In Memory of Michael Phillips

Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. michael-phillips

At least that was the passionate belief of Michael Phillips, the creative lead, graphic designer, and cover artist for Forward Movement.

Michael died suddenly on September 24. He was 46 and leaves his wife, Michelle, and their two children, Hannah, 14, and Noah, 12.

When our editorial and marketing teams gathered, Michael was often the spark, throwing out wild and incredible ideas and keeping us laughing. His creative process was an enigma: When we began a project, he would lead us in brainstorming, asking questions like: What kind of car is the book? What is on this project’s mixtape? What superhero or historical character is the book? (Michael loved superheroes).

Somehow he mixed all of our brainstorming into a creative stew and then served up design concepts that reflected and expanded our vision, art that amplified the text and elevated the content. Sometimes you could even see a hint of superhero or VW Bug. 

His work for Forward Movement won many accolades, from awards bestowed by Episcopal Communicators to comments from authors and readers. Michael had tremendous talent, and his gifts will be deeply missed.

But Michael’s contributions to Forward Movement were far more than the work he produced. For most of his life, Michael was searching. He explored different faith traditions, spending time with Judaism, Buddhism, and Christianity. Four years ago, he found the Episcopal Church, a place that became home for his wandering soul. Professionally, he spent much of his career doing corporate design work. But he often talked about how it was only in his two years of work at Forward Movement that he had found his vocation. For the first time, his gifts as a designer matched his profound desire to help; his work became his ministry.

While he took this calling seriously, he embraced life with verve. His office space was full of toys: Lego renderings of Dr. Who, a light saber from Star Wars (with real light and sound), Nerf guns that he used to fire upon colleagues when they were sad/stressed/focused/annoyed/sitting at a desk/walking down a hall. Michael was loud. Really loud. And he was quirky. We have laughed many times this week through our tears about his idiosyncrasies. On his last day at the office, he wore Italian leather loafers without socks. He loved them and how they looked, but they gave him terrible blisters. No matter. In an office of sensible shoes, he was willing to suffer for fashion. A coworker also gave him a ride to his car so he didn’t have to walk several blocks. He could (and would) regale with movie quotes, song lyrics, and theories about what Luke Skywalker was doing between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.

michaeldesk-copyHe loved being a part of the Forward Movement team, and he organized happy hour just two weeks ago. He had plans for a costume party.

Grief is a demanding master, and we are succumbing in different and staggering ways. Stepping off the elevator and expecting to see him grinding and brewing his coffee (the regular house blend wouldn’t do). Walking down the halls adorned by book covers, each works of art. The empty chair during our morning prayer time. A draft for a new project on his desk.

Yet while we are torn by grief, we are not broken. Michael’s search and discovery of the risen Christ is ours. We find comfort in our living, loving God who promises to be with us when we mourn and to help us rediscover joy. In memory, we recall Michael’s many gifts. With a commitment to embracing life with zeal and zest, day by day, we honor him. 


Forward Movement will close its offices on Friday, September 30, so all of our staff can attend the celebration of Michael’s life at Church of the Redeemer in Cincinnati. For those who wish, his family has offered two places for memorials: the Phillips Children Education Fund at US Bank, or Forward Movement, 412 Sycamore Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.

A Season of Prayer: For an Election

This election season has been among the most contentious in recent memory. But whatever our politics, as Christians we always have something we can do. We can pray. For the 30 days leading up to the election, Forward Movement is calling Episcopalians and all others to join us in a time of prayer. (Read Scott Gunn’s full invitation to prayer here.)

Below is the list of downloadable bulletin inserts for A Season of Prayer: For an Election. (We will also be sharing the prayers daily on our Facebook and Twitter feeds, and in Spanish on Adelante día a día.)


A Season of Prayer: For an Election (all)

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5


Ciclo de oración por las elecciones (paquete completo)

Semana 1

Semana 2

Semana 3

Semana 4

Semana 5

ICYMI: A weekly blog roundup

Welcome to In Case You Missed It, a new end-of-week feature we’ll be running here on the Forward Movement blog. Here are some of the stories that captured our attention in the Episcopal social media world this week:

The House of Bishops wrapped up their time in Detroit with an inspiring video. It was an excellent reminder in this fraught election cycle that it was like that in Jesus’ time too. (You can scroll down that page for a full series of videos from the fall 2016 meetings, and check out the top tweets at #hobfall2016.)

In the wake of shootings in Tulsa and Charlotte, the Episcopal community spoke out and shared prayer across social media. We thought this BCP prayer on the Episcopal Church’s Facebook page was apt for this painful moment:


We read two thoughtful takes on Matthew as we celebrate his feast: Jay Sidebotham’s Monday Matters spoke to the saint’s lessons of mercy and grace. On Grow Christians, Marcus Halley wrote that “celebrating the Feast of St. Matthew is the celebration of the lengths that Christ comes to find each of us and the heights to which we are capable of soaring in the knowledge and love of God.”

In an Ember Day edition of Forward Today, Scott Gunn wrote about the importance of praying for clergy, reflecting that it was a practice he enjoyed even before his own call to ministry. We also loved flickr user samdessordi’s striking photo:


And speaking of Bishops, the always-funny Episcopal Church Memes gave us a smile:



Forward Today: Pray for Your Clergy

In this week’s edition of our weekly newsletter, which fell on an Ember Day, Scott reflects on why it’s so important to pray for our clergy–and shares a prayer for readers.

Dear friends in Christ,

Today in our church calendar, we observe an Ember Day. These come along four times each year, and they are set aside for us to pray for the bishops, priests, and deacons of our church, as well as those exploring a call to ordained ministry. People who are in the ordination process are required to write to their bishop during each Embertide. It used to be customary to ordain people on these days.
Before I was ordained, and before I began to answer the call to ordained ministry, I enjoyed praying for the clergy in the congregations I attended. While every person and every leader, lay or clergy, is important in the Body of Christ, our ordained leaders can make a huge difference in the health and vitality of congregations. While most jobs come with their share of stress, serving as a deacon, priest, or bishop brings its own unique combination of joy and challenge. Most clergy you speak with will say (I hope!) that they are grateful to be serving God as they are, but they will also tell you, I suspect, that they would be enormously grateful for your prayers.
 Photo by flickr user samdessordi / Creative Commons


Another time, I will encourage you to pray for lay leaders and all ministers. But today, I encourage you to pray for the clergy you know. The Ember Days for the fall are Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of this week. If you are inclined, you might also send an encouraging note or even a small gift to your parish priest or deacon.
Please join me in prayer.
Almighty God, the giver of all good gifts, in your divine providence you have appointed various orders in your Church: Give your grace, we humbly pray, to all who are called to any office and ministry for your people; and so fill them with the truth of your doctrine and clothe them with holiness of life, that they may faithfully serve before you, to the glory of your great Name and for the benefit of your holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

To get future reflections from Scott in your inbox, subscribe to Forward Today.

Forward Today: Church Should Come with a Warning

In this week’s edition of our weekly newsletter, Scott Gunn writes that “bold risks and brave actions are the stuff of the Gospel,” and asks: “What are you afraid of?”

Dear friends in Christ,

I’m in New York, NY for a series of meetings. The good folks at St. Bart’s Church were kind enough to let us use some space for one of our meetings, and we wandered through their beautiful church a bit before the meeting. It so happens that some work is happening on their massive pipe organ, and so some caution tape was up.

I snapped a photo, and I posted it on social media with this caption: “Spotted at an NYC church today. Every church should require a danger sign, for the Gospel is not meant to be comfortable!” It got a pretty big response. I think people picked up on the fact that it’s not what we expect to see in churches, but it’s something we should see more of.
You see, the Gospel is dangerous. There’s nothing whatsoever that’s safe about being a disciple of Jesus in this earthly life. There’s a reason Jesus and others in the scriptures are always saying, “Be not afraid!” We are meant to be secure in God’s love for us, but we are also meant to be out in the world sharing God’s love in extravagant, even dangerous, ways.
My friend who serves as a priest in Europe said this the day after a Catholic priest was murdered during mass in his own church, “Today we open wide the doors of our church, because that is what we do.” She has it right. Christians who serve as missionaries in dangerous places have it right. Congregations who care more about mission than maintenance have it right. Leaders who welcome change instead of clinging to the status quo have it right. Bold risks and brave actions are the stuff of the Gospel. Safety and comfort are not.
What are you afraid of? What is keeping you from proclaiming God’s kingdom and boldly sharing Christ’s love?
Be not afraid! It’s easier said than done. But by God’s grace, we can be people in whom perfect love has cast out fear.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

To get future reflections from Scott in your inbox, subscribe to Forward Today.

Forward Today: God’s Boundless Mercy

In this week’s edition of our weekly newsletter, Scott Gunn considers the parable of the lost coin, and what it can tell us about God’s relentless patience and boundless mercy.

Dear friends in Christ,

This coming Sunday’s readings carry reminders of God’s boundless mercy to us and to all people. St. Paul admits that he is among the foremost of the sinners that Christ Jesus came to save. He writes about how “in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience.” In other words, if Jesus can save a messed up person like St. Paul, who used to persecute the faithful, then Jesus can save anyone.
In Sunday’s Gospel, we hear St. Luke’s telling of the parable of the lost coin, how a person searches diligently for a lost coin. And if someone can rejoice at finding a lost coin, then “I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”



Do you hear it? These readings are about grace, about God’s desire that we might be saved and God’s relentless patience with us. Throughout the Gospels, we read again and again about Jesus’ love of outcasts and sinners. We read about grace, how God forgives people and expects us to do the same. The spotlight is always on mercy, not justice.
Now think about our culture. We tend to be all about justice. We want to make people get what they deserve. We talk about working our way up the ladder. But the Gospel flips it all around. We receive God’s love, whether or not we deserve it. There’s nothing we can do to earn more of God’s love.
What would our culture be like if we too focused on mercy? What if we spent our energy looking for ways to be merciful? What if we placed a high price on going out of our way to forgive others?
By God’s grace, let us seek to be exemplars of mercy, beacons of God’s boundless love.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

To get future reflections from Scott in your inbox, subscribe to Forward Today.

Forward Today: Time for New Practices

In this week’s edition of our weekly newsletter, Scott Gunn reflects on “fall cleaning” season as a time to discard old practices, and to welcome the new.

Dear friends in Christ,

The autumn is one of those times each year when people tend to do cleaning. It’s perhaps not as famous as “spring cleaning,” but this time of year brings cleanup, yard work, swapping out summer things for cool-weather things, and so on. The kind of cleaning where one simply removes dirt is less fun for me than the kind of cleaning where one is looking at objects and making decisions. Do I need this thing? Can I get rid of it? Will someone else want it? What is the responsible way to discard it? And then, at the end, I love the new space that opens up when we’ve discarded unused items.
There’s a spiritual aspect to all this. We don’t need to wait for Lent to look at our lives and our practices. Do I want to continue this practice? Should I stop it? Does it help me to be the person God wants me to be? When I manage to stop practices, it opens up time for new practices. I love that! Less time on Netflix means more time to write!



We’re having to do a bit of this at Forward Movement. A few weeks ago, we learned we have to find a new warehouse. Not very exciting stuff, but yet it affords great possibility. We’ve looked at every item in our catalog, as we decided whether we’d move things to the new place. It’s been hard work, but the kind of work that keeps us focused on our mission.
And, while I try to keep these weekly reflections from being too commercial, I must tell you that there’s a great benefit to you, dear reader, of our warehouse move. We have decided to put loads of things on sale, and you can get some never-before-seen discounts on many items. Please do have a look.
How can you use this time? What practices or objects is it time to let go of? What practices or objects is it time to take on?

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

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The Tale of St. Barbara—Patron Saint of Warehouses

Saint Barbara’s story sounds like the Brothers Grimm wrote it. Complete with a tall, lonely, locked tower, truly questionable parenting methods, a poorly-chosen set of suitors, and people being turned into stone or struck by lightning, Barbara’s story is not for the faint-hearted, or for folks who have a hard time using their imaginations. Due to her childhood spent being warehoused as a commodity for trade by her pagan-merchant father, Barbara (in addition to being one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, and the patron of architects, firemen, mathematicians, miners, and Syria, among others) is the patron saint of warehouses and warehouse workers. Bet you didn’t know that…


By Wolfgang Sauber (Own work) [GFDL]

At Forward Movement, we believe that Jesus and his friends are important people to know. The books we publish, the resources we produce, the meetings we have, and our communication with our readers and customers are all shaped around our mission of inspiring disciples and empowering evangelists. That’s where the life of Saint Barbara and the life of Forward Movement meet and mingle, and the space we’re using to celebrate this dance is our warehouse—where we are currently having a sale!

Warehouse Sale Facebook Image

We’re moving warehouses, and we’d like to let you help us make that transition a little easier by buying some truly lovely books, booklets, and pamphlets. We’ve made it easy to help by marking down some of our best-loved and frequently-used seasonal offerings—including items from Lent Madness—as well as some of our more focused meditation books—like The Soul’s Journey: An Artist’s Approach to the Stations of the Cross. You can also pick up a copy of what we are sure is Saint Barbara’s favorite Forward Movement book, Bible Women: All Their Words and Why They Matter.

Whether you take advantage of this great sale, or simply take away a new person to read about on your next trip down a Wikipedia wormhole, we hope that you know your friends at Forward Movement are always thinking about ways to help you know Jesus better, to inspire your discipleship and empower your evangelism. We look forward to talking to you soon.

Peace and Joy,

Your Friends at Forward Movement

Forward Today: Back to School, for Everyone

In this week’s edition of our weekly newsletter, Scott Gunn considers what would happen if we all treated autumn as a back to school season—for our faith.

Dear friends in Christ,

This week, my Facebook feed is full of families with kids headed back to school. Just about every store I’ve been in for a couple of weeks has specials for “back to school season.” Even in churches, lots of places that ended classes over the summer are starting back up again. But back to school isn’t just for kids and their parents.

The Rite I service often starts out with the Summary of the Law. “Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” Did you catch that? “All thy mind.” Too many people check out of learning about their faith. We don’t take courses, we don’t read books, and we don’t wrestle with ideas that might push us to change or grow. And, yet, how can we love God with our minds if we don’t use our minds?

If your church offers adult education courses, take a look! Sign up! If not, maybe a nearby church (even another denomination) offers something that can feed your mind. If courses aren’t your thing, how about reading a book about faith? There are loads of them. Your local bookstore has plenty of books on faith, and so does your public library. Ask a friend or your priest for suggestions.
Of course, Forward Movement has plenty of books for sale on our website, though we’re not the only ones. I am pretty excited about Inwardly Digest, a new book that draws us into a richer encounter with the Book of Common Prayer. Or Slaying Your Goliaths, about facing your own challenges–while going really deep into the David and Goliath story from the Bible. Or Bible Women, offering you a chance to read and connect with every word spoken by women in the Bible. Choose one of these or something completely different.
Whatever you do, I urge you to find a way to recommit to learning and to growth in this back to school season.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

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Forward Today: Making Time to Help

In this week’s edition of our weekly newsletter, Scott Gunn reflects on the Olympics, and a lesson we can learn from two competitors who took time to help, in the middle of a race.

Dear friends in Christ,

If you’ve been following the Olympics like I have, you almost certainly know about the story of Nikki Hamblin (New Zealand) and Abbey D’Agostino (USA), who collided during the women’s 5,000 meter race. They both ended up on the track, and in the next few seconds, each helped the other to get up and finish the race. There are lots of ways to find inspiration in this story. For me, it was a bit of an indictment.

<pPhoto by flickr user Brian Talbot / Creative Commons

I see human need around me all the time. Sometimes it’s as simple as a person on the street asking for lunch. Sometimes it’s a person who is obviously struggling, perhaps in tears. Sometimes it’s a Facebook friend who posts about their anguish over some issue they’re facing. And more often than I care to admit, I briefly consider responding and then decide I have other pressing things to do. Someone else will help, I tell myself.

Hamblin and D’Agostino have it right though. Under the glare of the spotlight, on global television, in the midst of an Olympic race, each stopped to help the other.
They of all people had every reason to press on with the task at hand. After working for years to get to the Olympics, what could be more important than finishing the race with the best possible time?
It makes my excuses seem pretty silly. “I have somewhere to be” is ridiculous compared with “I need to cross the Olympic finish line.” The difference between the response of D’Agostino and Hamblin and my own frequent neglect is so extreme that it almost sounds like a parable. You can almost hear Jesus saying, “Consider two runners who fall…”
What about you? Do you ever, like me, find excuses to avoid doing what is clearly the compassionate–and Christian–thing?
Dear Lord, give us all the grace and the strength to respond to the needs of the world when we are given the moment to act. Dear Lord, help us to serve the world in your name.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

To get future reflections from Scott in your inbox, subscribe to Forward Today.