Episcopal Diocese of Washington

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an enduring faith in Jesus Christ

News & Features

Everyone's Connected

March 22, 2018

Written by The Rev. Gregory C. Syler, Rector of  Church of the Ascension, Lexington Park and St. George's, Valley Lee

One of the first lessons I learned when I came to southern Maryland was that everyone’s connected. “It’s likely they’re cousins,” I was told, “and if not cousins, they’re friends.” We’re not a big community. There are only 110,000 residents of St. Mary’s County. We only have one incorporated town, Leonardtown, and each little village is more like a neighborhood in a larger city. St. Mary’s County is one really big small town.

I know I don’t need to rehearse the events of this past Tuesday, the shooting at Great Mills High School. I also know I don’t need to explain why our faith communities gathered Tuesday night in prayer. A post like this really is preaching to the choir, after all.

But that was a question the media asked: What inspired you to gather? Of all the interviews I gave throughout the day and evening Tuesday that question was asked by every single one. Why are you doing this?

Because we needed to be together. Because our response to tragedy is not a ready-made answer, but a commitment to journey into the heart of God, and with one another at our side. Because I needed scripture to be my perspective, and prayer my voice, and God my guide. Because I wanted to keep our daughter home from school all day, and maybe for the rest of her life, if I could.

But my phone was already ringing and the texts were coming fast. A pastor from the Lutheran Church and another from the Methodist Church, each at either end of Great Mills Road, Ascension, Lexington Park’s neighbors. The director of HOPE of Southern Maryland, the justice center at Ascension, and the churches in our HOPE network. My wife, Iman, who sent the clearest text of all: “Prayer service. Tonight. I’ll help.” Our deacon postulant, Mike Cahall, a volunteer EMT with the Lexington Park Rescue Squad, letting me know he was on the scene at 0800. “Meeting at the squad at noon,” he said, heading off to another call. Episcopal colleagues, especially those who came down to be present at Leonardtown High School, where the students from Great Mills were being picked up, enabling the St. Mary’s clergy to attend to our people on the ground. My last call was to Bishop Mariann, apologizing for interrupting her sabbatical.  She was present, encouraging, and wise. “We are organized and organizing,” I told her.

Looking at the call record on my phone, that last one was 10:02 a.m. The Community Prayer Service was all but planned, and the leadership of nearly 30 faith communities were not only committed to gather that night but already on the ground – church doors open, hospital chaplains ready, ministers at the local schools, each checking in with each other.

We found a litany written by the Rev’d Laura Everett after 2013’s Boston Marathon Bombing and adapted it for our use. It was exactly what we needed. Somewhere between the need to bring about real change in the public sphere and the kind of crippling hopelessness that wonders ‘Why here?’ is a set of deeper Christian convictions – that gathering in the Name of God is a power unto itself, that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not, will not overcome it. The Rev’d Everett said as much as she began: “This is what we do when we don’t know what else to do. We cling to one another, voice our grief, and offer up our prayers to God.” It takes no small amount of courage to face the darkness with light, to “remain steadfast in charity, defiant in hope, and constant in prayer.”

Category: News

Litany from the St. Mary's County Community Prayer Service held March 20th

March 22, 2018

This is what we do when we don’t know what else to do. We cling to one another, voice our grief, and offer up our prayers to God. Please join in the response. When we say, “Gracious God,” we invite your response: Heal and Renew Us, O God.


We pray for those injured, those who have died. May the God of Life welcome them into that place where there is no pain or grief. In this hour of darkness, surround their families with a peace that passes all understanding. Gracious God, Heal and Renew Us, O God.

We pray for the wounded. Those wounded in their bodies. Our community and all who have been wounded by the events of this day. Our eyes have seen more than they should. Our hearts are rended open. Attend to the wounded bodies and spirits of the survivors. Gracious God, Heal and Renew Us, O God.

We pray for the EMTs, doctors, nurses and staff who tend to brokenness. Bind up their unseen wounds. Make steady shaky hands, mend broken hearts and wipe away every tear. Gracious God, Heal and Renew Us, O God.

We pray for the police, fire and emergency personnel who risk their own safety to preserve ours. In a time of chaos and uncertainty, O God, steady those who protect us. For generations, you have been our refuge and our strength. Gracious God, Heal and Renew Us, O God.

We pray for our counselors, clergy and mental health professionals. May they guide troubled minds and broken spirits. Bless those who devote themselves to the care of others. Give them strength for the long days ahead. Gracious God, Heal and Renew Us, O God.

We pray for the media, our reporters and photographers. We give thanks for those who strive to share stories of suffering and hope. Gracious God, Heal and Renew Us, O God.

We pray for all the students, teachers, and staff of our local schools, and all schools and places of learning. Give them comfort and courage to name their struggles and delight in seeking one another’s love, and yours. Gracious God, Heal and Renew Us, O God.

We pray for our children startled by such chaos in our community today. Give us wisdom to raise them up in the paths of peace. Be with our County’s parents, teachers and child care providers who try to answer the questions of anxious children. Gracious God, Heal and Renew Us, O God.

We pray for the FBI, the investigators and all who guide our justice system. Help us not seek vengeance but truth and justice. Gracious God, Heal and Renew Us, O God.

We pray for the perpetrators of violence. We confess the dark places in our own hearts that lust for revenge. Give us a love stronger than hate and a peace stronger than violence. May peace flow through our community like the rivers which frame our places. Gracious God, Heal and Renew Us, O God.

Convict us to rise above the hatred that wrought such violence. Guide us to resist gossip and rumor. Preserve us from quick judgments. Give us wisdom in the days ahead. Reveal to us peace and truth. Gracious God, Heal and Renew Us, O God.

We pray for our County Commissioners, our Governor, Senators, Representatives, and all elected officials. Give them gentle words and wise hearts in the days ahead. Gracious God, Heal and Renew Us, O God.

Train our eyes to see acts of kindness in our community. Prod our hands to reach out to strangers. Silence our tongues when we are tempted to lash out in frustration and fear. Give us all words of comfort and love. Gracious God, Heal and Renew Us, O God.

Give us the courage to endure what cannot be avoided. Bring us hope that we will be made equal with whatever lies ahead. Knit us together, neighbors and friends.  Draw near to us in this time of sorrow. Gracious God, Heal and Renew Us, O God.

Even as we grieve, we will remain steadfast in charity, defiant in hope, and constant in prayer. Though the race before us this day is hard, remind us again and again, that we do not take a single step alone. Gracious God, Heal and Renew Us, O God.

Adapted from a litany created by the Rev. Laura Everett in response to the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013. 

Category: News

Technology empowering Ministry using ACS Realm

March 21, 2018

Investment in technology is often an afterthought in many churches, where the approach may be "why fix it if it isn't broken?" Outside of the churchosphere however, technology development and adoption has moved at rapid and incredible speed, sometimes leaving us floundering and wondering how we can catch up with only limited resources. There are various resources and technology and communications tools that we'll take a look at in upcoming issues of the wardens newsletter, and in each case, examine how your diocesan staff can be of assistance to your parish. 

Church membership systems are one of the cornerstones of a parish's technology infrastructure. For decades, the main task of church databases has been to serve the information needs of the parish staff by residing on a (sometimes cranky) computer in the office, tracking parishioners' contact and contribution information, producing pledge reports, labels, and reports. For many years, updated and affordable systems that match the customer service features that people often use outside of their church life have not been available due in no small part to lack of investment by church database vendors. Imagine if you couldn't buy that favorite book off Amazon without mailing in a check in a special envelope with your Amazon ID number printed on the front? 

The good news is that more recently, some substantial new systems have come online that have opened the door to small and medium sized churches from well established and familiar vendors. After a protracted review and comparison of available systems and vendors, in 2017 the Diocese of Washington negotiated an initiative with ACS Technologies (a company that has been in the church database business over 40 years with over 30,000 clients nationwide) to bring their online Realm membership system in the Diocese of Washington with premium features at reduced prices for our parishes. Realm turns the traditional model of the church database on its head, by making the technology drive the mission and ministry needs of the parish. It does this by delivering an impressive suite of technology features over the web to leaders, staff, parishioners. 

Just a few of the Realm features that make it a compelling system to adopt include:

  • Staff are able to administer, customize, and manage the fields, user roles, access, and workflow
  • Parishioners can view and update their own contact information in the parish system online or using the mobile app
  • Integrated events enable online registrations for members or visitors and collect any event payments or donations through the system into their record. Admins can set event leaders with access to manage the event.
  • Members can participate in parish committees or groups either online or by using the mobile app. Admins can give group leaders permission to manage the group, sharing of resources, and communication among members
  • Integrated online pledging and giving through the online portal or using the smartphone mobile app makes egiving by parishioners a breeze directly into the system. EDOW negotiated that all parishes should have the version of Realm that includes the mobile and giving features at reduced cost to enable modern technology tools to be fully available for all. In addition, pledge statements can be quickly emailed out through Realm, and members can check their full giving history online or using the mobile app whenever they like.
  • An online directory adds extra value to the system so members and leaders may look up how to contact another individual or family in the parish. The directory is always up to date as it is live from the database rather than a printed version (although that is still an option!), and each individual or household may update their own privacy settings for what contact details they would like to be included in the directory. 
  • Finally, as Realm is a web based product, managed and hosted by ACS, the parish is only responsible for an affordable monthly subscription which includes updates, technical support and troubleshooting, backups, and security (which they take very, very seriously!)

In short, Realm is a great tool to support and empower much parish ministry, and makes staying connected with parishioners much easier for clergy and leaders, as well as volunteers and parishioners. It's also a great tool to be able to offer to new parishioners and demonstrates that the parish community takes its technology seriously. Features of Realm can be easily linked and included on the parish website so you can showcase just some of what you have to offer visitors in terms of engagement using technology before they even step foot in the door!

In the first year of offering Realm to parishes with the EDOW plan, 25% of all our parishes have decided to adopt it to take advantage of the cost savings, features, and to make a worthwhile investment in technology for the present and the future. Join the growing community of EDOW Realm parishes!

For more details or with questions, please contact IT Director Peter Turner.

Category: News

The Community Purchasing Alliance

March 21, 2018

How a small group of enterprising and justice-focused leaders became a successful cooperative saving regional institutions hundreds of thousands of dollars
by Kathleen Hall, Director, Human Resources and Administration

In summer 2013, Paul Barkett, COO of St. Columba’s, invited Paul Cooney and me to join a discussion of Interfaith leaders about creating savings for congregations while contracting with vendors committed to fair wages and environmental stewardship. Felipe Witchger, co-founder and Executive Director of the Community Purchasing Alliance, articulated a well-researched business plan already vetted and tested by a pilot group of very happy partners. By 2014, the Community Purchasing Alliance had a financial model for sustainability and was incorporated as a cooperative association.

Today, the Diocese encourages parishes to participate, noting the alignment of CPA Goals and Aspirations with our desire for collaboration and sustainability:

  • Deliver significant savings and value to participating institutions
  • Be self-sustaining financially and be able to seed other cooperative ventures
  • Be able to share net proceeds to support community organizing 
  • Grow to 200+ members in the greater Washington/Baltimore region, offer purchasing opportunities in fifteen service areas, secure millions in annual savings for members, and generate hundreds of thousands in annual rebate revenue
  • Keep operating costs low to be able to support community organizing and cooperative development and offer dividends back to members
  • Leverage 50 million dollars in group purchasing power for serious investments in sustainability, just wages and labor practices for workers, and local community wealth building

Four years later, the CPA pays dividends to its members, employs a staff of six and can save your parish time and money. CPA staff help you assess the opportunities for greatest savings and impact. Offerings include:

  • Clean Energy
  • Cleaning and Maintenance
  • Copier Leasing
  • Landscaping
  • Natural Gas
  • Office Supplies
  • Payroll
  • Security
  • Solar
  • Trash Hauling

Felipe Witchger continues to provide vision and leadership, cultivating new opportunities for partnership and growth. His leadership and the success of the Alliance caught the attention of The New York Times and the Duke Divinity School’s Faith & Leadership.

Today there are 160 actively participating organizations with total savings of $2,900,000. We’re grateful to Paul Barkett for his work in the early years of the CPA.

Need a quick consult about a service contract? Call Jessica with the Community Purchasing Alliance (www.cpa.coop) who helps dozens of churches and community institutions with everything from pre-negotiated copier pricing to free roof replacements -- with a no-cost install of solar panels -- to local vendor recommendations for almost anything through their private-label "yelp" -- www.MARVL.org. Jessica is at 301-266-1721 or jessica@cpa.coop 


Category: Uncategorized

Income from Rental of Church Facilities…Avoiding Traps for the Unwary

March 20, 2018

Congregations in the Diocese of Washington and elsewhere increasingly supplement pledge and investment earnings with income from making church facilities available at a charge to outside groups.  These arrangements vary from the use of facilities for single events to ongoing use of church facilities by other congregations, schools and other groups.

Several areas deserve attention concerning arrangements for ongoing uses of parish facilities—

  • Zoning. It is wise to be familiar with the zoning classification for your property to avoid uses that are beyond the scope of uses that are authorized in the zone. Sometimes it is possible to obtain a Special Exception for uses outside the applicable zoning category.

  • Property Tax. To varying degrees within the Diocese, local property tax assessors have demonstrated increasing interest in obtaining partial assessments of property taxes based on facility rentals. The volume of outside group space usage, the nature of the groups using church property and the structure of the transactions all are relevant to determining the degree of vulnerability to receiving a partial assessment of property taxes.

  • Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT). Generally, rental income will be exempt from federal unrelated business income tax. However, if there is outstanding indebtedness that was used to fund the acquisition or improvement of the facilities being rented, this exemption may not apply—and the church may be required to file a tax return with the IRS Form 990-T and remit UBIT.

It is important to carefully document arrangements for the use of church facilities. Some complex arrangements for ongoing use of church property, such as by a school, may require a leasing relationship.  However, the greater number of uses may be more flexibly documented with a facilities use agreement. In addition to key terms such as a clear description of the space, the term of the arrangement, and the amount to be paid for the use, there are other terms that should be addressed. Some of these include:

  • Policies concerning use of alcohol;

  • Termination provisions that permit the church to conclude the arrangement quickly and with certainty if necessary;

  • Insurance provisions protecting the church; and

  • Indemnification provisions under which users are required to hold the church harmless from claims and expenses arising out of the use of the facilities.

Members of your Diocesan Team are here to assist you in assessing issues, reducing risks and documenting arrangements with space users.

Questions? Email Paul Cooney


Category: Uncategorized