Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Unspoken Message

This morning on my way to work I passed a church in Manhattan (which will remain unnamed). I was so surprised to see their "Christmas" display. So surprised I took out my camera and captured the image.
In front of this admittedly urban church, six Christmas trees had been placed in holders, and then each one was tethered and locked with paddle lock and chain to the railings on the sides of the church entrance.
Now keep in mind these are small trees (3 feet or less), rather sickly, and not even big enough to fill their stands. Therefore, when the chains were put on, the trees were pulled to the side, making the whole scene sad and pathetic. To make it worse, passers-by constantly throw their trash around the base. While I am certain this was done by a very well meaning and faithful Christian, the message sent was certainly not one of the abundant life and light that Jesus brings to our lives and the world.
For me it raised several points that might be instructive:
  • How often do we in the church continue to do things because we've always done them, and not evaluate whether they still work in today's context? This tree was a perfect example.
  • Are we, who are close to the church, able to "see" what an outsider might see? Or are we blind to the unspoken messages and signals that we send? We might be blind to the way our buildings and worship space look to the outside world, blind to how our practices might be intimidating, or unaware of how we might speak in our own form of Anglican tongue that a visitor might not understand (ex: "Oh, you're visiting us today with your four children? Well when Don, the head usher gets here, you'll find him in the Narthex. He can tell you where the kids will go for Sunday school, but they stay with their parents until after the collect for purity and then leave for their classes, following the crucifer...They'll rejoin you after the Great Amen so keep an eye out for them." This really happened to our family! While I did understand, mostly, I couldn't imagine what I would have thought had it been my first visit to an Episcopal Church.)
  • How do our actions show our priorities and values? When I saw those chained trees, I asked myself, if someone was so desperate that they chose to steal a very small, ugly Christmas tree, would that be such a great loss to the church?

A rant and a rave from this priest, but it comes with the heartfelt prayer that all who strive to be followers of Jesus Christ will make the true message of his love and light known this Christmas and always...S.

Monday, December 18, 2006

FACTs on Growth Released

A press release from the Hartford Seminary:

Worship, Websites, Conflict Affect Growth in Congregations

December 11, 2006 – Contemporary worship, geographic location, a website and the absence of conflict are key factors in why some congregations in America are growing, according to the latest national survey of U.S. faith communities.

The survey, sponsored by the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership, found that wanting to grow is not enough. Congregations that grow must plan for growth: “Congregations that developed a plan to recruit members in the last year were much more likely to grow than congregations that had not.”

The survey findings are available in a newly released report, “FACTs on Growth.” The data was taken from the Faith Communities Today 2005 (FACT2005) survey of 884 randomly sampled congregations of all faith traditions in the United States. The survey updates results from a survey taken in 2000, and is the latest in CCSP’s series of trend-tracking national surveys of U.S. congregations.

David A. Roozen, Director of the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership and Professor of Religion and Society at Hartford Seminary, said that, “If you are at all interested in research on ‘church’ growth, this brief report is must reading. It tests the continuing salience of long ‘taken for granted’ principles of growth (e.g., location, conservative theology) as well as the more recently proposed (e.g., contemporary worship, spiritual practices and purposefulness).”
“Perhaps most importantly, it suggests several newly emergent dynamics to consider (e.g., the potential for growth in downtown areas and within multi racial/ethnic congregations). It is a helpful and important follow-up to the “Pockets of Vitality” analysis of the ground breaking FACT2000 national survey,” Roozen said.

Among the findings in the new FACTs on Growth report:

  • Congregations that change worship format and style are more likely to grow. More than half the congregations that use contemporary styles of worship have experienced substantial growth since 2000. Frequency is important as well: The more worship services a congregation holds, the more likely it is to have grown.
  • Congregations located in new suburbs are more likely to experience growth. But surprisingly the second best area for growth is the downtown of metropolitan areas.
  • Congregations that have experienced major conflict are quite likely to have declined in attendance. The strongest correlate of growth is the absence of serious conflict.
  • Congregations that have started or maintained a website in the past year are most likely to grow. The effort to have a website indicates that the congregation is outward looking and willing to change by non-traditional means.
  • While most congregations in America are composed of a single racial/ethnic group, those that are multi-racial are most likely to have experienced strong growth in worship attendance.
  • More important than theological orientation is the religious character of the congregation and clarity of mission and purpose. Growing churches are clear about why they exist and about what they are to be doing – “purpose-driven growth.”
  • Congregations that involve children in worship are more likely to experience significant growth. Also, important to growth is the ability of congregations to attract young adults and children with families.
  • Almost all congregations say they want to grow, but it takes intentionality and action for growth to occur. Congregations that developed a plan to recruit members in the last year were more likely to grow than congregations that had not. Particularly helpful in achieving growth are sponsorship of a program or event to attract non-members or the existence of support groups.

The report was written by C. Kirk Hadaway, Director of Research at the Episcopal Church Center in New York.

A link to view “FACTs on Growth” online is available at:

Full color, printed copies can be ordered at the same web address. Single copies of the 17-page booklet cost $8.50 including postage and handling; discounts are available on multiple copies. For special orders and questions, contact Mary Jane Ross, at Hartford Seminary’s Hartford Institute for Religion Research, (860) 509-9543 or

Faith Communities Today surveys and publications are products of the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership, a collaborative, multifaith coalition of American faith communities affiliated with Hartford Seminary’s Hartford Institute for Religion Research. Researchers, consultants and program staff representing 39 denominations and faith groups contributed to the FACT2005 survey.

FACT/CCSP strives to offer research-based resources for congregational development that are useful across faith traditions, believing that all communities of faith encounter common issues and benefit from one another’s experiences. It also informs the public about the contributions of congregations to American society and about the changes affecting and emanating from one of America’s major sources of voluntary association – local congregations. For more information on CCSP, visit

About Hartford Seminary and the Hartford Institute for Religion Research: Hartford Seminary focuses on interfaith relations, congregational studies and faith in practice. The Hartford Institute for Religion Research has a 30-year record of rigorous, policy-relevant research, anticipation of emerging issues and commitment to the creative dissemination of learning.

For more on the Seminary and the Institute, visit the websites ( or or contact David Barrett at (860) 509-9519 or
David Roozen, Director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research at Hartford Seminary, is available for interviews at: or (860) 509-9546.
C. Kirk Hadaway, Director of Research at Episcopal Church Center, New York, can be reached for interviews at: or (212) 922-5331.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Weekly Lectionary Scripture and Study Guides Directly to Your Own Church Web Site!!!


Preparing for Sunday is the quick, easy and affordable way to include the weekly lectionary readings on your own church website. Now, your parishioners can have the Sunday readings at their fingertips anytime, day or night.

No more clicking to connect with outside websites. No more searching through scripture to track down different readings. With an easy one-time setup, we update your church's website every week... with no advertising!

Preparing for Sunday includes last week's, this week's and next week's readings. Plus overviews, scripture backgrounds, reflections and prayer starters designed to enrich the understanding of each Sunday's readings.

For $15 a month, give everyone in your parish the chance to read, reflect and pray over the Sunday scriptures.
For a sample and easy sign up, visit

Monday, December 11, 2006

Open University

The Open University is making some of its educational resources freely available online for learners and educators anywhere in the world to use. The OpenLearn Website initially includes "some 900 hours of material on a variety of topics - from access to postgraduate level……..The OU sees the project as an obvious extension of its mission to address significant differences in the access people have to educational opportunities…"
It is possible to browse the outlines without registering: when you do register (which is free) you can also gain access to the learning activities etc. They aim to have 5,400 hours of material available by April 2008
The Open University class offering are particularly beneficial to those in rural and/or geographically isolated areas.
This information comes from a list serve distributed by Joanna Cox, National Adviser in Lay Discipleship and Shared Ministry in London.

Monday, December 04, 2006

2007 Roanridge Awards Announced

Picture from Roanridge, circa 1947

2007 Roanridge Awards Announced

On November 13, 2006 Office of Congregational Development announced the 2007 Roanridge Trust grant recipients.

A record number of grant requests were received for 2007 funds. Thirteen different diocese and organizations were awarded grants including:
· The Diocese of Northern Michigan for a Ministry Development Internship Program.
· The Diocese of Vermont for the development and expansion of a Companion Program for congregations in a period of transition in terms of leadership (one of the two applicants to score the maximum possible points).
· The Diocese of Lexington/Appalachian Ministries Educational Resource Center for providing experiential training in rural ministry for seminarians from urban backgrounds.
· The Diocese of North Carolina: Christian formation training by the Rev. Dr. Leon Spencer targeting rural parishes, plus a training program by the Sand Hills Cluster to strengthen and expand cluster ministry.
· The Diocese of Eastern Oregon: A training by Helen Spector and Anne Hallisey in the use of family systems and Appreciative Inquiry for the development and implementation of mission and ministry.
· The Diocese of Newark/Haven of Hope for Kids: A seminary internship in a revitalized rural parish that found new life by starting a vacation retreat home to be used by urban lower income families caring for critically ill children. (The second of the two applicants to score the maximum possible points.)
· Diocese of Southern Virginia: A training by the Rev. Dr. Robert Partlow and Mrs. Judith Carlson to evaluate the possibilities open to rural congregations that can marginally afford a full time priest.
· Rural Ministry Network: rural ministry training via the quarterly publication of Crossroads and the participation in rural ministry trainings.
· Diocese of Colorado: a training by the Rt. Rev. Elliott Sorge, the Rev. Lada Hardwick, and the Rev. Wayne Schwab to help congregations move from maintenance to mission and help them to be vital with out full time clergy.
· Diocese of South East Florida: specific training for the creation of a multi-cultural, multi-generational, multi-parish and multi-lingual ministry in a rural, lower socio-economic, ethnically diverse agricultural area.
· Diocese of El Camino Real and the Diocese of Northern California: the training of local church leaders in a satellite Filipino church across diocesan borders (approved by the Ecclesiastical Authority in both dioceses.)
· Diocese of Alaska: the development of a cross-generational web-based Christian formation program by the Rev. Katherine Hunt and Gail Loken to be used in rural churches.

The Roanridge Trust is to be used specifically for the “training of town and country clergy and rural Christian workers of PECUSA” (now known as The Episcopal Church).
The application period for 2008 funds will be from June 1 to September 1, 2007. For more information, please visit
or contact the Rev. Suzanne Watson at

Conference Announcement!

Save the Date…

The Office of Congregational Development is pleased to announce a conference on

Creative Models of Sacramental Leadership
In the Small Church

October 7-10, 2007

Kanuga Camp and Conference Center
Hendersonville, North Carolina

Confirmed Presenters:

· The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church in the United States
· The Most Rev. David Moxon, Archbishop and Primate of New Zealand
· The Right Rev. James A. Kelsey, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan
· The Rev. Stephen M. Kelsey, Missioner/Superintendent Greater Hartford Regional Ministry

Additional presenters to be confirmed on the topics of interdenominational clusters and mergers, plus other creative models.

This conference is designed for Bishops, Diocesan Staff, Clergy and Lay Leaders interested in exploring different models of sacramental leadership in churches with an average Sunday attendance of 70 or less.

Look for more information and registration material in early 2007, or contact The Rev. Suzanne Watson at