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NOTE:  I stumbled across this blog post recently and it is so deliciously ironic given the liberal proclivities of many of my Episcopal Church friends that I could not resist the temptation to re-post it here.  Get a satisfying sipping drink and enjoy both!

 

 

GLH

 

 

English: Shield of the US Episcopal Church, co...

English: Shield of the US Episcopal Church, colors from http://www.episcopalchurch.org/imageshop_11785_ENG_HTM.htm. The shield was adopted in 1940. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

By JAY AKASIE, Posted: August 31, 2012 on The Fiscal Times Business Buzz

 

During his acceptance speech in Tampa Thursday night, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said that he was risk-averse during the early years of establishing his private equity firm, Bain Capital. So he didn’t approach his elders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to ask them to invest a portion of their pension fund in the venture. But, he said, one of his partners snagged the Episcopal Church’s pension fund, set up to fund the retirements of that denomination’s clergy.

 

“That shows what I know,” said Romney. “Another of my partners got the Episcopal Church pension fund to invest. Today there are a lot of happy retired priests who should thank him.”

They should indeed, and they could thank their pension fund managers while they’re at it. Though it hasn’t fared quite as well over the last few years, the Episcopal Church’s pension fund, with some $9.5 billion in assets as of March 31, 2012, is one of the best run and most successful around.

That may come as something of a surprise to anyone who has heard many of the Mainline Protestant clergy preaching left-wing, anti-capitalist messages from their pulpits every Sunday. When masses of privileged college students and aging hippies pitched their tents in Zuccotti Park one year ago, for instance, prominent Episcopal parishes in New York — including the venerable Trinity Church, a parish that derives much of its operating income from its well run and closely guarded Manhattan real estate portfolio — threw their public support to the anti-establishment rabble … even though they continued to hit up their well-heeled, Wall Street banker parishioners for money.

There’s a growing conflict between religion, ideology and wealth derived from capitalism. A decade ago, a group of ideologues from Harvard University – faculty members so far to the left that they could make the Episcopal Church clergy green with envy — objected to the salaries being paid to the managers of the Harvard Management Company, the sterling investment group that oversees that school’s $35 billion endowment.

The Fiscal Times FREE Newsletter

The protesting faculty members had no clue as to how top-flight investment managers are compensated. Tired of trying to explain to a bunch of Ph.D.s how Wall Street works, many of Harvard Management’s stars left the firm and set up shop on their own.

Across the pond, the Church of England recently decided to divest its pension fund’s stake in Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. Although that media company has provided the Anglican clergy’s pension fund with solid returns over the years, they apparently weren’t too fond of Rupert Murdoch’s penchant for free and unfettered capital markets.

The question now is whether the clergy of the Episcopal Church will do the same — considering, of course, the Church Pension Fund still holds a stake in Bain. But in the world where parishioners are admonished to “do as I say, not as I do,” I suspect the Episcopalian clergy are just fine with their lucrative Bain Capital investment.

 

Read more at http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Blogs/Business-Buzz/2012/08/31/The-Episcopal-Church-Bain-Capital-and-Heavenly-Returns.aspx#xPoQabK4eUAV3c2r.99

 

Be::Community

Introducing ‘see::community – be::community’  is the name for the new website location for the church vitality webinar series hosted by Bishop Marc to support our church vitality initiative.  Mary Vargas wrote the following article which appeared recently in DioBytes, the Diocesan newsletter:

by Mary Vargas. Diocesan Standing Committee Member

 

Realigning Mission through Ministry in Community: Creating the Ministry Map on Vitality
see::community – be::community

is a process designed to engage our people at a new level in exploring which ministries connect them to their neighborhoods (or any place outside church walls), which ministries serve the church, and which ideas are coming to life as emerging ministries — all serving the mission of “transforming souls.” We believe it is through ministry that we are the most effective “evangelists,” creating a direct connection between community, vitality, and growth.

read more here

click here to read about the upcoming facilitator training

 

The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church has decided to put the church’s New York City headquarters up for sale.  This will surely count as a profound milestone in the long, slow decline of church membership, attendance and pledging.   The question is whether this is taken as symbolic of the beginning of the end of the relevance of The Episcopal Church, or a tipping point where the Church makes choices, hard, profound choices to adapt to the financial, technology, demographic, and strategic challenges it faces.

Challenges facing the Church

The church faces three broad strategic challenges:

  1. Changing demographics are changing the ‘market’ of the church.  One of the key lessons coming out of any analysis of the long slow decline of church membership is that demographic changes are having a profound impact on the church and that the church must adapt to those changes to remain relevant to the faithful.  Not only is the population aging, but the diversity of our communities is growing.  Traditional church planting no longer works. The church developed as a mission focused organization planting new churches along the way to minister to the people.  But these ‘vertical’ congregations are facing the horizontal power of technology, mobility and diversity. The challenge for the church is help the congregations find new ways to thrive by harnessing that same power of technology, mobility and diversity to see the Good News around us through collaboration (in church-speak this might be called area ministry), better programs designed and delivered to gain critical mass that enables ‘horizontal’ congregations to thrive by better meeting the needs of the faithful, and provides hands-on access’ to shared resources to enable traditional ‘vertical’ congregations satisfy critical unmet needs.
  2. Education is being disintermediated by technology and economics.  Higher education, including seminary training, is on the edge of transformational change at both the public and private level.  Change is coming.  Why?  The costs of higher education are rising faster than inflation.  The looming cumulative costs of pensions and health care are not sustainable given our fiscal realities and changing demographics and require new business models.  A declining church can afford fewer clergy and must depend more upon lay leaders and shared ministry programs.  The value proposition of higher education is eroding as high student debt cannot be supported by expected career earnings.  The ability of higher education to continuously raise tuition and fees is ending. The overhead and replacement costs of aging college campuses buildings, technology and infrastructure are growing.  The challenge for the church broadly is to define its strategy and execution plans to manage this process of change.  Resistance is futile but this need not be a ‘wake’ as technology can be your friend as well as your enemy.  The transformation in education will bring new tools and require new skills for the clergy.  The challenge for the church is to empower that transformation and training.  How?  By using the same technologies that are threatening the church to help re-imagine new ways to deliver the Good News, to engage people as there are, where they are, just when they need it most.   Examples of this disruptive innovation technology include, but are by no means limited to:
  • Knowledge management solutions to make mission and ministry programs, research, Bible study materials, sermons, parish profiles and much other information and knowledge of the church and its people accessible both vertically and horizontally and searchable 24/7.
  • Continuous learning programs as modules like Education for Ministry, The Restoration Project, and scores of others that deliver programs, curricula and resources, knowledge bases, best practices and learning modules to give clergy and lay leaders access to the widest possible programs whether it is a home church group of 10 or a mega-church of 10,000.
  •  Online communities that thrive in the extranet connecting horizontal mission and ministry program team across town with each other as well as with colleagues a half world away.  New programs and curricula can be created online from the crowdsourced knowledge and expertise of these online communities to address ministry needs, train professional and lay workers, and improve the results for the faithful participating.

Professional education in the church is not immune from these forces for change.  It can also benefit from progress in the private sector to adapt technology to meet new needs, reduce costs, and improve performance outcomes.  To survive in a smaller church that can afford fewer clergy, seminaries will need to become laboratories for developing and testing new programs and insuring that the intellectual property, and the teachings of the church are preserved and delivered to the next generation in ways that keep the faith alive in the hearts of the faithful through collaborative learning, ordained and lay community-building, and applications for ministry that turn the vineyard into the garden laboratory for faculty and students in new ways to deliver the Good News.

  1. The Theocracy of Push versus the Spirituality of Pull  In the technology business there is a creative tension between the concepts of ‘push’ and ‘pull’.  Push is the traditional top down process of providing direction, of establishing norms and disciplining their observance.  Most of the rules of civil society, business and governance of the church are ‘push’ concepts.  In the surveys of why people don’t go to church and their changing views about religion we found in the work of the Diocese of California Church Growth Program that there is a growing disconnect between the rules of the church and their judgmental application and the sense of welcoming, support and fulfillment those surveyed sought.  This is not a problem of a diminished belief in God.  It is the perception by the faithful that the church is not facilitating, supporting, or nurturing our experience of God’s unconditional love.  A good example of push is the traditional expectation that we assemble for corporate worship each Sunday at the same time and place, sit in the same pew and listen to the same boring sermon, take communion and go home.  Repeat weekly.  But what we are learning from technology and experience is that there are other ways to ‘be in community’ with each other in a corporate sense that can be equally or more compelling for both the faithful and the church.  In tech speak we would call this adaptive functionality.  But Jesus taught us the fundamental that whenever 2 or 3 are gathered in His name He is with us.  So at the last meeting of the Diocese Executive Council we approved a new ministry program called Sacred Spaces which takes the Eucharist out onto the street into parks, alleys and other places far from our traditional Sunday corporate worship experience.  The stories of Sacred Spaces are full of joy, hope and grace—pure and perfect grace. We also learned during our Church Growth Program strategic planning phase about programs like The Restoration Project that helps build community though small group pray, learn, worship, and serve experiences designed specifically to create a holy, healthy, affirming corporate worship experience for a network of hundreds of small groups sharing the same resources, experiences and joy of being the Body of Christ.  The church needs more pull and less push to arrest the process of decline.  It needs to train the next generation of ordained and lay leaders to be creative, see the vineyard as it is not as it ‘was’ and to experiment with new tools, methods and applications. It must empower and encourage the clergy to create their own Sacred Spaces of the future offering new ways to apply old lessons to make the Good News as relevant tomorrow in the lives of the faithful as it has always been.

These are the prayers of the people

In our church growth program strategic planning process we found hope in the reasons people gave for coming to, or coming back to church:

  • Help me find my way on my own spiritual faith journey.
  • Help me give my kids a faith foundation to guide their lives.
  • Help me to pray, worship and serve others as I am able.
  • Help me be in community with others and welcome me as I am.
  • Be by my side to support me and hold me in my times of need.

They are also answers to our prayer for a renewed church vitality.  Some of the decline in the church is driven by the social fabric tensions in our society including how the church has handled issues of race, sexual orientation, divorce and other factors.  But some of it is also that the church is still delivering the Good News in the same way while the experience, knowledge, and expectations of the faithful are changing.

Let the Good News speak for itself and focus the work of the church on the prayers of the people.  When they find Jesus in their hearts the church with be on fire with vitality—and nothing else matters.

The Wardens held a town meeting between services yesterday, May 6th, to update the congregation on the restarting of the rector search process after the candidate called chose another congregation.  There were many questions:

  • Why did this happen?
  • Why after 16 candidates and six months of screening, weeding and interviewing only one candidate was “a good fit”?
  • How are we doing as a congregation?

This last question was on everyone’s mind but few had been able to put it in words nearly so well.  The answer reflected the mood of the crowd accurately.  We are doing OK.  Our pledge levels are down a little as we expected.  We are continuing to get a steady, albeit small, stream of newcomers our church shopping.  We are in reasonably good financial shape but still must close a $120,000 revenue gap by year end to avoid dipping into reserves.

What about Kathy?  What about Kurt?  That was the next set of questions referring to our Interim Rector Kathy Trapani, and Associate Priest Kurt Levensaler.  In announcing the failure of the call process a week earlier The Rectors Warden Shelton Ensley said that Kathy had agreed to stay on as Interim Rector.  The reaction was clearly positive to that news, but in the intervening week there was a modest buzz of chatter as people talked in the crowd.  The chatter reflected a sentiment that is shared by many.

“We wish we could just call Kathy on a permanent basis and be done with this process.”

The church rules on these things have evolved for hundred of years and the tradition is a new rector gets a clean slate with the opportunity to build his or her own team.  This was simple in the days of small parish churches where the rector may actually have been the only employed person.  As churches grew it got more complicated but the tradition of church planting in the 1940’s through 1960’s meant that the turnover created candidates for mission church plants and kept the growth process growing.

Today is a different realty but the church rules still have not changed to reflect this new reality.  In some ways it is not different for any of the rest of us as the economy pressures both spouses to work if they can.  Underwater housing prices make relocation difficult at best.  And just as our national economic growth is slow to flat the church has faced a long slow period of declining membership, pledging and participation limiting congregational resources.

But the rules of calling a new rector are seemingly set in stone.  If Kathy, for example, wanted to use this opportunity of the re-opening of the rector’s position to apply for the job she must resign as interim rector and priest before she can apply.  So she finds herself today in one of those rock versus hard place situations.  She had expected, as all of us did, that the call process would be answered with a YES and a new rector would now have been named.  Kathy as interim rector would have resigned to allow a period in between her departure and the new rector’s arrival as the church rules suggest.  Imagine  the frustration at having prepared yourself to depart only to find your torment might continue for another six to twelve months as another round of applications and interviews works its way to a conclusion.

The congregation faces the same rock and hard place situation.  The wardens told us, quite accurately, that we need to do this process right even if that means doing it over.  We agree with that.  Nothing is worse than a bad outcome where a candidate is called who does not “fit” and we end up in a divorce proceeding rather than a happy marriage.   They also tell us rightly that time is an ally not an enemy because it gives us a period of transition to grieve the departure of Steven and prepare for the arrival of a new rector hopefully full of confidence that in this interim period we have discerned who we are as a faith community, what we feel called to be in doing God’s work, and whom is the best “fit” to lead us where God wants us to go.

OK—we get all of that—we do!

But that brings me back to the chatter in the back of the parish hall on Sunday.

Well, if Kathy was prepared to leave expecting the call process to be finished, are we holding her back from what God is calling her to do next?  Is this fair to ask?  And the wardens did say to us that nothing precludes either Kathy or Kurt from pursuing other opportunities themselves.

Another conversation said—well, maybe God is sending us a message we are too thick headed to get!  Maybe that message is the call process ended without a call because the candidate with the best “fit” is already here.  Yes but what about those dang church rules?

Ah, the rules!  That is not for us to decide said the person fomenting this mischief.  That is between Kathy and God!  If Kathy feels God is calling her to apply to be Rector then He has given her another opportunity to decide that by restarting this call process.  She was prepared to leave us if the call process worked as expected.  Now she must decide if she is prepared to leave us in order to to tell us, consistent with those dang rules, that she does NOT want to leave us.  And if she leaves us we have an opportunity to select her return to us with open arms.  I know, some rules are crazy.

No guarantees for either side in this choice except this:

If Kathy leaves us to be a candidate for rector and she is not chosen then she knows and we know that God did not mean for this to happen—but neither Kathy nor the parish will wonder whether we gave up on each other too soon. Because we trust that God is with us and has already made a decision about who our next rector will be, this scenario is the surest way to discern the difference between a fantasy about what might have been from God’s intention about what could be if we exercise our free will prudently on both sides—but both sides must be willing to give it all away.

If Kathy leaves us to be a candidate and she does not choose us or she is called to another place then she knows and we know that God has a plan for her elsewhere that is more important for His work in the vineyard than this.   While that would be a painful choice for both sides it would be a true and pure and perfect manifestation of God’s will and we would accept it knowing that we must keep searching until we discern the person He has chosen for us.

If Kathy continues as interim rector and the new call process succeeds she will leave us and we will love her all the more for her fidelity and patience with us when we needed her to be ‘our rock’ in this uncertain process. This is the path we are on today as we pray each Sunday for the search committee and the call process to help us discern God’s will in our midst.

But as we do pray for the search process let’s quit blaming those dang church rules for limiting our choices.  The rules force both the candidates and the parish to be  deliberate, to make choices, to be intentional not wishy-washy, to be willing to risk something new, to be willing to give it all away by leaving a current congregation and going to another—or leave this congregation and put it all in God’s hands for the opportunity to stay years longer rather than months longer if that is His will.

But both the parish and the interim rector must be willing to ‘give it all away’ in order to discern what God was calling us to do next—–no guarantees—-just faith, pure and perfect faith.

Episcopal Diocese of Maryland

Episcopal Diocese of Maryland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tragedy at St. Peter’s Church, Ellicott City

May 4, 2012

Baltimore — The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland is saddened beyond words by the shootings May 3 at St. Peter’s Church in Ellicott City, Maryland. The Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, bishop of Maryland, immediately offered prayers for the victims in the chapel of the Cathedral of the Incarnation, Baltimore, when he learned the news later that evening. Clergy of the diocesan staff have been present with the parish and members of the St. Peter’s staff, and have said prayers over the victims. The diocese holds the victims, their families, and the people and staff of St. Peter’s Church and pre-school in its continued prayers. A nearby Episcopal church, St. John’s Parish in Ellicott City, opened their doors late Thursday evening to offer a place of support and prayer.

Howard County police are investigating the shooting. According to them, two women, Brenda Brewington, administrative assistant, and the Rev. Mary-Marguerite Kohn, co-rector of the parish were found shot inside the church office yesterday just after 5 pm. A custodian called 911.

Brewington was pronounced dead at the scene. Kohn was transported to Shock Trauma in critical condition.

The wardens at St. Timothy’s appeared at each of the three services today to announce that a call had been made to a candidate to be Rector but that the candidate had chosen to purse an alternative opportunity.

They also told us that having reconsidered the other two finalists in the year and one-half long search process, the Vestry concluded that a better course of action was to begin the search process anew.

POW!  ZAP!  PUNCH!

Few who began this journey what seems now like years ago could image this outcome, but there it was.  Jilted at the altar!

The buzz at coffee hour was a combination of reactions:

  • How could this happen after such a long tortured process?
  • We should have expected this after the candidate said when the call was offered that there were other options.
  • What was wrong with the search process that we ended up with this outcome?

I remembered in one conversation a few weeks ago with a person visiting us for the first time that the visitor was surprised that we were in the search process.  ” The place does not feel like it—it’s so . . . normal.”

There was also quiet rejoicing that Kathy Trapani, our Interim Rector, and rock during this transition process would be with us for a while longer.  Better to have a long inter-regnum than a tearful goodbye was the common view.

So what should we make of this?

  • God was not happy with the choice the Vestry made so He said no—and so it was.
  • God was not happy with candidate’s indecision so he said no because He was protecting us from a false start
  • God knows what is ahead for St. Timothy’s and thinks we need more time working in the vineyard to discern it.

Sill absorbing this news I do not know the answer to why this happened, but I know this:

  • God loves us unconditionally and has sent us Kathy Trapani to be our interim Rector until He decides who the new Rector will be—and He leaves us in her caring, capable hands for a while longer.  This is a place we are happy to be!
  • God loves us unconditionally and He has something bigger, better and more consequential in store for us and we must be patient until He decides the time is right to reveal it.
  • God loves us unconditionally and the person called was not a good fit for us and so we keep looking until we find the one who will be a caring pastor for our flock as we have prayed for each Sunday.

We give thanks that our Vestry had the courage to do what they think is best for us.

We give thanks to Kathy for sticking with us— and for this we love her all the more!

We give thanks to God for protecting us from harm and holding our hand on this journey of faith!

Be at Peace about this—and get back to work!

Dear Members of the Contra Costa Deanery,
In 1887 St. Paul‘s began as a church springing from Grace Church in Martinez. That was 125 years ago and we are celebrating in various ways throughout the year. We will kick off our celebrations with a Pentecost Eve liturgy on Saturday, May 26 at 5pm followed by a reception in the Parish Hall. Bishop Marc will be the principle celebrant.
We invite all parishes of the deanery to celebrate with us. Also, we are asking all clergy to vest and process into the service (red/festive stoles). In addition, we’ll be inviting all clergy raised up from St. Paul’s and all clergy who have served at St. Paul’s (former rectors/associates). Just to be sure we don’t miss anyone, I am asking those of you who know clergy that fall into those categories to send me names and if you have it, please send their contact information (email  and/or phone) so that we can double check our lists.
We planned a Saturday Pentecost celebration to encourage you and members of your church to come and honor us with your presence. Our reception will not be a sit down dinner, but we’ll have enough food to qualify as a complete meal so plan to stay and share the meal.
Please send your RSVP to our parish office at 925-934-2324 and/or by email at: info@stpaulswc.org by May 15th.
Blessings, Sylvia+