Category Archives: Forward Today

Forward Today: Of prayer and patience

Editor’s Note: We bring you our Forward Today weekly message a bit ahead of schedule this week, to give our community the latest updates on our Executive Director Scott Gunn’s condition and to ask continued prayers for his recovery. Thanks to The Rev. Kate Wesch, our Board Chair, for stepping in to write.

Dear friends in Christ,

My name is Kate Wesch and I am the Chair of the Board of Forward Movement. On behalf of the staff and members of the board, I would like to thank you for your care, concern, and prayers for Scott Gunn since his serious medical incident last week.

Recent reports from Scott’s wife, Sherilyn Pearce, say that he has come a long way in a short amount of time. Sherilyn also says, “It is not an overstatement when I say that it is miraculous that he is alive.” If I have learned anything from Scott, it’s that God can do anything, and the power of prayer can indeed be miraculous.

It was only a couple months ago that the board gathered in New York City to pray, enjoy one another’s company, and dream about the mission and ministry of Forward Movement. This ministry is about reaching a disparate community, providing resources to all Episcopalians, and ultimately inspiring disciples and empowering evangelists. And, as we have seen in the past week through so many messages of care and concern, this is Christian community as well.

While we wait for more news, hoping Scott is okay, worrying about his friends and loved ones, we must remember that God is in this. God is in the waiting too. God is present in our prayers even when they don’t seem like enough. Because I’ll tell you a secret. They are. Your prayers are enough.

And so, may we continue to pray:

O God of heavenly powers, by the might of your command you drive away from our bodies all sickness and all infirmity: Be present in your goodness with your servant Scott., that his weakness may be banished and his strength restored; and that, his health being renewed, he may bless your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

In faith and peace,

The Rev. Kate Wesch
Board Chair

Forward Today: Curb appeal

Dear friends in Christ,

About a year ago, my spouse and I bought a new house. We spent months looking for just the right home for us. Our real estate agent would sometimes talk with us about “curb appeal.” What does the house look like as you drive by?

Some houses have lots of curb appeal. And others might not have so much curb appeal but they still look great on the inside. House buyers might never find their way into a great house if there isn’t enough curb appeal.

It’s not all that different for churches. When people are looking for a new church home, they might drive by to see what your church looks like from the outside. Others might just be driving by and notice that your church looks well-tended and active, or unkempt and stagnant. Church seekers might never find their way into a great church if there isn’t enough curb appeal.

I mention all this because summer is a great time to look over your church for its curb appeal. Is the lawn tidy? Is the landscaping neat? Does it look like this is a place where things are happening?

These things do not need to be expensive. Simple things (perhaps a splash of paint here and a snip of the shrub trimmers there) might make a huge difference. Does your church building have a sign out front? Does that sign look great? Does it offer an inviting message?

And if people might have trouble finding their way to your church, you might consider an Episcopal church sign. Forward Movement recently became the official purveyor of church signs, and we’d love to help you reach new people with the Gospel.

When I was a parish priest, we found that inviting groups of people to come work on the church’s “curb appeal” was a fun way to connect people with one another. Maybe you’ll find the same thing.

If you think your church looks great, send me a photo! If you have an Episcopal Church sign, send me a photo of that. I’m always glad to see how we’re doing on curb appeal, because I’m always glad to know how we’re doing at making disciples.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

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Forward Today: Giving thanks for our church

Dear friends in Christ,

As I write this, I am on a plane on my way home from the 80th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, where I was honored to serve in the House of Deputies. Normally, I would have spent some time in a Forward Movement booth in the exhibit hall, too, but the convention was downsized and shortened this year due to the pandemic.

I’m still mulling over the results of convention. We acted on over 400 resolutions. If you’re curious what all happened, you can read a quick summary of the convention over on the Episcopal News Service. And I was one of the photographers for Deputy News, and I posted some snaps on my Flickr album.

A couple of quick thoughts come to mind. I wish we spent more time and energy considering how our church can more fully carry out the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations. We need to do this not because our churches are in decline, but because the Good News of Jesus Christ can transform lives and change the world.

There was plenty of Good News at the convention, however. I always marvel at our democratic process for making decisions as a church. Lay people are essential—and involved—at all levels of church governance, along with bishops, priests, and deacons. In our deliberations, there was careful listening even when we disagreed.

It was a joy to be together, even for a brief time, with people who are united in their passion to make our church better. Our vision of what “better” looks like might differ, but each person is there because they love the church and the Lord Jesus.

Sometimes people say General Convention is disconnected from the lives of our congregations. If you only look at the content of some of the resolutions, that might seem true. But General Convention manifests something essential about our identity as Episcopalians: we believe that the Holy Spirit still works in the church, and we believe that lay people, bishops, priests, and deacons together discern where the Spirit is calling us to go. That charism is true at the churchwide level, at the diocesan level, and in our congregations.

Let us give thanks for the Spirit’s work. And let us pray for the grace and courage to be even more open to the winds of the Spirit and the winds of change.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

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Forward Today: Of courage and grace

Dear friends in Christ,

Tomorrow I leave for the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Originally scheduled for the summer of 2021, the pandemic has forced us first to postpone and now to shorten and simplify the convention. Instead of the usual two-week gathering of voting deputies, bishops, exhibitors, youth, young adults, Episcopal Church Women, and visitors, we are limited to four days of just those who will be deliberating on legislation for our church.

Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg / Episcopal News Service

The General Convention is a sometimes unwieldy but truly lovely part of our church. It’s not hard to criticize its excess, but it’s also important to recognize what it shows us about our church. At this gathering, lay people, bishops, priests, and deacons all work together to deliberate. Our church involves lay people at all levels of governance. The gathering will be live streamed for all to watch, and you will witness the careful procedure that is followed to protect the democratic nature of the work.

You can follow along online at the General Convention media hub, and if you’re bored, you can read some of the 412 resolutions that will be considered. But more than that, I hope you will pray for this gathering. Deputies and bishops will be voting on resolutions concerning racial healing and justice, our liturgies, discipleship and evangelism, and many other matters. Pray that we have the courage to follow the Spirit’s will in all things. Pray that we know God’s grace in our lives and in our beloved church.

And those of us who are gathered will need grace of other kinds, too. The necessary precautions to keep us safe during the pandemic are sensible, but they will be challenging. Many of our usual patterns have been upended, as we all have to learn new ways of doing things. Some of what is planned will doubtless unfold in ways that were not planned. We’ll need grace to forgive, to laugh, to apologize, and to be open to new ways.

Isn’t that like the whole church though? General Convention is, in many ways, a microcosm for all our churches, big and small. So much has been disrupted by two years of the pandemic. We grieve those who have died and all the things we have lost. And yet there is also a blessing in disruption. We are necessarily focused on what is most important. We are knocked out of our complacency. We are forced to consider how the church of 2022 can bear the Good News of Jesus Christ in a world that desperately needs to know God’s grace and mercy.

Pray for those who gather in Baltimore.

Almighty and everliving God, source of all wisdom and understanding, be present with those who take counsel in the General Convention for the renewal and mission of your Church. Teach us in all things to seek first your honor and glory. Guide us to perceive what is right, and grant us both the courage to pursue it and the grace to accomplish it; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

If you’re going to be there, please say hello. You can find me during legislative sessions in the House of Deputies or outside when the convention is on break.

Yours faithfully,
Scott Gunn's signature

P.S. Forward Movement doesn’t have a booth in the exhibit hall this time, but we’re still offering a discount for General Convention shopping. You can use code GC2022 on our website or for phone orders to save 10% throughout the month of July.

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Forward Today: The peace of Christ

Dear friends in Christ,

It’s been a difficult few weeks for the world and for the United States. We’ve seen earthquakes, gun violence, political upheaval, wars, and the ongoing global pandemic. It wouldn’t be difficult to lose hope at a time like this.

How can we stay hopeful? What are we to do?

Image from the catacomb of Domitilla shows one of the oldest known images of Jesus Christ as the good shepherd / Wikimedia Commons

I find the Gospels helpful in difficult times. There I am reminded that even Christ’s disciples—people who knew Jesus and saw his works—didn’t have the answers and sometimes lost their way. Jesus again and again had to redirect his followers. Sometimes he cajoled them. Sometimes he taught them. Sometimes he showed them signs and wonders. Always, he loved them.

If we lose our way, we are never alone. The Spirit abides with us. But what about all those times we can’t even see the Spirit at work in the world and in our own hearts?

Thanks be to God we have the church. Christ’s body, the church, is our haven and our sustenance. We can be nourished as we hear God’s word spoken to us. We can be sustained as we receive the sacraments. We can inspired as we listen to others bear witness to the grace and mercy of God at work in their lives.

I am not suggesting that we should flee the world and hide out inside our stained glass windows. I am not suggesting that the Gospel magically remedies the injustice and violence of the world. But the fact is that we who follow Jesus need to be reminded that he is the way, the truth, and the life. We need to remember that we are beloved of God, and that we are called to love others as he first loved us.

You and I don’t have to save the world. Jesus has done that. Our task is to give thanks for God’s love for us and to manifest that love in word and deed. I can’t say that we will make everything right in this world, but I can say with every fiber of my being that, in the end, love wins. Easter shows us that.

So what shall we do now?

We can offer compassion. Console those who suffer. Speak up for the voiceless. Give of our substance to those who have less. Name evil when we see it. Love our enemies. Pray for the needs of the world. And above all bear witness to God’s grace and mercy.

I might also add that righteous anger is holy, as the scriptures remind us. Righteous anger is not anger at our own suffering, but rather rage on behalf of the poor, the vulnerable, the widow, the orphan, and all those in great need. God sides with the meek not the mighty, and it’s just fine for God’s people to remind everyone of that.

In these times, I beseech you to spend time with other Christians. Worship on the Lord’s Day. Go to a Bible study. Pray with a friend. That’s how we keep our compass when the world seems to spin out of control.

We can’t make peace, but we can find Christ’s peace even in the midst of the storm.

The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you, and remain with you always. Amen.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

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Forward Today: Giving generously

Dear friends in Christ: We’re pleased to welcome Lindsay Barrett-Adler, our Development Associate, as our guest author this week.

Widow’s Mite – Ancient Roman Bronze Coins

“For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”Mark 12:44

Like Miriam wrote last week, we fundraisers love to tell stories. We recently shared my story of an addition to our Easter dinner – sharing physical and spiritual sustenance with a friend experiencing homelessness. When I first shared this story with the Forward Movement team, I did not realize that it was just the story’s beginning.

In the months since Easter Monday, we have continued to welcome our new neighbor. My husband has fallen into a bit of a routine with hot water for her instant coffee (she insists a new pot is completely unnecessary), prayer, and sometimes a breakfast of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, as per her request. Sometimes she charges her cell phone. We still know very little about her; we have no clue how she came to sleep on our church’s bench or if she has a team of social supports beneath her. We don’t even know her name.

But we know one thing—she, out of her poverty, has become a regular donor to our little church in Philadelphia. One morning my husband heard the clink of the sacristy door mail slot and spotted a dollar bill on the ground. Since then, he has seen our friend deposit a dollar each day she visits. Sometimes she donates $5 a week; sometimes, she only visits twice. But she always gives generously out of her poverty.

This woman is hardly the first widow and mite I have encountered and certainly not the first in my role at Forward Movement. We receive small gifts from Forward Day by Day readers who are incarcerated, residents in elder care facilities, and military personnel. Each gift is usually accompanied by a handwritten note, sharing how much comfort and love they feel with each edition’s arrival. For some, Forward Day by Day is the only mail they receive.

When someone asks for nourishment like my new neighbor, we can send them materials free of charge, thanks to the generosity of our donors. In the fundraising world, we often talk about major donors, but Jesus reminds us that each of us is a beloved child of God and every gift, even the change that rattles through a sacristy mail slot, is a major gift. Thanks be to God.

Lindsay Barrett-Adler serves as Development Associate at Forward Movement and delights in sharing the story of its mission and impact, made possible by generous donors. In her free time, Lindsay is an often-disappointed Philadelphia sports fan, curious chef, and mom of three, always in need of more coffee.

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Forward Today: Our faith roots itself in story

Dear friends in Christ: We’re pleased to welcome Miriam McKenney, our Director of Development and Mission Engagement, as our guest author this week.

Our faith roots itself in story. As director of development and mission engagement, I love to connect givers and receivers through our stories because we are both. I hope the stories remind us that we are made in God’s image and are beloved of God and each other.

Colossians 4:2: "Keep on praying and guard your prayers with thanksgiving."Last week, I attended a conference for non-profit fundraisers called Stories Worth Sharing. Listening to the presentations caused me to question my work and role at Forward Movement. Seeing and hearing the presenters’ passion for their work made me wonder if I was doing mine as well as I could. Jesus took time to himself to pray and discern; I thought, it’s probably time for me to do the same.

Then Lindsay, development associate, sent me this note a donor wrote on the envelope that included her gift:

Earlier this year, I made a small donation to Forward Movement. Shortly thereafter, I received a wonderful thank you letter from Miriam McKenney. The thoughtfulness of Miriam’s letter inspired me to donate more. Please keep up the great work!
Sincerely, Holly

What I needed right then showed up! My prayer practice offers lots of space to listen to God’s voice as Spirit. I’m thankful God answered my prayer through Holly. Her note witnessed our ministry sharing the good news of God’s love and gave me an enormous rush of peace and comfort.

When we invite you to donate to our ministry, we do so with the understanding that the call to give is personal between you and God. Only God knows God’s timing. As we seek God’s love and counsel in our lives, we can listen to the Spirit to know when and how to act. I do that best at a specific spot in Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum in Cincinnati. I wonder where you hear God.

We at Forward Movement sincerely appreciate all the gifts we receive in all amounts. Many of you round up when you order on our website. Each offering added with the others affirms our faith and that we must share the good news with all who seek it.

Holly, thank you for reaffirming my role in our ministry. Thank you, God, for answering my prayer when I cried out to you. May you all know your place in the story today and every day.

Miriam G. Willard McKenney serves as Forward Movement’s development director and is on the Way of Love working group. She was a children’s librarian and school media specialist for twenty years before joining Forward Movement’s staff in 2010. Miriam loves to evangelize picture books for all ages and her love of outdoor fitness, even in extreme temperatures — as there’s no bad weather, just incorrect clothing choices. She finds joy in parenting her three adult daughters, Nia, Kaia, and Jaiya, with her husband, David.

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Forward Today: We are never alone

Dear friends in Christ,

This coming Sunday is Trinity Sunday, our annual opportunity to celebrate the revelation of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s tempting to try and use this day to explain the Trinity, but perhaps it’s better to use this day to sing rousing hymns in praise of the Trinity.

Image of the Holy Trinity from Church of Debra Berhan Selassie, Gondar, Ethiopia / Wikimedia Commons

With all the violence, division, fear, and chaos of our time, it might be easy for us to conclude that delving into the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is irrelevant. Sometimes people say things such as, “people are more important than doctrine.” But this is an impoverished view of both the task of theology and the work of loving others.

Doctrine helps us know who God is and how God wants us to live. Doctrine helps me understand our fallen world and the need for a Redeemer. Doctrine challenges me to love those whom I might prefer to ignore.

The doctrine of the Holy Trinity shows us that God has loved us from the beginning of all things, having made this universe in which we live. Jesus Christ is the exact imprint of his Father’s very being, showing us everything we need to see about how God loves us and calls us to transformation. The Holy Spirit is the Father’s gift to us, as promised by Jesus Christ, and that same Spirit is our guide, our companion, and our teacher.

Though I love a good flowchart, the Holy Trinity is best perhaps understood has God’s eternal love for creation and for each one of us. Sure, there is a lifetime of wisdom and inspiration to be gained by studying the relationship among the persons of the Holy Trinity. But while we study and learn, we can also bask in the glory of God and delight in the astounding, unearned gift of God’s love for us.

You see, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not irrelevant to the challenges of our world and of our lives. When I begin to grasp the wondrous mystery of the Holy Trinity, I begin to grasp that God never abandons us, never leaves us alone. And we see that God’s desire is for a world that is filled with justice, mercy, hope, and grace. With the power of the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to proclaim God’s grace and mercy in a world that yearns for a word of hope.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

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Forward Today: Come, Holy Spirit

We hope you enjoy this reprise of Scott’s Forward Today reflection on the Day of Pentecost from 2018.

Dear friends in Christ,

This Sunday, we will celebrate the awe-full (as in full of awe) Day of Pentecost. Consider what it might have been like for those disciples. They saw tongues of fire. They heard people from other nations speaking in their own languages. It’s no wonder some bystanders wondered if people had been drinking too much.

By Хомелка [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons
I worry that in our zeal to make Pentecost the capstone of the Easter season – to turn it into a big party – we have missed the awe of the day. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got nothing against parties, and I’m grateful for our realization that Easter is a season of 50 days. But I wonder, on this feast of the Holy Spirit’s descent, if we pay enough attention to the Holy Spirit.

Too often, I hear people saying, “The Holy Spirit was here” when things have gone their way or when an experience was delightful. And perhaps the Spirit was there. But a cursory glance at the scriptures suggests the Holy Spirit’s arrival is not always about warm, fuzzy feelings.

Sometimes the Holy Spirit pushes people to act boldly for the cause of the Gospel. I mean, to do things that risk life and limb. Sometimes the Holy Spirit convicts people of their sins, and the fruit of an encounter with the Spirit is repentance. The whole book of Acts is filled with stories of the Spirit’s power leading the church to open itself to the world around.

What do you think would happen if the Holy Spirit descended afresh on our church? Would we hear new things from those who are different from us? Would we be pushed in new, astonishing directions?

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

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Forward Today: Rogation and creation

Dear friends in Christ: Before today’s message, please join us in prayer for those affected by yesterday’s shooting in Uvalde, TX. May God’s love enfold all those who were shot and all those who grieve. May all who turn to violence be brought to repentance. May we all be stirred to pray and work for peace with justice. ~Scott Gunn

Almighty God, Father of mercies and giver of comfort: Deal graciously, we pray, with all who mourn; that, casting all their care on you, they may know the consolation of your love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

We welcome back Margaret Ellsworth, Forward Movement’s Marketing Coordinator, as our guest author this week.

Today is the last Rogation Day of this Easter season. The celebration of Rogation Days is an old custom usually associated with farming and fishing – time set aside to ask for God’s blessing as the planting season begins. On Rogation Days in medieval Europe, the priest and people would walk in procession around their community, praying for the fields and the upcoming harvest.

Of course, these days we have Google Maps to show us where our town boundaries lie (which don’t always line up with our church communities anymore) and most of us are not farmers. I know I’m not. Even the hard-to-kill herbs and flowers I plant in my suburban garden are often wilted before summer even begins.

But that doesn’t mean this observance has nothing to say to me today.

The Episcopal Book of Occasional Services contains prayers for a contemporary Rogation procession. This liturgy assumes a procession might pass by gardens and parks, government buildings and hospitals, places to work and places to eat. The prayers may be less farm-focused but they still highlight the original themes: to give thanks for God’s gifts and to ask God’s blessing on the work of the community.

What would it look like, I wonder, to pray for God’s providence here in my city – not just for the fields and the water and the air, but for the neighborhood playground and the drive-thru diner? What would it look like to pray for God to “hallow our labor” at my place of work, my writing desk? At the bus stop? At the compost bin?

We’ve been talking a lot about creation care here in this Easter season. The way we talk about creation can be sweeping and general – and honestly a bit intimidating. What can I do, as just one individual, to steward God’s creation well?

As this blog so often reminds us, though, prayer is itself an action. Asking (Latin: rogatio) for God’s blessing and provision is an action in and of itself: it makes us mindful of our community and its needs, and guides us into trust in God’s abundant love.

Care for creation is not just general – it can be specific too. As you walk through your community today, whether in formal procession or just as you go about your own daily work, I hope you notice the people, plants, and animals with whom you share this community. I hope you can bring those community members in prayer before the One who satisfies the needs of every living creature.

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