Forward Today: Thank you notes

Dear friends in Christ,

This week’s Forward Today is written by Lindsay Barrett-Adler, who started working on the Forward Movement team in our development department in June 2021. From time to time, I hope Forward Today readers will enjoy a perspective from others on our team. – Scott Gunn

“Don’t forget to write your thank you notes!” You know how people lament turning into some version of a parent as they get older? Maybe they develop an infatuation with one, very particular brand of a product or mirror a habit they observed while growing up, suddenly following patterns established decades beforehand. Well, that was me on a recent Saturday morning.

There I stood, at the foot of our stairs, yelling up at my six-year-old, “Don’t forget to write your thank you notes!” A fresh-faced Daisy, this is her first year selling Girl Scout cookies and we’ve included a drawing and small thank you note with each order. I help her write the thank you note, but my daughter provides the drawing and signs her name. Each note flashes me back to my own mother reminding me to send those thank you notes after birthdays, holidays, or other occasions of gratitude.

Growing up, I hated writing those thank you notes. I just wanted to play with my new toys! Little did I know that receiving, acknowledging, and celebrating the generosity of others would ultimately become a vocation. I joined the Forward Movement team last summer, with a background in fundraising and relationship building. I bring experiences with capital campaigns, annual appeals and donor solicitations, grant management, annual reports, and a host of other development projects. Donor-advised funds? I’m familiar. Bequests? No problem. Receiving stamps from a prison commissary in the mail? Now, that was new to me.

Being a part of the development world at Forward Movement is unique from any of my other positions because of the people in our network of ministry. Thanks to our donors’ generosity, Forward Movement provides tens of thousands of copies of Forward Day by Day for free each year. We have sent free, devotional items to friends in prisons, mental health treatment facilities, hospitals, assisted living facilities, and military bases around the world. This is only made possible by generous donors who support Forward Movement’s mission and work. We also write each one back to thank them for sharing their stories with us and remind them that they are beloved children of God, who matter to us, and in this world.

Like other organizations, our donors receive acknowledgment notes for these gifts that enable this ministry. Receiving notes of profound gratitude from inside those same hospital rooms, cells, and all too often lonely rooms has set my experience with Forward Movement apart. These notes share how relationships with God have been renewed, paths to forgiveness and redemption forged, and faith deepened. And there might be a stamp.

Using their credits at the commissary, the most vital form of physical currency, a donor might show their appreciation by including this small gift, just the size of a postage stamp, with their note of thanks that might say:

“Thank you for coming into my life- prison cell- and embracing me with daily hugs and warm wisdom.”

“Thank you for being my family.”

Small notes of thanks, with huge amounts of meaning.

– Lindsay Barrett-Adler


More from our ministry:

Announcing the release of the Spanish Finance Resource Guide
Pray with us wherever you are: Episcopal Prayer Podcasts
Make this gratitude possible: Donate to Forward Movement 

Forward Today: Prepare with joy for the Paschal feast

Dear friends in Christ,

Last week I wrote about churches embarking on a Lenten journey in these strange times. This week, I want to say a few things about how we might go on a Lenten journey on our own.

Fundamentally, Lent is about repentance, about rejecting the alluring evils of this world and turning toward Jesus Christ. While it’s serious work, it need not make us glum! There is always joy in finding Jesus.

The classic Lenten practices are prayer, study, fasting, and self-denial. If you have an established habit of these practices, you certainly don’t need another thing. You’re ready to go, and I commend you on your Lenten journey.

My sense is that many people struggle to make sense of Lent in their own lives, and it’s especially challenging now. So I encourage you to give Lent a try. Reading scripture is always good, and there are lots of apps (including the free Forward Movement app, available on iOS and Google Play) to help with that. We also offer podcasts to be your companion on the way.

If you like a daily devotional, there’s always Forward Day by Day. This year, Forward Movement partnered with Washington National Cathedral on a book of daily devotions for the season. You can buy The Pilgrim Way of Lent: Meditations from Washington National Cathedral as a book or ebook.

Lent Madness is a fun way to see how people of all nations, cultures, and times can be disciples of Jesus. If you’re looking for something “less serious” for the season, the Saintly Smackdown will be just the thing. If you want something else that’s outside the box, ChurchNext offers several courses that may work for you.

My latest book, The Way of Love: A Practical Guide to Following Jesus, is a gentle and encouraging guide to going deeper with spiritual practices. If you always wanted to pray more or find ways to study, or go deeper in some other way, The Way of Love could be useful.

Forward Movement offers a whole array of resources for Lent. And our friends at other publishers have great books and materials, too.

Whatever you do, I hope you’ll do it with seriousness AND joy. Jesus always welcomes us when we turn to him. Lent is coming, and that means Easter can’t be far behind. As our prayer book bids us, let us prepare with joy for the Paschal feast.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

P.S. Global logistics challenges continue. If you are ordering materials from Forward Movement or any other Christian publisher, I encourage you to order right away to ensure your materials arrive in time.


More from our ministry:

A rhythm of prayer from Grow Christians: Family Morning Prayer with Young Children
Learn more about the newest ChurchNext Course: Understanding Systemic Racism
Announcing the release of the Spanish Finance Resource Guide

Forward Today: Lent in your church

Dear friends in Christ,

Lent is just around the corner. This week, I want to share a few thoughts about Lent at your church. Next week, I’ll write about Lent for you.

Once again, Lent this year will be different than we might prefer, as the pandemic continues. In some places, church activities will seem “normal” while in others nearly everything will be done online or in homes, and I expect everything in between. So how can we productively use this Lenten season?

The Book of Common Prayer suggests some ways to savor the Lenten season:  “by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” Some of this work may best be done by individuals, but certainly churches can encourage repentance and prayer, for example.

Bible studies are popular, and with good reason. They work well online or in person. You can just gather some people with Bibles. Or you might like to use a book as a companion, such as A Journey With Luke or the Social Justice Bible Challenge.

My most recent book, The Way of Love: A Practical Guide to Following Jesus, is a brief little book that invites people into deeper spiritual practices such as prayer, study, and service. Though it wasn’t written specifically for Lent, I’ve heard good reports from those who used it as a Lenten study.

ChurchNext offers group courses. These can be used in person with a projector and shared conversation, or they translate very well to Zoom gatherings too. While it’s not specifically Lenten, the latest (free!) anti-racism course may be timely.

There are myriad ways to enter into a Lenten journey of repentance. Whatever you do, I hope you and your church will find ways to gather for learning and formation this coming Lent.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

P.S. Global logistics challenges continue. If you are ordering materials from Forward Movement or any other Christian publisher, I encourage you to order right away to ensure your materials arrive in time.


More from our ministry:

From Grow Christians, our family blog: Overcoming Prejudice with God’s Love
Learn more about the newest ChurchNext Course: Understanding Systemic Racism

Forward Today: A Light to enlighten

Dear friends in Christ,

a group of white taper candles, lit, against a dark backgroundToday the church celebrates one of the great feasts, the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple. We recall the time, told in the second chapter of Luke, that Mary and Joseph took young Jesus to the Temple to present him to God. This was to fulfill the law set forth in Exodus 13 commanding the firstborn to be offered to God.

When Mary and Joseph got to the Temple, they encountered Simeon, a man who had been waiting to behold his Savior. Seeing the Savior would be the culmination of his life. When he held Jesus, Simeon offered the beautiful praise we now know as the Nunc dimittis (from the Latin of the opening words).

Lord, you now have set your servant free *
to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, *
whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A Light to enlighten the nations, *
and the glory of your people Israel.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

Nearly every time I pray evening prayer, I repeat this canticle. I think of that man, essentially waiting to meet Jesus, a moment that will mark his readiness to leave his earthly pilgrimage and move on to his heavenly home. What was it like, waiting day in and day out to see his Savior? I ponder how his heart must have nearly burst with joy, holding the young child who was destined to change the world. I wonder if Simeon expected to greet his Savior as a child, or if he had been waiting for a powerful grownup? What a moment this must have been!

Simeon’s lovely song of praise reminds us that Jesus, the Light of the world, shines on every nation, on every person. Jesus’ saving love is for everyone.

I wonder if we are open to meeting our Savior in ways we might not expect? And I wonder if we are prepared to share the light of Christ’s grace, mercy, righteousness, peace, and love with the whole world?

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

Pray this canticle tonight: An Evening at Prayer podcast 
From Grow Christians, our family blog: Simeon sang – and we still sing today 

Forward Today: Noisy gongs and clanging cymbals

Dear friends in Christ,

This Sunday’s epistle brings us one of the greatest hits of the New Testament, mostly because it’s one of the readings of choice at just about every wedding. St. Paul writes in the first letter to the Corinthians, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.” In the context of weddings, it’s easy to read that as advice for marriage. And that’s not totally wrong.

But that’s not really what St. Paul was getting at. He was writing about Christian love – the self-sacrificing, generous, beautiful work of loving others as Christ first loved us. Of course, that love is essential in marriage. But it’s bigger than that.

We live in a noisy, chaotic world. It can often feel like our world is spinning out of control. This is what happens when love isn’t the foundation. St. Paul writes, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” He’s talking about life in the church in this particular moment, but his passion to call us all to love is obviously bigger than what we do among other believers.

The scriptures call us to live always by the rule of love. It’s easier said than done. It’s easy to forget that Christian love is primarily action, not feeling. It’s easy to forget that we are called to love in every moment, with every person.

There’s a lot of loveless clanging and gonging in the halls of government, the studios of cable news, and, yes, even in the sacred walls of churches.

I can’t fix the world. But I can fix my heart, by God’s grace. If I can manage to love others as Christ first loved me, our world becomes a tiny bit more beautiful, that much more grace-filled.

This Sunday, I’m looking forward to hearing these familiar words. Not long before we remember that Jesus Christ called us to remember his outpoured love for us until he comes again, we will be reminded that day by day, we are called to make love our way.

I aim to gong and clang a bit less, and proclaim love a bit more. Will you join me?

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

From Grow Christians, our family blog: The Conversion of St. Paul 
From the RenewalWorks blog: What we believe and refuse to believe
Get your Lent calendar today: Join the Journey through Lent

Forward Today: Challenges and gifts

Dear friends in Christ,

This coming Sunday’s epistle comes from 1 Corinthians 12, in which Saint Paul reminds us that we Christians together are the body of Christ, and that each one of us is a member that has a crucial role to play in the body.

I was thinking about how this works out at Forward Movement, a ministry of the church that has a different calling than a local congregation. Our work is to inspire disciples and empower evangelists. We do this in lots of ways. We host conferences, publish books, create apps, provide websites, offer podcasts, and more.

Doing our work requires a variety of gifts. We need people whose spiritual calling is finding missing commas. We need people who are patient and persistent to make sure that our orders ship on time. We need people who can tell the story of Forward Movement and what we have to offer the church. And that’s not even getting the list started!

The pandemic has pushed us hard. At times, it has felt futile to struggle against the tide of adversity. And at other times, I think we’d all say the pandemic has challenged us to work in new ways that will help us be more effective in our ministry. Our whole staff is weary, but I’m also amazed by the resilience of every single person at Forward Movement, as the staff has pressed onward to carry out our mission. We know that just as this has been tough for us, it’s also been tough on the individuals and congregations we serve.

Dozens of shipping boxes and mailing envelopes, stacked in the back of a large hatchback car.One of our latest challenges is that our warehouse has struggled to ship orders. You’ve read about all the issues with the supply chain and the world of logistics. Well, it’s no abstraction for us! To get things out on time, our Cincinnati customer service team has worked tirelessly to ship orders from our offices in Cincinnati.

This photo shows a carload of orders heading out. That’s just one of many batches. These orders—and hundreds more over the last few months—were all hand-packed by folks who stop every day at 10:00 a.m. to pray for our work and the ministry of the whole church.

I’ve certainly learned a lot about logistics and shipping! And we’ve had to change how, where, and when we work. We’ve improved our technology. We’ve learned to support one another in new ways. We’ve learned to go with a flow a bit more readily. Someday when the global health crisis is over, we’ll work better because of the challenges of the last two years.

Why am I telling all this? First, while I fully acknowledge and grieve very real costs of the pandemic in terms of death, illness, and personal struggle, I can also see that it has pushed us in some ways we needed to be pushed. I wonder if that’s true in your congregation? Second, we couldn’t have gotten through the last two years without the support of the whole church. I know that you have been patient with us. You have prayed for us. And you have supported us with an outpouring of donations to sustain our ministry. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

We’re going to get through this. Things will change, but we have each other and we have the abiding Holy Spirit with us along the way.

Blessings to you. May you have the strength and the courage to do the work God is calling you to do in this strange and challenging time, and may we never forget that Jesus has promised the Holy Spirit’s companionship with us on our journey.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

From Grow Christians, our family blog: Who is Jesus to you?
Get your Lent calendar today: Join the Journey through Lent
Help make this work possible: Donate to Forward Movement

Forward Today: A grand adventure begins tomorrow!

Dear friends in Christ,

Tomorrow is a big day! Among other things, it is the Feast of The Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Churches will gather (online or in person) to celebrate the manifestation of Jesus Christ to the whole world. If for some reason, your church isn’t celebrating this important day, you can join my friends at St. James’ Church in New York, NY for Epiphany Lessons & Carols online at 6 p.m. EST.

Tomorrow is also the day that the Good Book Club for Epiphanytide 2022 kicks off. This time around, you are invited to join Episcopalians all over the country in reading the first half of the book of Exodus. Perhaps your church is hosting a group that will read together. If not, you can join folks from all over the church.

The Good Book Club is simple. The idea is that Episcopalians everywhere join in reading a book of the Bible. Because Exodus is pretty long, this time we’ll just read the first half. (There’s also a reading plan for the second half if you want to keep reading during Lent.)

Pick your favorite Bible and use the free reading plan. If you don’t have a paper Bible you love, you can find the whole Bible online for free at Bible Gateway – lots of versions and lots of languages. There are several free resources for individuals and groups listed on the Good Book Club website. You can sign up for free emails and updates about the Good Book Club.

Meet with other students from around the world for a live, online class on the Book of Exodus with Vicki Garvey, a respected teacher and author and canon for lifelong education at the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago. In this free class, Vicki will teach about the context and themes of the Book of Exodus. Classes will meet live on Thursdays at 8 p.m. EST starting tomorrow, January 6. Register here. 

Sometimes the news of the world can seem overwhelming, and with good reason. How can we find peace? How can we find our way? The scriptures won’t solve all our problems, but they will remind us that God is sovereign and that our true joy and peace is found in God’s presence. I’m especially looking forward to time with scripture this Epiphany season.

Exodus tells us about God’s liberating love. Exodus teaches us about God’s steadfast love for us, even when we turn away. Exodus reminds us that God has revealed to us laws that help us live well. It’s just what I need this January, and it might be good for you, too.

Maybe I’ll see you online as we journey through the book of Exodus together.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

Dive into other books of the Bible: The Bible Challenge series
Start the new year with daily prayer:  prayer.forwardmovement.org

Forward Today in 2021

Dear friends in Christ,

Our marketing team had a fun idea for this week’s Forward Today. What if we reviewed the “greatest hits” from the last year? They found the most popular messages from our blog and social media, and I’m excited to share them here as a way to celebrate Good News as we’ve encountered it over the last year, even amidst trying times.

Speaking of the end of the year, at Forward Movement we’ve worked hard to serve the church during a tumultuous period. We’ve continued to give thousands of free copies of Forward Day by Day to those in prison, in hospitals, in nursing homes, and serving in the armed forces. We’ve offered free resources to equip the saints and strengthen congregations. If you have the ability to make a donation to support this work of hope and encouragement, your gift will change lives through the transforming Good News of Jesus. Thank you for your gifts and for your prayers. All of us are sustained by your constant support.

Blessings to you in this Christmas season.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

Most popular on the blog:

A detour on the journey: “If you are an exhausted person who can’t muster the energy to be part of your church in the way you were two years ago, it’s OK. Rest. Even Jesus needed time for refreshment and prayer, so take the time you need. The church depends on Christ alone; the church will carry on as you rest.”

What to do when there’s too much: “What are we Christians to do in the face of impossible problems and insurmountable suffering? I believe our response begins in prayer.”

Can we understand the Trinity? Does it matter? “On Trinity Sunday, I hope we can simply enjoy the glory and majesty of God.”

Most popular on Facebook: 

Advent and beyond: “[Advent Word] is an ideal social media devotion—a way to claim an often unholy space with the holiness of preparation and repentance.”

All things may prosper (St. Michael and All Angels): “Michael is a warrior for good, someone who rights wrong and seeks justice.”

The spiritual practice of gratitude: “Thanksgiving reminds us that God’s grace defines our world.”

Most popular on Twitter:

Stir up thy power: “I am so ready for God to stir things up.”

Discovering a deeper practice of prayer: “When I was a parish priest, every now and then someone would say to me, “I want to pray, but I’m just not sure how to begin.” If this book had existed back then, I’d have given it to all sorts of folks.”

You CAN make a difference: “Don’t accept ‘there’s nothing I can do’ as reality. There’s work for you. And there’s work for your church. Jesus commands us to love our neighbors, and our neighbors around the world need our love.”

Glorifying and Praising

Dear friends in Christ,

We’re just a few days away from Christmas. Last year’s Christmas was bizarre, a time when we were unable to gather for worship. There were no churches full of worshipers singing their praises of the Christ child.

Christmas this year is perhaps even more strange. In many churches, worshipers will raise the rafters with glorious praise even as we enter another peak in the pandemic. We will hear the angels’ cry of peace on earth, even as division and strife grow daily.

Perhaps we’ve never needed the Christmas message more than in this moment.

You wouldn’t be alone in asking, how can we be joyful at a time like this? Perhaps we do well to recall the original Christmas story. Two thousand years ago, during a time of oppression and military occupation, in the middle of nowhere, in the midst of what looked like a very ordinary set of people, God acted decisively. The enfleshed Word of God was born.

Everything about the Christmas story tells us that God gets right into the thick of it with us. Our God is not distant and uncaring. Our God sides with the ordinary and the outcasts. Our God values mercy, hope, justice, and peace.

A couple of details in the Christmas story stand out for me this year. God sent an angel to bear glad tidings to shepherds. Shepherds! People of low status were among the first to hear the Good News of Christ’s birth, and they went quickly to see God-with-us. And after their encounter with Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, the shepherds went back to their fields. As the Gospel says, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.”

The shepherds are models for us all. They hear, they respond, they see, and they proclaim.

At Christmastime, as we encounter afresh the wonder of Jesus Christ’s birth, I hope we too can glorify and praise God. Perhaps you and I can be bearers of grace and mercy in a world that sometimes seems graceless and merciless.

Jesus Christ is Perfect Love incarnate, showing us how much God loves each one of us. That is Good News worth proclaiming.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

From Grow Christians, our family blog: Have you any Christmas cheer? 
From RenewalWorks blog: What song do you sing?
Get ready to explore the Bible with The Good Book Club
Walk through the last week of Advent with Advent Word

Forward Today: Past performance, future promises

Dear friends in Christ,

When you read investing advice, articles will usually have a disclaimer that says something like, “past performance is got a guarantee of future returns.” This is because the stock market is irregular.

With God, it’s a completely different story. God is steadfast and trustworthy. So with God, past performance does say something about the future. The Bible is full of recitations of God’s mighty deeds from the past. These are not included because of nostalgia.

Too often, our churches are infected by toxic nostalgia. We are tempted to remember “the good old days” which weren’t nearly as good as we remember them. We use our energy grieving a reality that doesn’t fit our memory of the past. We want to recreate some time from the past rather than pushing ahead.

We might be tempted to misread the recitations of history in the Bible. They aren’t there for nostalgia! God’s past deeds are remembered so that we always remember that God acts on our behalf.

This coming Sunday, we will hear the Magnificat in our lectionary readings. Mary’s song of praise is a remembrance of God’s deeds in the past. And that look backwards is meant to encourage us about the future.

As we look toward Christmas, we do well to recall how God has entered our world to redeem us. And we can expect God to work in our lives and in our world.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

New ChurchNext course on interrupting cycles of violence: Each Other’s Keeper
From Grow Christians, our family blog: We Know About Waiting