“These are my people!”

A photo from June's Confirmation service at St. Stephen's, Edina.

A photo from June’s Confirmation service at St. Stephen’s, Edina.

As I walked into the growing crowd, I had an immediate sense of “these are my people.” The occasion was to celebrate the life of my uncle who, after 90 full years, went on to God’s greater glory in January. Aunts, uncles, a whole herd of cousins, and a good number of their offspring had gathered on this glorious Sunday afternoon as a family, to give thanks for Uncle Norm.

Five hours later as I was driving away, I was filled with a deep sense of appreciation. I was grateful not only for the time spent with multiple generations of my family, but just for the fact that I have such a strong connection to my family. I felt truly blessed by the bond that was created by growing up with my siblings, while surrounded by grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. And I was also feeling really thankful that time and distance have not diminished the family bond that, with each generation, just keeps blessing us with spouses and more kids.

To that end, I feel doubly blessed that I was, nearly 30 years ago, welcomed into Staci’s family. A cadre of characters who, from the beginning, wrapped their loving family arms around me as their own. And while I have not been connected to these folks for as long as I have been to my family of origin, it is frankly hard to remember when I was not a part of this family.

I did not choose these family circles; one I was born into, and the other I married into. And I am truly grateful for both. I am also part of another family that I did choose to be a part of – the Church, the body of Christ, the family of God. And I am just as grateful for that family as well. Like my biological family, my Church family has been with me my entire life. Like both my other families, my Church family is multigenerational and ever-increasing. Whether I am part of a gathering at one of our faith communities in ECMN, or at General Convention, inevitably I feel an immediate sense of “these are my people!”

Family that is manifested, however, is one of the greatest gifts from God. I am truly grateful for all those who are family to me, and I look forward to every one of those families welcoming more and more folks to be a part of them!

Writing Your Own “Elevator Speech”

A photo from Episcopal Youth Quest Camp, held July 12-18 at Camp OneHeartland

A photo from Episcopal Youth Quest Camp, held July 12-18 at Camp OneHeartland

“Your Elevator Speech Sucks!” This is the title of a presentation that my friend and colleague, The Rt. Rev. Greg Rickel, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, gave at the “Buildings for a New Tomorrow” event held April 13-15 in Cary, NC. It is a short presentation and I would encourage you to view it here.

Growing up in a small church in a small town in the West, no one knew who or what Episcopalians were. When asked by a friend, my elders in the church taught me to say, “We are just like the Roman Catholics except we don’t have a Pope.” As I grew in both knowledge of the Episcopal Church and maturity of faith, I became much more adept in describing our Episcopal identity. However, after seminary I found that I “knew too much” and when asked about being an Episcopalian, I would respond in greater depth than people either had time for or were interested in. 

As we began to invite all of our ECMN faith communities to become clearer about their own unique identities, we suggested that spending time talking about what it means to be Episcopalian would be helpful. It was during this time that I started doing what became known as the Purple Card Project. In a wide variety of settings, this process involved inviting folks to write down five words that came to mind when I said the word Episcopal. When we created a “Wordle,” these were the most prominent: Mission, Faith, Welcoming, Diverse, and Engaging. These are, of course, not definitive but certainly a helpful start.

In the May 2015 issue of the National Association of Episcopal Schools newsletter, Ann Mellow writes:

“Summer is a perfect time to stake stock of how the school is articulating and presenting its Episcopal identity. Here are six strategies:

* Name and claim the core values, norms, and practices that embody the school’s Episcopal identity.

*Develop shared language about what it means at your school to be an Episcopal school.   

*Directly address your community’s most common questions and misconceptions about what it means to be an Episcopal school.

*Insure that the school’s website, social media, and publications reflect the school’s Episcopal mission, attitudes, values, and practices.

*Intentionally address the school’s Episcopal identity in admissions tours, open houses, and interviews.

*Finally, continuously educate students, parents, faculty and staff, and trustees about what “Episcopal” means at your school.”

I think Ann’s suggestions are not only great, but applicable to all of our faith communities. Yet, in the end I believe, as Bishop Rickel suggested, we all need to work on being as clear and concise about our Episcopal identity as possible. As such, I invite you to start working on your “elevator speech” now – you never know when somebody may ask you about the Episcopal Church.

Camping Ministry Reemerging Within ECMN

Episcopal Youth Quest Camp 2015

Episcopal Youth Quest Camp 2015

Whoot woo! (That’s my fired up sound!). As I turned onto the dirt road, I found my sense of excitement to be ever-increasing. Moments later I was out of the car, walking toward the lodge where I was enthusiastically greeted by the hardworking staff and filled with anticipation for the soon-to-be arriving campers.

This last Sunday, the dream of expanding camping ministry in ECMN became a reality! Thanks to the bold visioning and the passionate dedication of many, Episcopal Youth Quest Camp, our camping program for middle schoolers, is holding its inaugural camp season. Building on the very successful Episcopal Youth Music Camp, this is the first camp offering with a long-term goal of providing camping ministry for elementary through high school students.

ECMN has a strong history of providing camping ministry opportunities for young people. On a fairly regular basis, I hear stories from folks about their transformative experiences of attending camp in Minnesota as a young person. While many of our present young people have been blessed to have numerous great experiences with their own and other youth groups, they have not had the opportunity to attend camp. That is changing right now – THANKS BE TO GOD!

Like so many Minnesotans of my generation, knowing the impact of being able to spend a week in a camping environment, it is incredibly exciting to see camping ministry reemerging within ECMN!