Episcopal Diocese of Washington

Engaging a changing world with
an enduring faith in Jesus Christ

News & Features

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

Prayer Services for Great Mills School Shooting

March 20, 2018

Ascension, Lexington Park

A community prayer service co-hosted by area churches is planned for 6:00 p.m at Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Lexington Park (map) this evening, in response to the shooting this morning at Great Mills High School in southern Maryland.

The service is being planned in coordination with Ascension, Lexington Park, Lexington Park United Methodist Church, Good Samaritan Lutheran Church, Lexington Park Baptist Church, St. George's Episcopal Church, Valley Lee, Trinity Lutheran Church, Lexington Park and God's House Church, Lexington Park.

Peace Lutheran Church, Waldorf

St. Paul's, Piney in Waldorf will co-host a service at 6:30 p.m., with Peace Lutheran Church and Good Samaritan Methodist Church. The service will take place at Peace Lutheran (map).

Members of the community impacted by the shooting today, and those in the region seeking to pray in solidarity, are invited to attend either service.

For further updates please visit our Facebook page.

Category: News

Lent, Luke, and #MeToo

March 15, 2018

Photos courtesy of St. Luke's, D.C.

Three Central D.C. Parishes Engage the Good Book Club with a Gender Justice Lens

by Richard Mosson Weinberg

This Lent, three central D.C. parishes are participating in the Good Book Club—a movement promoted by the Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, in which Episcopalians across the country were invited to read the Gospel of Luke during Lent and the Acts of the Apostles during Easter. Members of St. Luke’s, St. Margaret’s, and St. Thomas’, however, are participating with a particular lens in mind.

I serve as associate rector at St. Margaret’s, and along with my rector, the Rev. Kym Lucas; St. Thomas’ Priest-in-Charge Alex Dyer; and St. Luke’s seminarian, Maurice Dyer (no relation); we wanted to plan a Lenten formation series that would bring the conversation happening in our culture around the #MeToo movement to our study of the Bible.

This isn’t the first challenging issue our parishes have tackled together. Last year during Lent, the three congregations wrestled with white supremacy by reading Jim Wallis’ recent book, America’s Original Sin. This year’s examination of issues around gender justice shares roots with a collaboration launched last fall (for which All Souls Episcopal Church joined us): Thirsting for Justice, a monthly conversation on topics at the intersection of Christian theology and contemporary issues of justice.

In planning our Lenten series, we accepted the presiding bishop’s invitation to participate in the Good Book Club, but with the caveat that we wanted to engage the Gospel by focusing on the women characters in Luke. Who are they? What can we learn from them? Why does Luke have the reputation of being more inclusive of women? Is that reputation warranted? When are Luke’s women characters presented in a liberating light, and when does Luke seem to perpetuate roles of subordination?

These were some of the questions we had in mind as we began. In a nutshell, “We wanted to tackle the demon of misogyny,” as Kym Lucas put it in her introduction the first week of Lent.

The four of us leading the series each facilitates a small group after one of us takes a turn presenting an introduction of a chosen passage each week.

Alex Dyer expressed appreciation for our collaborative approach, saying, “Even the best of churches often attract like-minded people. This can lead to groupthink. Expanding the Lenten program to three churches means fresh insights.” He added, “Together our collaboration provides a richness that is a hallmark of the Holy Spirit.”

Kym echoed a similar appreciation. She said, “Our congregational experience of gender expectations and roles varies in relation to our context—as does our biblical engagement. I think it is important to hear each other's perspectives and work together to find ways to combat the sexism and misogyny that is often buried deep in our tradition.”

The fruitfulness of this multi-parish collaboration is evident in how the participants describe their experiences: “wonderful, engaging, and challenging.” Our participants are diverse: probably three-quarters women and one-quarter men, with ages ranging from retired elders to young professionals in their twenties.

I emailed a couple of participants to ask why it was important for them to be part of the Luke series and how they have found it thus far. Jessica Church, a worshiper at St. Margaret’s, wrote:

In my professional life, I work for a nonprofit that advocates for policies and laws that help women and girls achieve their full potential. During this #MeToo moment, ... I am grateful for the opportunity to draw connections between my strong belief in gender equity and my Christian faith. ... I leave each session with many things to contemplate, but buoyed with the spirit to do so.

Catherine Manhardt, senior warden of St. Thomas’, wrote:

I’ve been surprised by how meaningful I’ve found the act of reading and reflecting on the women in Luke’s Gospel. I often feel discouraged when I think about how women’s voices and women’s roles have been marginalized by the institutional church over the course of its history. This Bible study has reminded me that in the very beginning of Christianity, women were welcomed, included, and raised up as leaders.

Other responses have ranged from positive to challenging. My small group in particular struggled with the birth narratives in our first session because of the ways that Elizabeth and Mary’s roles are limited to child rearing. Still, even naming this tension was meaningful for some.

For others, focusing on Luke in its historical context is critical. One participant wrote, “We should be careful that a twenty-first–century American worldview not be the basis for interpreting a first-century document.”

Still other participants who may have originally approached a passage with skepticism were later appreciative of another’s interpretation. “A woman in my group had a completely different perspective on the figure of Mary,” one participant wrote. “It really opened my eyes to this scripture, which was lovely. She was able to see Mary as having a lot more agency than I tend to give her.”

For my part, I pray that all of us this Lenten season and coming Eastertide continue to open our eyes to the ways scripture nourishes us, challenges us, and invites us into a relationship with God and each other. It’s a joy that our three parishes have found fruitful and faithful ways to do this together.

Category: News