“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.