thought into the words used in our newsletter and on our website.
Much of Jewish and Christian tradition is strongly word oriented, emphasizing the significance of words over images. With the move away from a word-based to an image-based culture, leaders of congregations need to do some careful thinking about the role of visual communication in our time.

Myth 8: We've got a great Web designer and newsletter editor, and our newsletter and website are terrific.
I believe that all the new communication technologies have created the necessity for "critical friends," people who understand the importance of the new forms of communication for congregations and, at the same time, are willing to look at those forms with a critical eye. These critical friends pay attention to the congregation's websites, blogs, projection screens, and other forms of communication that have a large visual component to see if the visuals harmonize with the words used and whether the verbal and visual components together communicate important values about the congregation.

Myth 9: If your heart is in the right place, communication takes care of itself.
(It is true that...) Faith values cannot be communicated if no faith values are present. But Babb does not agree that the result of a vibrant faith is that all communication will automatically be okay. Just as individuals with good intentions can benefit from learning listening skills for their personal relationships and speaking skills for their oral communication, so congregations can benefit from considering the implications of the ways they communicate and what they are communicating.

Which of these nine myths best describe the situation in your congregation?

The messy work of renewal

From The Alban Institute:

If you've ever remodeled a house while attempting to live in it, you have a sense of the chaos and complexity of congregational renewal. It will take far longer, cost you more, and prove messier than you ever imagined at the start. People who have worked with both church starts and church renewal will tell you that starting a church is easy compared to renewing one. The difficulty lies in the work itself. Pogo's line holds true here: "We have met the enemy and he is us."

The church seeking renewal must look beyond simply improving its programs and its building, though both may ultimately be changed. Pastors and laity leading renewal in their declining congregations are asking people to make fundamental shifts in their perspectives, their attitudes, and their behaviors. The work demands a great deal from a people and a pastor.

Continue reading "The Messy Work of Renewal" by Daniel P. Smith and Mary K. Sellon

Obtaining grant funding for ministry

In rough economic times, congregations look for ways to meet the costs of upkeep, programs and ministries. If these are directed towards the wider community, like soup kitchens, counseling centers, tutoring programs and youth drop in centers, congregational leaders and clergy wonder if it is possible to obtain grants.

Joy Skjegstad writes for the Alban Institute:

Pastors and ministry leaders are always asking me whether grants are available to fund the work of their congregations, and this question is arising more during these difficult economic times. Congregations that are having a difficult time meeting budget with gifts from inside the congregation are increasingly looking to outside sources for help.

So, is there grant funding out there for your church? I always answer: “It depends.” Whether you can secure grants for your congregation will depend on a number of factors, including:

* how closely your mission matches the funder’s mission (the most important factor)
* the results that your programs achieve
* whether there is spiritual content in the programs you seek to get funded and how the funder feels about that
* the ability of your church to actually do what you’ve set out to do, as measured by the qualification of your staff members and volunteers and the experience the congregation has implementing these types of programs

Paying attention to what funders are looking for and preparing strong grant proposals is even more important during these difficult economic times. Most foundations and corporations have less money to give away—profits are down for many companies and foundation endowments are worth much less than they were a year ago. So, with the same number of (or more) groups competing for less grant money, responding to the issues identified here will greatly increase your chances of being funded.

Before deciding to seek grant funding, keep in mind that many grants are made by foundations and corporations that are not interested in the spiritual dimension of programs. Some funding groups are even prohibited from funding religious organizations by their own bylaws. Take corporations that make grants to community programs, for instance. Because corporations have such a wide range of stakeholders—employees, customers, stockholders, and senior executives (and often many others)—many of them resist making grants to programs with religious or spiritual content for fear of alienating one or more of these key constituencies.

Another thing to keep in mind is that foundation and corporate funders typically want to support programs that benefit the broader community, not just an exclusive group of people like the members of a particular congregation or denomination. So regular church expenses like worship, pastoral care, Sunday school, and maintenance of your sanctuary usually won’t be eligible for grant funding (exceptions to this include grant support from denominations and funders like the Lilly Foundation that focus on building the capacity of congregations and pastors).

Read the rest here.

To add members, reduce pews

The New York Times highlights the struggle of St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Westchester County to survive, including a successful effort to make the church more welcoming by removing some pews:

“Fifty years ago, everybody used to go to church,” Mr. de Leeuw, the rector, said, smiling at about 50 people gathered in his 22 remaining pews last Sunday. “The sense of obligation people had is gone, but maybe that’s a good thing. Those of us who gather here are here because we want to be.”

Such dogged optimism helps him and his congregation stay focused on a difficult task: bringing their 80-year-old church back from the brink. Once the spiritual home to more than 1,000 worshipers, St. Bart’s is down to a few dozen members and up to $300,000 in debt.

. . .

By rearranging furniture, wearing name tags and warmly greeting visitors, the members of St. Bart’s are on the right track, said the Rev. Nicholas Lang, the rector at St. Paul’s on the Green in Norwalk, Conn., whose congregation has grown to 450 members from 50 in 15 years.

“The Episcopal Church is facing problems nationally, but changes have to be made on a local level, because that’s where people connect to a church,” he said of his advisory visits last year to St. Bart’s and six similarly struggling churches in Connecticut and New Jersey.

Those sticking it out at St. Bart’s say Mr. de Leeuw’s initiatives have begun to attract some younger families, bringing the weekly Sunday school and nursery program attendance up to a dozen this year. At their annual meeting last week, church members listened attentively to the rector’s requests for creative ideas to raise the church’s profile, ranging from potluck suppers to starting a motorcycle gang.

Read it all here.

The optimal level of conflict

David R. Brubaker writes in this weeks Alban Institute e-newsletter that conflict is normal in every organization. Some disagreement and conflict provides energy and generates ideas but it is like Goldilock's porridge: organizations thrive when conflict is not too hot and not too cold but just right.

First, leaders need to move toward conflict, not away from it. Leaders who learn to move toward conflict discover that they have opportunities to resolve issues when those issues are small, rather than attempting to fight fires when they are nearly out of control.

Second, the identified issue is almost never the real issue. The allegation from the Greek-speaking minority that their "widows were being overlooked" in the daily food distribution was indeed a compelling one, but it likely was a proxy for a deeper feeling of powerlessness and alienation among the Hellenist members of the early church. All the significant leadership positions (apostles) were held by the Aramaic-speaking majority, and the minority did not know how to exercise their voice other than through "murmuring."

Third, involve the "complainers" in solving their identified problems. Note that the apostles did not agree to take care of the problem that had been identified. Rather, they recruited members of the murmuring minority to address the problem. This outcome actually created a new role in the church--that of deacon.

Read it all here, especially Brubakers study of the Book of Acts which may make for a useful Bible study with congregational leadership.

Looking for "burning bush" moments in Lent

Looking for "burning bush" moments in daily life is an idea for the Lenten spiritual practice of Cathleen Falsani, writing in the Chicago Sun-Times. Her priest sparked this idea in a sermon on Lent.

"How can you mark this time before Easter as a special time of year, a time to examine your life and what controls it," Mother Katie asked. "What will help you proclaim to others that you have . . . are listening to the world around you?"

She also talked about the fleeting, glorious moments the Celts called "thin moments," in which the veil between this world and the spirit world seems almost transparent. These are the times when God reaches God's hands into the world and tries to get our attention.

"We are called to listen," Mother Katie said, "to look at the world as it is, not just as we would have it to be."

An example of her discovery:

As soon as I decided to add flaming-bush-spotting as my Lenten spiritual practice, I spotted one. In an ad in the church bulletin for a book club, I noticed the name Dianne Hunter. My husband and I are relatively new to this parish. We know a few people, but there are many we have yet to meet. While I didn't have a face for it, this name was familiar.

Dianne Hunter is public relations director for Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago. More important, she is the woman who came forward in November 2007, when I first wrote about Vasco Sylvester, the little boy from Malawi who needs life-saving heart surgery, to offer her help. In short order, she organized doctors from three Chicago hospitals to donate their time and expertise to treat Vasco for free.

Cathleen Falsani keeps the blog The Dude Abides and author of several books, including Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace.

Saturday collection 02/28/09

Here is a collection of some of the good things that Episcopalians and their congregations that have made the news in their communities this past week.

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Church foreclosure rate rising

Young congregations are struggling across this country as their physical plant's construction debt, created when the economy was booming, is suddenly becoming a major drag on their ability to provide the programs that were fueling their growth.

According to this AP article:

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Episcopal services resume at Tejon St. property on Palm Sunday

Update, 5pm: The Gazette reports,

A judge on Wednesday ordered the Anglican parish that's been meeting at Grace Church, 631 N. Tejon St., to vacate the building by April 3 at 5 p.m., setting the stage for the exiled Grace and St. Stephen's Episcopal parish to hold its first service in the gothic church on Palm Sunday.

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San Diego Episcopalians home for Easter

Episcopal Life Online reports "..after meeting in a local community center for two and a half years, members of St. John's Episcopal Church in Fallbrook in the Diocese of San Diego will celebrate Easter back in their church home."

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Taking from the offering plate

Tough times call for creative solutions. A Texas congregation has responded to local needs by inviting people who need to do so, to help themselves to the offering plate as it passes by them.

But their generosity hasn't been limited to those who attend Sunday worship:

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Dean tightening church's belt

The Arizona Republic reports on churches and the economy featuring The Lead's own Nick Knisely and Trinity Cathedral where he serves as Dean.

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A congregation's asset is its people

Whose job is it to build up the church? Daniel P. Smith and Mary K. Sellon write:

"Finances are tight, and our numbers are dwindling. The congregation is looking to me to turn things around. So is my denomination—that's exactly what I was told when I was appointed here. And, frankly, that's my expectation too. Isn't that my job?" says a pastor of a congregation that has been experiencing decline for many years, voicing the belief of many congregations, denominations, and pastors that when a congregation is declining, it is the pastor's job to fix it.

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Leading congregations in times of anxiety

This week the Alban Institute is featuring a resource and discussion on how clergy can effectively minister in congregations experiencing significant anxiety about their future.

A key insight is the appropriation to congregation life of lessons taken from attachment therapy:

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Saturday collection 9/19

Here is our weekly collection plate of a few of the good things that Episcopalians and their congregations have done that made the news this past week. And other news fit to print.

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The Saturday collection 10/3

Here is our weekly collection plate of a few of the good things that Episcopalians and their congregations have done that made the news this past week. And other news fit to print. There seems to be a lot of good stuff going on in Michigan.

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One of the world's better known vegetable gardens

Religion and Ethics Newsweekly visits St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Bethesda, Md. The Washington Post

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An SC plea to stay together

We see a lot of letters-to-the-editor decrying the imperiled status of our parishes/dioceses/TEC, but this one struck us as being particularly and notably impassioned and well-reasoned:

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Saturday collection 10/10/09

Here is our weekly look at just some of the good stuff going on in The Episcopal Church:

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St. John's, a church down the street, does fine by the Obamas

President Obama and his family attended the service this morning at St. John's Church (Episcopal), a leisurely stroll across Lafayette Square.

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How one 'All Souls' congregation marks today, tomorrow

If you go to a St. Paul's, say, or a St. Luke's, mixing a patronal feast is a snap: transfer the day on your church calendar if need be, stir in the readings from the proper of a saint, plug in the appropriate verse from "By all your saints still striving," and you have due celebration.

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Patron saint of bicycles shrine in Portland OR

The Oregonian reports on the nation's first shrine to the patron saint of bicycles and memorializing those who have died in bicycle accidents:

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Vandalism against All Saints, Chicago: video

Video from NBC Chicago on vandalism at All Saints Church in Ravenswood, IL. The rector, the Rev. Bonnie Perry does not believe her sexual orientation and partnership status is a factor.

Watch video below:

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Diocese of New Westminster: Trial Results

Results of a property dispute in the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster are in, and the results affirm that "a parish does not have authority to unilaterally leave the Diocese."

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Porous floors and changed lives

When James Warren heard that his column in the New York Times describing All Saints Episcopal Church on Chicago's North Side and their ministry to the homeless might have motivated someone to vandalize the church, he felt terrible.

But when he visited the church, he found forgiveness and the ministry going forward. The Rev. Bonnie Perry reminded her congregation of the porous floorboards and “mud pit” in the basement. “That’s why I give 10 percent of my salary to this place each year," she said. "The floorboards are porous, and we change people’s lives.”

Warren writes:

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A virtual parking lot?

Susan Nienaber of Alban Institute wonders if email has become the new "parking lot?"

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Managing polarity in the 21st century

So much of congregational conflict these days seems to stem from either/or arguments within the congregation or even denomination. Are we to be faithful to traditional biblical teaching or are we to be progressive and seek new ways to understand that teaching? Are we to stick with what has worked in our congregation over the past century, especially in difficult times, or shall we risk radical change in response to the same difficulties?

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Haiti: one Washington church's response

Marcy Ference, Haiti Partnership program coordinator at St. Patrick's Episcopal Church in northwest Washington, D. C. is featured in Religion and Ethics Newsweekly's coverage of the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti. St. Patrick's is also the subject of the online feature below:

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Stress, conflict and why congregations need them

Writing for the Alban Institute, Jeffrey D. Jones advances the counterintuitive notion that stress and conflict are good for congregations:

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Of beach clubs and life-saving stations

The Rev. Tom Brackett, the Episcopal Church's Officer for Church Planting and Ministry Redevelopment, was scheduled to give the keynote address at the Diocese of Washington's annual convention Saturday, but due to a snow storm, he was able to speak only briefly. Yesterday, he wrote out the presentation he was planning to make from notes and a Powerpoint. It is well worth a read. To make complete sense of it, however, you will want to read the Parable of the Life-Saving Station by clicking Read more.

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When to adopt new technology

Dan Hotchkiss, writing for the Alban Institute considers the question of when congregations should acquire new technology:

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Saturday Collection 2/6/10

The most eye catching story of the week comes from the Wilmington North Carolina area congregation of Holy Cross. It's a new church plant. But there were some serious obstacles to overcome before it begin to worship in its own sacred space:

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Church roof succumbs to snow, tree limb

This weekend's major weather maker was a snow storm that left Washington, D.C., bedraggled under 32 inches of the white stuff.

Among those stung by the storm was Joshua Temple Church in northeast Washington, whose congregants were not in the building when its roof collapsed under snow and a falling tree limb, Constance Rowe, the pastor's spouse, told The Washington Post.

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The power of a good story

Larry A. Golemon writing for the Alban Institute:

While stories of faith are second nature to local congregations, American popular culture has learned to exploit them in powerful ways.

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You are how you eat

Gathering around a table for a shared meal is at the heart of what it means to be a faithful person in community. There is a bright line that moves from the communal meal to the sharing of food with the sojourner to the seder to the eucharist. Sometimes the highly stylized and symbolic meal in a gothic church can obscure the fact that at the heart of the action is a meal.

St. Lydia's church in Manhattan is a gathering that grows out of the Episcopal and Lutheran traditions that meets around dinner.

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Believe out loud makes it debut

Peter Laarman writes at Religion Dispatches:

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Doing the things we aren't so good at

John A. Berntsen writing for the Alban Institute:

There's a commonplace ministry experience I've found that many of us don't want to talk about. Every day we have to do things we're no good at. Our prospects for improvement are slim, yet we're rightly called on to do them. Say what you want about our spiritual gifts working harmoniously within the context of a suitably matched ministry. I know of very few such matches that are truly made in heaven. At best, the match is always approximate.

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Tentmakers popping up in otherwise traditional churches

The Hartford Courant has featured Episcopal clergy who share clerical duties in a part-time setting.

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Decline, and what to do about it

Mary Frances Schjonberg writes for Episcopal News Service:

The Episcopal Church's Executive Council heard here Feb. 21 that church membership and Sunday attendance continued to decline in 2008, but also heard a call for the church to promote knowledge of the characteristics of growing congregations.

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Saturday Collection 2/27/2010

The daily and weekly work of the Episcopal Church done primarily in its parishes and missions continues apace this week. A priest is recognized for his work in founding a ministry that supports many in Atlanta. Congregations are featured online for their ongoing feeding ministries, for their work housing the homeless, and for the support of life changing programs that support teens on the other side of the world.

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Failure to thrive

Roy Oswald and Barry Johnson discuss "Failure to Thrive" in this week's missive from the
Alban Institute

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Saturday Collection 3/13/2010

This week's collection of stories seems to focus on the ways that Episcopal churches are managing to cross the lines to build bridges between people of different denominations through their outreach ministry, between the sacred and secular and the ancient and the modern.

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The Interim: Is it a good idea?

John Vonhof for the Alban Institute:

The interim period, in simplest terms, is the time between pastors. This period is, however, far from simple. The church must continue to function. Worship needs to happen. The board must lead. The staff continues to work. Members must be taught and cared for. Visitors and new members must be introduced to the life of the church. It is here that an interim pastor fits into the plans of your congregation during the clergy leadership vacancy and the search process.

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Quit thinking of your church as a family

Consulting firm to congregation: “The most important thing (Name of Church) will ever do is end whatever amount of ongoing conflict exists as well as quit thinking like a family.”

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Saturday Collection 03/20/2010

We're in the last few weeks of Lent right now and starting to turn our thoughts toward Holy Week and the great celebration of the Easter Feast. There are a number of stories this week about congregations in the Episcopal Church doing extraordinary things for Lent. And a few about how the congregations are planning on new ministries in the coming Spring.

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Church can't only be about comfort and agreement

Wesley J. Wildman and Stephen Chapin Garner writing for the Alban Institute:

The first great test of the liberal-evangelical church, and of your moderate and radical Christian faith, occurs when you face conflict and difference in your community. Can you sit next to someone who will vote oppositely to you on the question of gay marriage and still move forward together to celebrate Communion?

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Saturday Collection 03/27/2010

If your congregations are anything like the ones of the Café's newsteam, you're probably seeing a slowing down in programs as they gear up for Holy Week. The staff are shooting worried looks at the copy machines as they chug along producing piles and piles of bulletins. Clergy are locked in their offices trying to get a good start on all the sermons they'll be preaching. Communicators are making sure websites, newspaper ads and outdoor banners all have the correct service schedule times.

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Jim Kelsey and the challenge of "baptismal living"

Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook and Fredrica Harris Thompsett quote Jim Kelsey, the late Bishop of Northern Michigan in an article about the ministry of the baptized for the Alban Institute:

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Blessing of bicycles

More bicycle news today from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. From the cathedral Facebook page:

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Expecting too much too soon.

Wiriting for the Alban Institute, Dan Hotchkiss warns congregational leaders not to expect too much too soon when they initiate changes:

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Ghost bike given home in shrine

The Oregonian reports that a St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Portland, OR has given the "ghost bike" a home in its bicycle shrine.

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Why partnerships are the future of the American congregation

Wayne Whitson Floyd, writing for the Alban Institute:

[W]hy are church gatherings so likely to be homogenous—meetings of the like-minded, celebrations of sameness? Why are churches so often the poster children of the post-modern epidemic of sandbox-intolerance and bad manners?

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Can prophets be civil?

Howard E. Friend, Jr, writes:

I remember a workshop participant at a church with a history of tension and discord, who even as she said these words laughed at herself, "I wish we could do everything with graciousness and goodwill like they did in the Bible."

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Should we be growing? (Do we have to ask?)

Alice Mann, author of Raising the Roof: the Pastoral to Program Size Transition has written a new essay for the Alban Institute:

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Joblessness hits the pulpit: Is there severance?

There have been a number of articles recently on unemployment and long spells of unemployment amongst clergy. The latest appears in the Wall Street Journal

While the economy appears to be recovering from the worst downturn in generations, more clergy are facing unemployment as churches continue to struggle with drops in donations. In 2009, the government counted about 5,000 clergy looking for jobs, up from 3,000 in 2007 and 2,000 in 2005.

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It can be done: Attracting young adults to your church

Sarah Drummond tells this story in this week's email from the Alban Institute:

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Congregations as a source of emotional support

Penny Edgell reports on her research findings concerning congregations as a source of emotional support for individuals:

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Bosco Peters on why church announcements are so garish

Bosco Peters on why church announcements are so garish (Jesus himself asked, "Have you not read?")

Stripping worship back to the bare essentials.
Less IS more.
From Bosco Peters at Liturgy: Worship that works - spirituality that connects blog

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Managing the Body of Christ

Leading a congregation is one of those things that's hard to prepare to do. Seminary only briefly touches on the sort of work that fills the day of most parish priests. Curacy positions are getting harder to find as congregations eliminate staff to balance budgets and that means fewer chances to serve an apprenticeship. So most clergy get thrown into the deep end of their first parish and struggle to stay afloat.

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Serving a local Hmong crowd, translators serve the world

Holy Apostles Episcopal Church in St. Paul, Minn., is home to a congregation of Hmong - by now, second-generation American Hmong, who fled Communist takeover of the Kingdom of Laos in 1975.

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Ministry in the eye of the debate

Episcopal News Service describes the ministry of Trinity Cathedral in Phoenix, where the city's oldest Hispanic barrio meets the first Anglo suburbs.

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The Vision to Embrace Change

Alban Institute addresses the need to acquire vision in order to move into necessary change. Vision involves seeing both the past and the future:

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Silenced by your archbishop? Find another way to say it

Last week's Gay Pride parade in New York City featured the usual marching of parishioners of St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church, CNN reports, but this year's parade forced congregants to think outside the box after Archbishop Timothy Dolan asked that the church not carry its name on a banner.

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Pastors and church musicians: friends, foes, or...

The Alban Institute's Weekly Roundtable blog takes on the vital question of the relationship between pastor and church musician:

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How's the coffee at your church?

An opinion piece at Christian Today asks why we put up with less than the best when it comes to church, asking the question, "Why is church coffee so often bad?"

How's the coffee at your church?

Are we able to pursue excellence in all that we do at church?

Why is church coffee so often bad?

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Habits of highly successful churches

The Rev. James Cooper, rector of Trinity Church, Wall Street reflects on the Four Habits of Highly Successful Churches on the Trinity Church, Wall Street site.

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And speaking of burnout, what about lay volunteers?

Lynn Baab, writing for the Alban Institute says:

We expect our congregations to be places of health and healing, an oasis in the midst of the demands and stresses of daily life. Yet some people experience great pain in their congregations, pain that robs them of the comfort their faith could give them. Burnout is one kind of pain that goes against the very promise of congregational life.

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Church building fund responds to new challenges

The Episcopal Church Building Fund endeavors to respond to growing challenges of churches being strapped financially due to the expense of maintaining aging buildings.

Episcopal Church Building Fund offers new terms, new ideas
From Episcopal Life Online

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20-somethings. What is the church doing?

What's the church doing to reach out to people in their 20s? Too much, too little...are we hitting the mark at all?

Consider this New York Times article, making the rounds as people in their 20s post it on Facebook.

What do you think?

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Creating new frameworks for parish ministry

Writing at the Alban Institute's Roundtable blog, Claudia Greer, offers a helpful introduction to an essay by Carol Howard Merritt:

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Circumstance creates occasion for tolerance

What do you do when you're a thriving resort town with plenty of faithful people and no place to build all the churches you need? You build together, of course, in one spot, offering one model of architectural and communal integrity. That's what Vail, Colo., based Vail Interfaith Chapel has done as it has sought to serve the spiritual needs of its residents.

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People as primary ministry resources

Alban Institute explores ministry to and with people and the confusion between resources and goals:

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"Free" rectory for the taking

Need a rectory, a Goochland, Virginia church is giving one away. The only catch is that you need to move it offsite.

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45 years on, a college-serving congregation folds

Briefly, if sadly, noted: As the congregation of St. Stephen's in Reno, Nevada, prepares to shutter its doors in November, some traces of hope remain: even without their historic structure, members say they can still be Episcopalians who serve one another and care about where they live.

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How to avoid making a well-intentioned mess of personnel issues

Writing for the Alban Institute, Susan Beaumont wades into the neuralgic issue of personnel evaluation at the congregational level. Here are some pitfalls she says should be avoided:

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Calling clergy

The Episcopal Church's Office of Public Affairs has issued a press release on the church's Office of Transition Ministry which you can read below. I am wondering if it provides an opportunity for a Cafe community conversation about what the release refers to as the "calling process." How do priests end up where they end up? How well is this process working? How could it be improved?

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Tune up your church's web presence before Christmas Eve

The launch in mid-October of Vital Practices has yielded plenty of usable ideas. Case in point: a brief consideration of how parish web sites can welcome visitors on Christmas Eve with greater hospitality and more usable information.

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The church, the family and the individual

Justin Lewis-Anthony fashions a thought-provoking item out of a quote from Stanley Hauerwas:

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How to avoid lay ministry burnout

As we are in the midst of the busy season of Advent, and preparation for Christmas, churches are buzzing with activity and many tasks to do. It's a good time to consider Pastor Marty Cauley's reflections on how to avoid lay ministry burnout:

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The pastor as detective

Bruce Epperly, in this week's missive from the Alban Institute says:

New pastors are most successful in the transition from seminary to their first congregation when they expect and accept imperfection as an essential ingredient in the art of ministry.

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The time to change the way Vestries work has come

This month's Vestry Papers has been posted online. If you're not familiar with the Vestry Papers, and you have any role in the leadership of a parish or mission, you should be. They've been around for years and have provided a huge resource for vestry members who are learning about their ministry within the congregation.

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Dallas cathedral meets the challenge of change

From The Dallas Morning News:

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Court ruling may bring healing

Writing in the TimesRecordNews, Matt Ledesma offers comment that the property ruling in Ft. Worth, Texas could begin to heal the church divide and bring reconciliation:

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Wyverns and dolphins and gargling raccoons - oh my!

The Bay Citizen has profiled the grotesques at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral:

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Diocese of Virginia settles with Oatlands church

The Church of Our Savior, Oatlands, Virginia, has settled with the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia in its property dispute, a diocesan statement reports.

The diocese's statement follows, with our emphases in boldface.

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Transforming Churches: Trinity Cathedral, Phoenix

The Café's own Dean Nick Knisely and Trinity Cathedral in Phoenix AZ, thriving in the city:

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What shall we bless?

What shall we bless? Clergy are asked to bless all sorts of objects and beings, from Parrots to toilets, from shipyards to oranges and primroses. Writing in the Guardian, the Rev. David Chance wonders why the Church of England's hierarchy is so unwilling to bless those entering into civil partnerships – men and women who want God's blessing on their commitments.

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Expiration dates for volunteers

How shall we keep the priesthood of all believers working abundantly and joyfully? How shall we empower the ministry of the baptized without burning out good people? Dan Pezet proposes expiration dates for volunteers.

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What goes around comes around, or so we can hope

The Alban Institute features Carol Howard Merritt's analysis of the challenge mainline congregations face, and how they should respond, adapted from her book Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation:

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Can this church be saved?

Writing for the Alban Institute, Jeffrey D. Jones describes a feeling familiar to leaders of mainline denominations:

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Reflecting on the parish

At the ABC News Religion & Ethics blog, Stanley Hauerwas, Bruce Kaye and Allison Milbank reflect on the parish church:

By Stanley Hauerwas in Religion & Ethics

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Church vandalized, cross and candlesticks returned

The New Haven Register (CT) reports that the cross and candlesticks have been returned to the Episcopal Church of St. Paul and St. James.

The Rev. Alex Dyer, priest in charge of the church at Chapel and Olive streets, posted on Facebook that an altar cross and candlestick were returned.

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Closing churches

Charles M. Olsen offers this week's conversation starter from The Alban Institute: how do you close churches as painlessly as possible?

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Saving St. Cyprian's

On the heels of our last item about closing small churches, comes this item on saving small churches. Thanks to Sally Hicks at the Duke Divinity School's online magazine Faith & Leadership for pointing us to this package of stories by Bob Wells.

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Diocese of VA back in court

Blue Ridge Now reports on the continuing court case between the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and the break away congregations:

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"Tuscaloosa needs all the help it can get."

St. Matthias Episcopal Church is in the thick of relief efforts in tornado-stricken Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (And news of the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama's response is featured prominently on its homepage.)

From the Tuscaloosa News:

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Know thy neighborhood

For the Idea Pile: Members of Church of the Ascension in Twin Falls, Idaho, will spend part of Tuesday walking different routes in a one-mile radius in an effort to learn more about the area around their church building.

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Third Way for Congregations

Anthony Robinson of the Alban Institute believes "...there are perhaps ten important conversations that need to be deepened and sustained in their ongoing life."

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Your church's signatures

This thought-provoking reflection by the Rev. Canon Frank Logue caught our attention, "What are your church's two signatures?"

Your Church's Two Signatures
In Frank Logue's "Loose Canon" blog

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The Cluttered Church

Out with the bad, in with the good.

Church Juice says churches need to take the advice that Steve Jobs gave to Nike's CEO:

Jobs told Parker that Nike made some of the best products in the world. Stuff people desire. But they also make a bunch of crap, too. So Jobs said, “Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff.”

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Managing parishioner migration

As the Spring starts to turn into Summer, parishes in the warmer climates are waving goodbye to their winter-time members. And northern congregations are waving hello. The strong seasonal differences between the sizes of congregations presents some challenges to people left behind.

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New clergy and that first call

Writing for the Alban Weekly, Bruce G. Epperly says:

I often tell new pastors that ministry is a marathon, not a sprint.

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What business is your congregation in?

Unitarian minister Andy Pakula writes that once upon a time there was something know as the ice harvesting business. Then came refrigeration, and those who saw there business as carving up frozen ponds floundered, while those who saw their business as providing ice to homes and businesses prospered. Seeking a lesson for the contemporary church he asks:

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Worship, rubrics and common life

Bosco Peters proposes a new award: the face-palm Jesus. While we all might want to propose categories which would qualify for the prize, he talks specifically about liturgical practice.

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Change in small congregations

Change can be tough, and especially in small congregations. The Church Marketing Sucks blog has some helpful thoughts on change in small churches:

Tips for Implementing Change in Small Churches
From Church Marketing Sucks blog

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Changing times & congregational conflict quiz

The Faith and Leadership blog from Duke Divinity School is offering a quiz to test your knowledge of issues and trends related to congregational change:

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Are pastors "experts"?

Writing for the Alban Institute, Landon Whitsitt asks some provocative questions: to what extent are clergy "experts" at running a parish, and why don't search processes focus much on a candidate's administrative skills?

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The return of Saint James

The breakaway faction that thought it controlled the property of St. James, Penn Hills, in the Diocese of Pittsburgh has left the building. Now begins the hard work of rebuilding the parish. Lionel Diemel visited St. James on Sunday and liked what he saw.

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Arts Camp revitalizes congregation and community

The Oregonian showcases Grace Memorial Church (Portland, OR) summer arts camp:

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NFL settlement helps church in Nashville

Business owners and even a church in Middle Tennessee are "breathing a sigh of relief Monday that the NFL lockout is over" according to The Tennessean (Nashville TN):

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Churches respond to riots

Simon Morris reflects on the ways that the Tottenham riots brought out the best in his church:

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Should churches strive for excellence?

Should churches strive for excellence? Or, is this "not the church's way"? What are the ways that the church might strive for excellence and also avoid the pitfalls along the way?

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Neighbors draw on power of church

Read the following news report. Would you respond the same way as the church official?

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Why churches prefer loving mercy to doing justice?

Marilyn Sewell writing for the Huffington Post touches on a familiar, but nagging question. Why do churches feel more comfortable asking their members to give to charity than to advocate for change.

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Prayer and meetings

Richard Schmidt reflects on the role of prayer in vestry meetings in the ECF Vital Practices for Leading Congregations blog:

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Irene-struck sycamore tree pierces nave of Maryland church

Not much news has rolled in to the Café in the way of churches suffering damage related to Hurricane Irene, but this one caught our eye:

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Update on Vermont Episcopal Churches

Lynn Bates, the Diocese of Vermont's Canon to the Ordinary and Transition Minister, wrote the following letter that was posted on the Diocesan Webpage and on the website of Christ Church, Montpelier:

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Kill Committees

Derek Penwell, Disciples of Christ, writing at the DMergent blog reflects on church organization and whether we need to change the way we do the "business" of church:

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Three (Episcopal) cups of coffee?

Miguel Escobar was inspired by Fr. Tim Schenk's idea of "3 Cups of Coffee" and reflects on the thought that the church could cultivate a practice of "Three cups of coffee"...a slightly different take on Mortensen's "Three cups of tea":

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Using email to reach out to visitors

From the "Church Marketing Sucks" blog, this article suggests that email may be utilized to bring back new visitors. How does your church use (misuse?) email to reach out to visitors to your church?

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A turn to the parish benefice

In National Catholic Reporter, Tom Gallagher profiles some parishes that are moving to adapt their own practices of "making." The benefice model encourages churches to produce goods for sale - not merely because it helps even out the budget during times of economic distress, but also because it's close to the heart of what drives churches.

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"Safe Church" for social media

Sharon Ely Pearson writes on bulidingfaith:

As a church we have accepted the need to follow guidelines in how we conduct ourselves and our interactions with those we are called to ministry with – what has become known as “safe church practices.” Social media (aka: Facebook Twitter, YouTube and texting) also needs to be considered when determining boundaries and safe practices in ministry.

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Parish fights spreading online

The Internet give us extraordinary tools to communicate a message to a large group of people. In recent months this ability has started to cause the fall of governments and given new life to populist movements. But there's a downside. The anonymity of the Internet can allow people to take the every day squabbles of life and magnify their effects so that the community is seriously and quickly threaded.

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Being large: The advantage and challenges faced by big parishes

Writing for the Alban Institute, Susan Beaumont discusses the advantages and limitations of large parishes. The advantages are:

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Is your church healthy?

The Diocese of Texas has published The Twelve Marks of Healthy Church Behavior based on work by Mary MacGregor and Reb Scarborough, 2004, edited 2011. Areas include: worship, self knowledge, invitation and incorporation, discipling, stewardship, empowerment, accountability, out reach, culture of learning, communication, conflict management, and connectedness to wider church.

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When you leave - leave

The Rev. Dan Webster at Church Social Media Blog reports on a November 22 Twitter™ discussion of clergy cutting ties with people of their former cure:

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Congregation returns to Christ Church, Savannah on Dec. 12

The breakaway group at Christ Church, Savannah, GA, will return possession of the church to the Episcopal diocese and its local congregation at noon December 12th.

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How is tech helping and hurting the Church's mission?

Churches large and small are trying to figure out how best to use technology to support their mission in their communities. There's nothing terribly new about this, but the convergence of a rapidly changing society and hyper-rapid technological change is creating a situation where everybody is intentionally scrambling to catch up.

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The curse of "rational functionalism"

Writing for the Alban Institute, N. Graham Standish offers a diagnosis for what he believes is ailing the mainline Protestant churches. He calls it "rational functionalism", by which he means "the idea that we can uncover the mysteries of life and the universe mainly through rational thought and disciplined investigation."

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NZ congregation repeats seasonal billboard provocation

UPDATED: St. Matthew's is holding a caption contest for the billboard in question. Here's the image...

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Trinity Cathedral, Pittsburgh, is again an exclusively Episcopal cathedral

The Chapter of Trinity Cathedral in the city of Pittsburgh, PA has voted to end its dual relationship with both the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and and the Anglican Church of North America. It is now exclusively the cathedral of the Episcopal diocese.

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Happy to be of service

The Very Rev. Scott Richardson shares his enthusiasm for worship in the community of the Cathedral of St. Paul in San Diego, CA in SignOnSanDiego News:

The Very Rev. Scott Richardson stood at the doors of St. Paul’s Cathedral on Sunday, shaking hands with many of the 271 people filing out after the midmorning Christmas service in Hillcrest.

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Flinging the doors open wide

So if you were a rector, or the leader of an Episcopal congregation, this is the kind of story you'd want written about you and your church. It appeared in the Newark Star Ledger. Of course, you need to have a ministry that justifies the story.

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National Cathedral appoints interim dean

The Rev. Dr. Francis H. Wade will serve as interim dean of Washington National Cathedral, Episcopal News Service reports.

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Outward signs

One of the things I like about my parish is that while a few of the men come to the Eucharist dressed in jacket and tie, many people show up in jeans and sweaters. I am among the latter. It isn’t that I consider the Eucharist a casual affair, quite the opposite. But I need to step out of the costume I wear to establish my credentials as a person who should be taken seriously in the working world into clothes that allow me to present a humbler front to God.

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And one more story from Martin Luther King, Jr Day

From Morning Call:

A benefit brunch for the soup kitchen at Bethlehem's Trinity Episcopal Church honored Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but also dished up a delicious taste of black history Sunday, thanks to its added focus on Edna "Ma" Bragg.

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Diocese of Maryland reaches settlement with Anglican Use parish

The Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, bishop of Maryland, has announced settlement over real and personal property issues with an Anglican Use congregation, Mount Calvary in Baltimore.

He writes today:

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Bishop Sutton strikes conciliatory note in essay on ordinariate

Bishop Eugene Sutton of Maryland has written an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun about the recent comings and goings between the Episcopal Church and the Roman Catholic Church.

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How one parish made up its mind about same-sex blessings

Even if you aren't in the habit of visiting our Video blog, you might nonetheless appreciate this presentation of how one parish went about deciding whether to bless same-sex relationships.

The chuch and the Dodo bird

As The Episcopal Church begins the process of re-imagining itself, or at least its governing structures, we should pay special attention to those in the midst of a similar process. In this brief essay, Alison Boulton, a Baptist minister in England compares Christian churches to fat, flightless Dodo birds, and wonders if the time hasn't come to shed some weight.

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How to respond when a mistake happens

UPDATE: Letter from St. Paul's rector, see below.

St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Richmond Virginia agreed to host an event put on by the Sons of the Confederate Veterans. The event was to be a roundtable discussion on the topic of “Debunking the Myth of the White Confederate Military”. But sometime on Friday, the day of the event, the church canceled.

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St. Luke in the Fields insprires

The Huffington Post highlights the work of the St. Luke in the Fields, an Episcopal Church in lower Manhattan that makes radical welcome the center of their ministry.

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Guild meeting minutes from the 21st century

Plenty of churches' guilds and socieities have taken minutes of meetings in the past: so many teas, speakers, Bible studies, projects, and lists of kinds of sandwiches consumed.

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Downtown urban parishes, outreach, and the Great Recession

The Café's own Saturday blogger, The Very Rev. W. Nicholas Knisely, is among Phoenix religious leaders reflecting on continuing outreach and service in a tough economy for The Downtown Devil (an Arizona State University publication).

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Trinity Wall Street board members resign in protest

According to DNAinfo

Nearly half of the church's board of directors has resigned in the past six months in a dispute with its rector over the direction and mission of the 314-year-old Episcopal church, which became a symbol of downtown's resilience and recovery in the wake of 9/11.

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The problem trap

Alban Institute warns about getting caught in the "problem trap":

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Congregations and loss

Alban Institute discusses the effects of loss on congregations:

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Easter in a synagogue

Grace Episcopal Church in Charleston, VA, held their Easter worship in a local synagogue this week. The congregation at Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim Synagogue invited their neighbors to use their worship space while Grace recovers from damage suffered during an earthquake in 2011.

WCSC-TV reports:

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Women clergy shaping religion in US

Joshua Bolding in The Deseret News reports on the effect on churches of the growing number of women clergy:

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No loan takers so far

UPDATE: The link to the loan fund is here. Thanks to our commenters for asking.

A year ago we reported that there was $100,000 dollars in low interest loans available for any congregation to use to revision their building usage. As of yesterday, the money is still there. Apparently no one has even applied.

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Providence cathedral holds final service

Painful day in Providence, Rhode Island: the city's Cathedral of St. John saw its final service for the time-being on Sunday and will soon be shuttered.

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St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery competes for top preservation prize

(New York, NY)—St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery is one of 40 New York landmark’s chosen to compete for a portion of $3 million in grant money marked for historic preservation projects through Partners in Preservation. Today St. Mark’s launches a new social media campaign to publicize its competition.

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Jackson Hole group spearheads civility, compassion and love

The weekly news bulletin from St John's Episcopal Church in Jackson Wyoming reveals the church at work in the community promoting Civility, Compassion and Love. The Rev. Mary Erickson writes:

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Café newsblogger's parish needs your vote

St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Sioux City, Iowa, whose rector is the Cafe's own Father Torey Lightcap, needs your help. St. Thomas' community garden is one of 15 such gardens vying in online voting for a $4,000 grant from DeLoach Vineyards.

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Trinity Wall Street to close Connecticut conference center

ENS: The Rev. James H. Cooper, rector of Trinity Wall Street, announced the closure of Trinity’s conference center in West Cornwall in a May 24 letter to the parish. The full letter follows.

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Philly's Church of the Savior seeks to raze historic buildings 'to save the cathedral'

The Philadelphia Historical Commission will meet Friday to decide whether to allow the Episcopal Cathedral of Philadelphia to destroy two historically recognized buildings it owns, and build a 25-story apartment, office, and retail complex in their place, in order to finance cathedral repairs and expand its ministry.

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Philadelphia Cathedral wins OK to demolish historic buildings

Following up on a story we posted last week, the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral won approval Friday to demolish two historic buildings on Chestnut Street in order to build a 25-story apartment tower. The dean of the cathedral and others contend that the plan will create funding for crucial renovations to the cathedral.

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

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Welcoming those with autism and Asperger syndrome to church

The Diocese of Oxford has published a guide to help churches welcome those with autism and Asperger syndrome. Bishop John Pritchard writes:

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First day of summer

Today is the summer solstice: the longest day of the year and the first official day of summer.

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Learned helplessness

The Rt. Rev. Scott Benhase, Diocese of Georgia writes about "learned helplessness" in Duke Divinity School's Call and Response:

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The church that welcomes everyone

Update: The church mentioned below is in Daytona Beach, Florida. Fr. Phil Egitto at Our Lady of Lourdes says he adapted this from text originally used at a Lutheran Church, where the pastor was happy to give him permission to reprint.

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National Cathedral names Gary Hall as new dean

The Washington National Cathedral has named the Rev. Canon Gary R. Hall, Ph. D. as its tenth dean succeeding the Very Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd, III.

The Cathedral's news release is here.

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The little church that could....

In Lander, Wyoming, Trinity Episcopal Church is focused on outreach with their "hand up" not a "hand out" program, First Stop. Here is the latest success story from a church with an ASA of 25, locally ordained priest and deacon, and ministry of the all the members. As reported by the Administrator:

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Divest? Foreclose? Reinvest? Renew?

It seems clear enough - from my chair anyway - that churches unwilling to undergo some phase of intentional redevelopment these days could be headed for rough waters. Perhaps it's a false choice with many more nuances than this, but it appears there's a fork in the road for many of us: innovate/rebrand/recommit - in short, get really entrepreneurial really fast - or else face the eventual possibility of a period of decline at the end of which may be a divestment or even foreclosure of some sort.

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Take my Vicar...please!

More wisdom from Bishop Alan Wilson. He reflects on what really might be going on when someone asks the Bishop of Buckingham to sack the local vicar.

He writes "How to change your vicar (Part One):"

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The Diocese of California is offering a series of webinars on being the Beloved Community and offers a new way to measure church vitality:

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The unrealized hope of a 'Starbucks parent'

Responding to Patrick Hall's Daily Episcopalian post about "Starbucks parents" who drop their kids off for Sunday School and then skip church themselves, Melissa Holloway offers a compelling piece about the unwelcoming nature of too many of our churches:

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Varghese to be installed as rector of St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery

The Rev. Winnie Varghese will be installed Saturday as rector of St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery, the first rector of the history church in more than two decades.

From PRWeb:

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Why your church staff burns out

Alan Rudnick explores clergy burnout in his latest blog post:

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Community as an antidote to Thanksgiving loneliness

Today, we're launching what will probably become a new tradition at our church, a parish Thanksgiving Day potluck. We're cooking turkey and ham in our church kitchen, and those who wish to celebrate the holiday in the parish hall are bringing their favorite side dishes to share. When I suggested a few weeks ago that we try this, I thought maybe a dozen or so folks would show up. I was amazed when nearly 100 people RSVP'd. These are not poverty-stricken folks who can't afford a meal. Most of them are simply without family or intimate friends nearby and now, they can be with their parish family this Thanksgiving Day.

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An Interfaith Advent

The Rev. Susan Russell writes in Huffington Post on Advent at All Saints Pasadena, and an upcoming convention being held at the church:

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Trinity Episcopal Church in Mobile "likely a total loss"

Trinity Episcopal Church in Mobile, Alabama was badly damaged by the Christmas Day storm.

The Rev. Bailey Norman posted the following on the church's website:

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The church's generational logjam

Pastor Keith Anderson says the church's generational logjam is "making everyone cranky," an observation which rings true to us here at the Cafe. In a blog posting about Congregational Connections: Uniting Six Generations in the Church by Carroll Sheppard and Nancy Burton Dilliplane, Anderson, who leads a Lutheran church in Pennsylvania writes:

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Simplifying your congregation's mission by simplifying members' lives

Writing for the Alban Institute, Bob Sitze says:

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Should an historic Episcopal church be worried of shadow?

Josh O’Leary of the Iowa City Press-Citizen reports on worries that Trinity Episcopal Church will be shadowed by a proposed tower in downtown Iowa City:

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Annual meetings: the best of times and the worst of times

In this the season of Annual Meetings. Share your best experience of an annual meeting? What happened? How did it happen?

What was your worst annual meeting? What went awry? And here is an Episcopal Meme that is going around Facebook. Did your meeting seem like this?

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Village church scores a hit with its silent CD

A little parish in East Sussex, England, has produced a hit with its recording of silence inside the church. From the Daily Mail:

A CD of the sounds of silence from inside a village church has sold out after becoming an unlikely hit.

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Should a dying church be repurposed?

The always thought-provoking Alan Rudnick asks what should become of the hundreds of churches that are closing all across the country. He writes:

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Should dying churches be repurposed? Part 2

Note: Links corrected

The Rev. Lisa Fischbeck responds to The Lead item on re-purposing the church with a report on how one church re-invented and re-purposed itself:

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What makes for a good good-bye?

Rectors come and rectors go. How do you make the going good? That is the question that Mary C. Lindberg asks in Separation Anxiety, an essay on the blog of the Alban Institute. She writes:

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How is your congregation doing financially?

Valuable information from the Alban Institute:

On March 5, the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving at the Indiana University School of Philanthropy in partnership with the Alban Institute, the National Association of Church Business Administration, the Indianapolis Center for Congregations, and MAXIMUM generosity released the 2013 Congregational Economic Impact Study (CEIS).

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Ten assumptions of appreciative inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry is a popular tool in congregational development in the Episcopal Church. But those of us who are not devotees sometimes don't understand what it is about. In this article for The Alban Institute, Mark Lau Brunson lays out "Ten Assumptions of Appreciative Inquiry." Here are the first four. Follow the link to read the rest.

What are your views on appreciative inquiry?

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Maundy Thursday - A day to wash our hands?

Today Christians all over the world are ceremoniously washing each other's feet, but apparently some congregations have altered this ancient practice to make it about washing hands instead.

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Are current church-goers scaring others away?

Andrew Brown has written a wide-ranging column for the Guardian that asks whether it is the presence of so many older people--and the prevalence of services geared to their tastes--that keep younger people from coming to church. He isn't thumping the tub of liturgical change, or bashing recalcitrant lay people. He's examining the issue in a sociological sort of way, and I'd be interested to hear what people think about the article.

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Boston's Trinity Church plans prayer service despite closure

Trinity Church in Copley Square is still closed under orders of the Boston Police Department in the wake of Monday's Marathon bomb attack, but the church will hold a Prayers for Peace service tonight at 6 p.m. at the corner of Berkeley and Boylston Streets. The church's Web site invites the public to "Gather Strength and Share Hope:"

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Trinity Wall Street estimates value of its assets at $2 billion plus

I'm suffering some serious endowment envy after reading today that Trinity Wall Street estimates its assets to be in the $2 billion range. From the New York Times:

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101 things to do when the church (as many of us know it) is gone*

From the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut:

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New reality show: Divine Intervention

Deadline: Hollywood reports that National Geographic Channel has ordered a new reality show to be called Divine Intervention:

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11 traits of churches that will impact the future

At his blog Carey Nieuwhof notes 11 trait of churches that will impact the future:

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Back from the ashes, St. James Cannon Ball to be rededicated

Bishop Michael Smith and Bonnie Anderson, former President of the House of Deputies are headed to Cannon Ball, North Dakota. The Bismarck Tribune tells us why:

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How do you know when it is time to close a church

In The Christian Century, the Rev. Carol Howard Merritt writes about "Zombie Churches"

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Bend OR church rebuilding after arson fire

Trinity Episcopal Church in Bend Oregon is rebuilding after an arson fire five months ago. Report from Oregon Public Broadcasting.

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The program year approaches

Summer begins to wane. The program year approaches. What developments would let you know that your congregation was changing for the better? What role do you envision for yourself in making hoped-for changes a reality?

Are a church's fixed costs too high?

I am not sure what I make of this column by Thom Schultz of Holy Soup. But I thought it might stir some useful conversation. He writes:

The American Red Cross spends 8 percent of its revenues on administrative and fundraising expenses. World Vision spends 14 percent. Compassion International spends 16 percent.

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Beer making in the Episcopal community

The Graceful Brewers Guild brings beer making to the Episcopal community and beyond
By Win Bassett

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Ohio State pays Episcopal church $12.8 million to halt housing project

Imagine your congregation scoring millions of dollars by agreeing to do ... nothing. Ohio State University has struck a deal to pay St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Columbus nearly $13 million dollars to scrap a proposed housing project. From the OSU Lantern:

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Church at center of measles outbreak urges immunizations

A Texas church at the center of a measles outbreak in Texas is encouraging its members to get vaccinations, despite previous admonitions to the contrary from its founder, Kenneth Copeland. From ABC News:

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The right way to recycle a sermon

Is it OK for a preacher to pull an old sermon out of the files to present to a new congregation? The Rev. Dr. Victoria Weinstein at her Beauty Tips for Ministers blog says no:

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Why most churches have fewer that 200 members

Carey Nieuwhof offers eight reasons why most Protestant churches remain on the small side. The eight reasons boil down to one reason. Nieuwhof, lead pastor of Connexus Community Church in Barrie, Ontario, writes:

They organize, behave, lead and manage like a small organization.

Think about it.

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Swapping pews for chairs stirs controversy

The Wall Street Journal gets to the bottom of the controversy that often ensues when churches swap pews for chairs in this pun-filled piece:

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Church membership continues to dip, but some dioceses are growing

The Episcopal Church has released new statistics on attendance and church membership showing overall membership to be down 1.4 percent and average Sunday attendance down 2.6 percent. But some areas are experiencing growth, based on recent parochial reports:

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Why do you sit where you sit in church?

We all know people who are very particular about where they sit in church. We may be such people ourselves. But why do we sit where we sit?

Craig A Satterlee explores this question in this week's email from the Alban Institute:

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Christmas in June?

Christmas in June? From the Rev. Luke Fodor:

"Children from St John's Church in Cold Spring Harbor, New York joined the Rev. Luke Fodor, actress Regina Schneider and film maker Michael Fairchild in an acting workshop to tell the story of the nativity in their own way. Shooting the film in June allowed the youngsters to concentrate on the story without all the distractions of the Christmas holiday season.

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Churches becoming more gay-friendly, study shows

Ordaining gay clergy and embracing new liturgies to celebrate same-sex unions, the Episcopal Church is part of a growing movement in American churches toward more active acceptance of gay and lesbian members. A new study out of Duke University shows that more than half of the country's houses of worship are gay-friendly, a 10 percent increase since 2007. From the Huffington Post:

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The unique reality of Native American Christians

Native American Christians often find their practices and beliefs to be misunderstood and mischaracterized, according to a report from Minnesota Public Radio:

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Church opens sanctuary to all for weeknight solitude

Many churches turn themselves inside out trying to figure out how best to welcome visitors, get them quickly engaged in church life, make sure they get to coffee hour and quickly sign up for parish committees. One church has made time inside the space of a week to let visitors in and leave them quite blessedly alone. From the Virginia Pilot:

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Management-speak mission statement

The management-speak church mission statement from the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley:

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Standing Rock church celebrate opening of new church after arson

The people of St. James Episcopal Church on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in Cannon Ball, N. D.,opened a new church on Sunday. In her story for Episcopal News Service, Mary Frances Schjonberg describes a joyous celebration, then writes of the difficult past:

The scene was a far cry from the night of July 25, 2012, the Feast of St. James, as an arson fire tore through the wooden church building and guild hall.

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Pray for victims of church fire in Ocean City

UPDATE: The Diocese of Easton has an announcement, and is adding information.

Update from Bishop Shand at 2:15 pm:
The Rev. David Dingwall has been moved to the intensive care unit, and his condition is now listed as stable.

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UPDATE: Priest dies in church fire

Prayers go out to the family and friends and community of the Rev. David Dingwall and others killed or injured in this terrible incident.

Delaware Online

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The Crossing

Leigh Foster, a member of the Boston-based congregation The Crossing talks about how she feels welcomed:

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Church must change! How, exactly?

Congregations must change--drastically--according to what I think it is fair to call conventional wisdom that has coalesced with increasing speed among church leaders over the last ten or twelve years.

Peter Steinke summarizes this point of view comprehensively in a column distributed today by the Alban Institute.

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Creating hybrid faith-formation networks

The Center for the Ministry of Teaching at Virginia Theological Seminary has been working with faith formation ministers in congregations and dioceses to test out a new model for Christian education and faith development. The Rev. Kyle Matthew Oliver, digital missioner and learning lab coordinator at the Center, is looking for feedback on this new "hybrid" model, focusing on small group learning in person and online. He writes:

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Company caters to churches on the go

A Michigan company aims to grow its business selling kits to create worship space in less than a couple of hours. The kits congregations to set up shop without buying real estate or managing buildings. Offerings include a stage, audio, video and lighting equipment, "similar to what a band on tour might use to setup in arenas and civic centers, according to USA Today:

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My "discipleship" problem

A small confession: I am not sure what the word discipleship means. It is a word used frequently by people whom I know and respect, but I don't quite know how I am supposed to respond to it.

When I hear that I am going to "be discipled" --the word sounds like disciplined-- I am uneasy. It sounds like something that is going to happen to me, something that is going to be done to me.

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High church, low church and all that lies between

High church, low church, what do those descriptors mean and does it make any difference? The Rev. Canon Robert Hendrickson of St. John's Cathedral in Denver believes such labels are insufficient and confusing. He writes:

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Seeing deeper at the National Cathedral

The Washington National Cathedral is clearing away all the seats in the nave during the week of January 13 - 17. Visitors will be able to experience the vast nave in a way that is new to modern eyes but would have been familiar in the Cathedrals of medieval Europe.

From the Cathedral web-site:

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Paradigm Shift

The pressing question of how we, in the church, confront the changing contexts of the 21st century continues to spark debate.  Should we batten the hatches and wait out the storm, changing nothing?  Should we take to the decks, and reorganize everything?  Or will we need a different idea of what this ship is?

In the most recent Vestry Papers Ken Howard suggests that a wholly different paradigm of church is needed.  

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Bullying in the church

Church culture is conducive to bullying, argues the Rev. Erik Parker in a recent blog post that has been making the rounds on social media. He writes:

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Capacity and the lack thereof

In the midst of our church’s efforts to reimagine itself, I am wondering if one important, and fairly obvious issue is being overlooked: capacity. I do a fair amount of work with dioceses around the church, and what I find, again and again, is that most parishes simply lack the financial and human resources to take on the jobs that would seem to be essential in rejuvenating themselves.

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New Rectory for Trinity Church, Copley Square

Trinity Church, Copley Square, Boston, has purchased a $3.6 million condo on Beacon Hill for their rector, the Rev. Sam Lloyd III.  

This has raised a few eyebrows, coming just as concerns are increasing about the gap between rich and poor, and as other Episcopal churches are struggling to make ends meet.

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“What do you do?": Coffee hour caution

The Unitarian Universalist Association has a helpful new graphic for coffee hour questions advice for older adults greeting young adults.

For example:

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Cathedral, destroyed by bombs & earthquake, reborn

From Anglican Communion News Service:

Tohoku Diocese’s Cathedral Church of Christ, in Sendai City, was destroyed twice – first in 1945 in during an air raid and, after being rebuilt, was damaged beyond repair in the 2011 earthquake/tsunami/nuclear fallout disaster.

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Bringing the kids to church: Suffer the little children, or not?

Nicole Steele Wooldridge is a Seattle churchgoer and mom who ponders whether it's worth the effort required to take her small children to church. Responding to a friend's Facebook rant about families who arrive late and leave services early each Sunday, she writes:

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Clergy and Caring for Mental Illness

Pastor Rick Warren, whose purpose-driven series of churches, books, and everything else has been such a hit, recently held a conference to announce a new initiative.

Gathering together the local Roman Catholic archdiocese, and mental health experts in his area, Pastor Warren aims to make his churches places where people can be connected to mental health services, without any stigma. (Read more on his plan here.)

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Blessed be the cyclist whose bike is blessed

For sixteen years running (cycling?) the Cathedral of St. John the Divine has blessed bikes in advance of the Five Boro Bike Tour.

The Rev. Canon Julia Whitworth led the ritual in a long, golden robe. She said it doesn't matter whether you're a regular churchgoer, or if biking is your true religion. And that's why she has the service, she said: "To pray — for those of us who are people of prayer — pray for safety and joy and fun and appreciation for being in God's creation."

The service was short but serious (even if the bell-ringing didn't come from the church tower). Whitworth read a few passages from the Old Testament, including a part of the Book of Ezekiel that talks about wheels. Then she walked up and down the aisle, sprinkling the bikes and their riders with holy water. Two people read names of cyclists who had died riding in the city this year.

Then the organ started up, and everybody marched around the cathedral with their bikes. They went up the steps toward the altar, past elaborately carved wooden seats, and back down again.

Read (or listen) to it all at NPR.

NEW YORK - APRIL 18: The Reverend Canon Thomas Miller sprinkles holy water inside the Cathedral of St. John the Divine during the 11th annual Blessing of the Bicycles on April 18, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Ben Franklin's Philly church is still going strong


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Instead of Mega-church, how about Micro-church?

UPDATED: corrections
St. Lydia's Church offers another sort of church experience in the big city: a micro church where the members gather for dinner each week. Huffington Post reports:

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Why doesn't the Episcopal Church plant more churches?

The Rev. Susan Brown Snook of the Diocese of Arizona is writing a book about church planting. Today on her Facebook page she wrote:

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Oldest churches in the U.S., and truly American religion

Check out how many Episcopal churches are on this list of the oldest still-worshipping congregations in each of the original 13 colonies, all of which are on the National Register of Historic Places.

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Raising funds for accessibility project

Trinity Episcopal Church in Kirksville, MO, is raising funds for their accessibility building project. They made this video to show why they need a more accessible building.

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Episcopalians, start your engines!

St. Martha's Episcopal Church in Papillion, Nebraska have a race team to compete in a Figure 8 competition at the County Fair in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The race will take place this Friday evening.

The race team is made up of The Rev. Ernesto Medina (Stock Car Division), Jammie Hermans Gaffer (PowderPuff Division), and Jeff Stangl (Mechanic Division).

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Christ Church Cathedral claims JPMorgan mismanaged trust funds

Christ Church Cathedral, Indianapolis, has filed a federal lawsuit that claims "JPMorgan caused the church trusts to lose approximately $13 million in value."

From Tim Evans of The Indianapolis Star's article:

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A hospice ministry for dying churches

Ed Stetzer who blog for Christianity Today says it is time to create hospice ministries for dying churches. He writes:

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Archbishop Dolan to close 30% of RC parishes in New York

Apparently, church restructuring is far from an Episcopal-only issue. Archbishop Timothy Dolan announced that he would either close or merge thirty percent of the parishes in his archdiocese of New York by August 1, 2015.

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