Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Why: We form a stewardship team for three reasons:

An effective team will raise more money to fund the church’s mission. Other factors play into people’s decision to fund or not to fund a congregation’s work. But, after the congregation’s relationship with the priest, a strong stewardship team presenting a compelling program is the single most important factor.

The stewardship program engenders support and appreciation for all  the other parish ministries.

The project of developing and presenting a stewardship program is a  chance for the members of the team to form or deepen relationships  that are the lifeblood of the congregation.

How: The priest, ideally in consultation with the wardens, identifies the   
           best people for the project and personally -- phone is ok but not   
           email – asks the person to serve. Do not send out a general    
           solicitation: “who wants to be on the stewardship team?” Call  
           someone up or take them to lunch and say, “I need you to do this.”

When: I blundered by trial and error into this mystery of   
            stewardship back in my parish priest days. If the stewardship
            team is formed and meets by March, you will have a strong
            campaign. Otherwise, you are behind the 8-ball. It does not work
            to panic on September 15 and nab someone to “write the letter.”
            If a core group is meeting and thinking about stewardship early,
            the vibe changes. Maybe it’s telepathic. Even if they don’t roll
            anything out until October, they need to start meeting by March.

Size:  Usually, stewardship team members give more money to the
           church than they would if they were not on the team. So if you want
           more money, it will help to have more people on the team. The  
           friends of team members are also more likely to give. So having
           more people on the team tends to mean more friends giving.

Who: The basic Heifetz principle applies. You need “the right people on the  
           bus.” So who are the right people? There are exceptions and a 
           congregation may want to do something special for a year. But
           generally, these principles apply:
             People who know people: The team’s strongest influence
             will be on their friends. So you need people who are connected.
             This is why it is important to diversify the team, as different
             people have different friends. You want diversity according
    demographics like age and race, but especially if the    
    congregation has more than one worship service, it is good
    to include people from the different worship services on the team.

     People who love the parish. The stewardship team represents 
     the congregation to the congregation. How they feel about the   
     congregation and its leadership, both lay and clergy, will come 
     across. Their attitude is absolutely crucial.

     People with a heart for stewardship. A lot of folks (including many 
     clergy) have emotional issues about money.  Others have such   
     issues about God. Put money and God in the same conversation   
     and it is not easy to find people with a healthy attitude. So look for      
     them diligently. They are the key.

     People who know stewardship. You need at least one, preferably   
     two or so, members who have been to The Episcopal Network for  
     Stewardship (TENS), Stewardship University, Project Resource,
     or some such training so they will have a sense of the best    
     practices today. The Church had a long period of decline. That’s
     when we learned that a lot of our old stewardship practices
     do not work. But people using TENS, Stew U, and Project
     Resource today are getting a very different result.

     People with skills. Most of all, you need someone with       
     organizational skills to get the job done – like running a
     meeting, ending with action steps, prescribing deadlines,
     and setting up accountability. Artistic skills, language skills,
     drama skills, etc. may all come into play depending on the
     kind of program the team plans.

     People with credibility. Who you appoint to the team tells
     the congregation whether this is important or not. You need
     someone on the team who has the respect of the congregation.

      People with time. Of course, no one has time. But you don’t
      want to overburden anyone with church work. So choose   
      someone who can be freed up from some of their other church
      work for a year. Do not choose your wardens, your treasurer,
      or your finance committee. Counting money and raising it are
      usually incompatible. So look a bit farther.

              People who can give themselves. These do not have to be
              your wealthiest members, but the team needs to be able
              to set an example of generosity.

No one person will have all traits we need in the stewardship team. That is fine. Just try to get all the traits represented by the team collectively. That just builds the value of the relationship-building component.

A well formed – and early formed! – stewardship team becomes a microcosm of the congregation. Its energy and vitality vibrate out into the congregation, enlivening worship, formation, evangelism, fellowship, and every aspect of parish life.

Friday, November 20, 2015


A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For the journey and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
T. S. Eliot

Eliot’s famous poem The Journey of the Magi is about his own path from proud agnosticism to humble faith.  A brutally honest poem, it does not shy away from the hardness of the spiritual journey. A cold coming we had of it. Not a feel good weekend. Not a Praise Jesus exuberance. But a grappling with the threatening fact that the spiritual life is all about transformation – change. Do not be conformed to the ways of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Romans 12: 2. And change is hard. There is a grief in it. Eliot knew that Christianity would cost him something, maybe everything. It did not come easy.

               . . . Were we lead all this way for
        Birth or Death. There was a Birth certainly . . .
        I had seen Birth and Death
       But thought they were different. This Birth was
       Hard and bitter agony for us, like death, our death.
      We returned to our places, these kingdoms
      But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation . . ..

 And he knew it was not a do-it-once-and-get-it-over-with thing but a lifelong process of surrender in faith, a process leading into the unknown. Such a long journey.

The change we undertake is the birth of Christ. Christmas is always coming as Christ is always being born. He was not born just once long ago. He is eternally begotten of the Father. (Nicene Creed). So as we consider the spirituality of Advent, think of words like labor and transition. The coming birth of Christ is not bit of news that happens somewhere far off and we watch it on the news. It is far more intimate than that. It happens inside us. The 14th Century Dominican friar Meister Eckhart said, It does not matter that Christ was born in Bethlehem long ago unless he is born in you today.

Advent is not the birth. It is the pregnancy and the labor.  This is the time when we sense change coming and we live in that expectation. From where I sit, I am acutely aware of impending change in three arenas – individual lives, congregations, the diocese.

The place I see it most clearly is in congregations. An unusual number of our congregations have been engaged in major shifts the past couple of years.  For some that has involved clergy transitions. But other changes have been afoot as well. In some places those changes are coming to the final stage. They are in labor.  A lay leader in one congregation has been saying for the last few weeks “It is Advent at our church.” He means they feel a change a-comin’, and the feelings are complicated. There is hopeful expectation among some while others are lining up against a new clergy person they have not met yet. It reminds me of my Face Book friends who are in a frenzy of opposition to “the New Prayer Book” though not a word of it has been written; nor will a word of it be written for some year yet. It is perhaps unfair to poke fun at the irrationality of our resistances to change. We are all prone to it. I am kind of opposed to the non-existent new prayer book myself. We resist because though we may not know what change will bring, we do know what it won’t be – it won’t be the familiar past. We don’t know what is being born. We only know what is dying.

Being a congregation is a frustrating proposition because sooner or later all congregations become bulwarks against change – but change is the grass growing up through cracks in the sidewalk. We can’t stop it. It just keeps on a-coming. Birth happens. How shall we respond to it?

It matters how we cope with change in our congregations because that is part and parcel of how we cope with change in the rest of our lives. We may not have a priest, vestry, or bishop to blame for the shifting sand of our families, our health, our jobs, our homes, etc. But change will happen whether we can find someone to blame or not. Church is a training ground for life; so dealing with Church Change is our gymnasium for coping with Life Change. How then shall we go about the project of Advent?

Let’s start by being honest about how change feels.

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For the journey and such a long journey: . . ..
            This Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like death, our death.
We returned to our places, these kingdoms
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation . . ..

Change usually – at least often – feels more like this than Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly fa la la la la.

So I suggest it is helpful to do three things at once. First, it is important to acknowledge what we love in the present and to allow ourselves to grieve it. And yes grief consists of denial, bargaining, anger, sadness, and resignation. (To see that concisely fleshed out, check
We can’t skip the process. As the great Lutheran theologian Paul Tillich said, There is no truth without the way to truth. So all those feelings are necessary. I have only one word of caution about them. The feelings generate thoughts that may not strictly conform to reality. So remember this dictum: don’t believe everything you think.

Second, even though we are accustomed to the way things are, we are not satisfied with them. We feel something missing. It is the human condition to long for a better world in large and small ways. The lessons and the music of Advent express that longing. We are “captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here.”
We need not be slaves to consistency. The fact that we are accustomed to the familiar ways of “this present age” (Galatians 1: 4) does not mean we are not also hungry for something we are not yet being served. Ambivalence is the human condition. That’s why we are still watching Hamlet. It is far more workable to acknowledge and experience our conflicting feelings than to acknowledge one side and stuff the other into our unconscious.

Third, when we turn our thoughts to expectation – when we imagine what is about to be born – it helps to cultivate an attitude of openness. That basically means a wait-and-see attitude. A few folks have exaggeratedly optimistic views. More of us tend to be pessimistic. If we want to be realistic, we will not be overconfident of our ability to predict the future. God may know what lies ahead. But we don’t. I sometimes hear “I’ve seen it all before. This will be just like when . .  . “ It probably won’t. The future does repeat the past a bit but mostly it is new. Even when it echoes the past to some degree, there are always interesting variations on the theme.

Often new things happen, but people whose minds are stuck in the past are simply unable to see them. They keep seeing and hearing the same old thing, though something new is really happening. That is why God was shaking Israel by the shoulders and shouting:

                        Behold I am doing a new thing!
                        Even now it springs up!
                        Do you not perceive it?
                                                            Isaiah 43: 19

When something new is happening and we cannot see it because our minds are mired in the past, we become unhinged from reality and ineffective at dealing with it. The spiritual discipline here is to watch and wait.

                                    As for me I watch
                                    for the God of my salvation.
                                                            Micah 7: 7

Psalm 5: 3; Habakkuk 2: 1; Matthew 26: 38; Isaiah 40: 31. It is a practice of sitting still and keeping alert, waiting to see what comes instead of rushing in to fill the mysterious void with our own predictions.

In summary, I recommend a three part spiritual discipline for dealing with change (which is another way of saying “dealing with life.”)

1.    Acknowledge the grief.
2.    Acknowledge the longing
3.    Wait and see

If we practice these attitudes in the Church – what a place to practice a spiritual discipline! – that discipline can become a habit that permeates the rest of our life in a gracious wise way. Such an Advent spirituality will get us to the stable so that we show up for the birth of Christ in our lives and in our souls.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


It’s not what happens but how you react to it that matters.
                                                       Epictetus (55-135 AD)

The terrorist shootings and bombings in Paris are horrific, as was the terrorist attack of similar proportions in Kenya last April, as are all incidents of mass violence. I was ordained on the anniversary of the greatest act of mass violence in history; the bombing of Hiroshima that ended 100,000 lives in “a noiseless flash.”[i] The Japanese priest who preached at my ordination said:
          Endings are a natural consequence of life itself – but
          we see violent death as an outrage because it is unnatural.

The priest, Koji Hayashi, told the story of Masao Watanabe who was in Hiroshima that day. He said,

           Masao had to pass through what remained of Hiroshima
           to reach the railway system. He was so broken in spirit
           by the devastation he passed that he could not bear
           to leave the suffering and wounded without some gesture
          of what he felt in his heart – so he put down his duffel bag.
          It was everything he owned. . . .

         Dan, you know, as we all know, that a broken spirit is more
         than an ending. Is the empty vessel that is ready to be filled.

And therein lies the question: filled with what?

It’s not what happens but how you react to it that matters.

I see most of the world filling the vessel with love and compassion for all who suffer from the violence in our world. I see hearts broken open to share the grief of France and Kenya. But others have opened their hearts to fear and hatred. That is, of course what terrorists hope to accomplish. That is the response they hope to see.

Fear plus hatred does not equal wisdom. For example, although I thought I could no longer be surprised by anything politicians say, I was stunned to hear a leading presidential candidate call for the closing of American mosques. It isn’t that such a thing is un-Christian and un-American, it is that it is such a rolling out the welcome mat for terrorism.

ISIS does not appeal to well-adjusted, socially successful, happy youth. ISIS appeals to the lonely, the outcast, the misfits desperate for someone who will take them in, allow them to belong, and give them a mission. When ISIS begins recruiting a teenager, the first thing they set out to do is separate the teenager from his mosque. The mosques are where these teens have a chance of belonging and where they will hear their elders teaching authentic peaceful Islam. American mosques are the frontline of our defense against the recruiting of young jihadists. The very last thing we should do if we want to keep our country safe is close the mosques.

I do not want to belabor the point that Syrian refugees are the fellow victims of ISIS or that ISIS has committed vastly more violence against Syrians and Iraquis than Westerners, and vastly more violence against Muslims than Christians or Jews. It isn’t about numbers. It is that we extend compassion to hurting people who look like us but respond with fear and hatred to hurting people of a different race, religion, and language. The theological imperative to welcome refuges is clear and emphatic.

My point is not theological or moral but spiritual. ISIS weapon is fear. It’s objective is fear. What ISIS wants us to do is “be afraid.” Our Bible says 365 times, “Fear not.” The command Jesus gave his disciples most often was “Fear not.” We are faced each day with the chance to live in fear or love. Those are the options because “There is no room for fear in love but perfect love casts out fear.” 1 John 4: 18.

So let’s get clear on who is promoting what. ISIS is not promoting Islam. ISIS disgraces Islam and slaughters Muslims. ISIS is promoting fear. The question is: are we going to buy it. Are we going to let them win by feeling what they want us to feel, saying what they want us to say, and acting as they want us to act. Fear is the false God they invite us to worship. That’s why the one true God says over and over again, “Fear not.”

Fear makes us reason in the wildest, craziest ways. Someone said this week if we let 10,000 Syrian refugees in our country, if even 1% are terrorists, that is 100 terrorists who might do us tremendous harm. But we have seen more violence here from a few troubled college students. There are close to 21 million college students. If 1% of the college students are crazed gunmen who will commit mass shootings as in Oregon this Fall, that would be 210,000 crazed gunmen. That reason would clearly mandate the closing of all college campuses. The refugees are not the enemy. They are the victims. Yes, we must do reasonable security checks – security checks at a level that is simply impossible in Europe. Acts of love do not have to be foolish. Acts of fear seem to be so compelled.

Masao Watanabe, the young man in Hiroshima, filled the empty vessel of his broken spirit with the love of Christ. He was baptized in the Episcopal Church of Japan. Later he was ordained priest, then bishop, then primate of the Church. His grief never went away, but he turned it into love everyday of his life. You see, Hiroshima Day is also The Feast of the Transfiguration.

It’s not what happens but how you react to it that matters.

[i] John Hersey, Hiroshima