Forward Today: Working on our spiritual fitness

Dear friends in Christ,

Attending to our spiritual well-being is a bit like attending to our physical health. Regular spiritual practices such as daily prayer and scripture study are like physical exercise. The more we do them, the easier they get and the healthier we become.

Forward Movement launched RenewalWorks several years ago as a way for congregations to learn about their own spiritual health and then create a plan to encourage spiritual growth among the members of a church. It has seen great success at changing the conversation in congregations, as they move from maintenance to mission, from complacency to discipleship.

Over the years, we’ve had quite a few requests for a tool to help individuals create a plan for their own spiritual growth. I’m very glad to say that just yesterday we launched RenewalWorks for Me. This new resources – free of charge – begins with a brief self-assessment of where you are in your spiritual growth. Based on the results of that quiz, you can sign up for a series of weekly emails to offer you specific encouragement on a path that will foster spiritual growth.

Let’s say your assessment suggests that you’d benefit from increasing your habit of daily prayer. The weekly emails will offer specific, achievable steps you can take to develop a more robust prayer life.

I encourage you to give RenewalWorks for Me a try, especially if you’re feeling stuck in your spiritual life. It might be just the thing to get you moving. And it’s free, so there’s no reason not to take it for a spin.

We’ve heard great things from our testers, and I think you’ll find this helpful, too. Let me know how it works for you!

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 

Image: Jay Sidebotham


Today’s Flash Sale: Bible Women

Women of the Bible have been trapped in dry and dusty literary caskets for centuries. While a few women, such as Mary, Sarah, Elizabeth, and Mary Magdalene, are familiar, many of the women who speak in the Bible have long been ignored. Yet their words are part of God’s Word, the Bible, for a reason. Through these women, God spoke, intervened, changed, illustrated, and proclaimed the story of redemption.

In this groundbreaking book named best Bible study of 2015 by Illumination Book Awards, Episcopal priest Lindsay Hardin Freeman identifies every woman who speaks in the Bible, providing their words, context, and historical background. We learn which women speak the most (hint: it’s not Mary!) and which books of the Bible have the fewest words from women.

Step into God’s sacred circle of mothers, grandmothers, warriors, prophets, prostitutes, and murderers. You won’t come out the same.

Regular: $22
Today: $16.50

*Discount is valid until 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time

RenewalWorks for Me: A personalized tool for spiritual growth

Individuals have a new tool to support them in their spiritual growth. RenewalWorks, a ministry of Forward Movement, has released a free spiritual growth assessment and support program for personal use.

RenewalWorks for Me utilizes an online survey to assess where individuals are in their spiritual journey. After receiving initial results, participants can sign up for a free series of weekly emails to encourage and inspire them in their faith journey.

The assessment and recommendations from RenewalWorks for Me are based on data collected and analyzed from more than 500,000 Christians and thousands of church communities that have undergone a full congregational assessment.

“Through our work with over 300 churches around the Episcopal Church, we’ve learned that thriving church communities share similar characteristics. Chief among them is supporting the spiritual growth of the individuals who make up the congregation, in tangible and accessible ways,” said RenewalWorks Director Jay Sidebotham. “RenewalWorks for Me makes our work accessible to any individual who needs a little support and encouragement in their spiritual journey.”

RenewalWorks for Me is free, a gift from Forward Movement, offered in the confidence that as individual Christians grow in spiritual health, our congregations and dioceses will also be healthier—spiritually speaking.

The RenewalWorks for Me process starts at www.RenewalWorks.org


About RenewalWorks
A ministry of Forward Movement, RenewalWorks utilizes online assessment tools to help churches and individuals chart a course of deeper spiritual growth, experienced through a growing love of God and neighbor. 

About Forward Movement
Inspiring disciples and empowering evangelists around the globe every day, Forward Movement has been producing excellent, innovative resources to encourage spiritual growth in individuals and congregations for more than eighty years.

Forward Today: Local actions with global consequences

Dear friends in Christ,

The news about Amazon rainforest fires is devastating. Damage to the environment is incalculable, and it’s particularly disturbing because these fires are almost certainly set by humans. I was thinking this is a depressing story that is happening far away until I saw a headline this week. “The Amazon is burning because the world eats so much meat.” Ouch. Even though I eat a mostly veggie diet, maybe this story involves me after all. Meat consumption may cause rainforest loss, but buying fresh peppers flown in from another country has its own costs.

The point is that my actions have global consequences. When I buy a shiny new phone, rare minerals had to be mined somewhere. There’s an environmental cost to my new phone, though I may never see the open strip mine. That same phone may be manufactured in a factory in which the working conditions are grim. Though I will never meet the factory workers, there is an impact on someone’s life from my choices. I can buy clothing that is made in a factory where conditions are poor, or I can spend a few more dollars and buy clothing made in a factory where workers are well paid and well treated.

I’m not here to castigate you, dear reader, for your life choices and spending habits. Nor am I here to wail about my own choices. But I am here to say that what I choose today in my home in Cincinnati may have repercussions in another part of the world.

Forest fire

Loving my neighbors doesn’t just mean being kind to the people who live in my neighborhood. We say in our baptismal promises that we will respect the dignity of every human being, and surely that includes human beings I will never meet.

The Gospel is lived out in many ways. I can tell someone about how Jesus Christ frees us from our sins. And I can live my life in a way that frees people from other kinds of tyranny, from the sinful consequences of endless consumption.

What is the good news here? There are lots of ways to live out our lives so that we support the quality of life of others. We can tell people that we are choosing not to eat something or to buy a particular item because of our faith, a faith that looks out for not only my own interests but the well-being of all creation.

What about you? Are you living in a way that helps others thrive? Are you willing to give up those things that might harm others? It’s not easy, but no one ever said it is easy to follow Jesus Christ.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 

Image: Pixabay


Today’s Flash Sale: Hour by Hour

Hour by HourPray without ceasing with this compact edition of the Daily Office complete with prayers and psalms for one week. This beautiful little book, excerpted from The Book of Common Prayer, will enable anyone to say the hours every day: Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline. Perfect for prayer and worship at all times and in all places. Hour by Hour is a thoughtful gift – the cover is deluxe soft leather, and it’s packaged in a small white gift box.

Regular: $20
Today: $15

*Discount is valid until 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time

 

What is Revive?

Revive is a series of small group sessions that equips lay leaders to grow as spiritual leaders. Typically, lay leaders meet with a ministry leader for an opening and closing retreat and three six-week sessions to explore their spiritual lives, deepen their relationship with God and become proficient as spiritual leaders.

In a safe, non-judgmental setting, filled with warm humour, they learn a lot about themselves and others, and connect more deeply with God.

Revive is offered as a form of thanks to lay leaders who give so much to their church. Church ministry often involves important concerns for budgets, property, and people. But these concerns distract lay leaders from spiritually growing in a relationship with Christ.

Through Revive, lay leaders become confident with prayer and scripture, and they learn to see their ministry as a vocation. They also learn practical skills that are invaluable for their tasks and activities within the congregation.

What is the structure of the sessions?
Each Revive session typically runs for two hours and includes:

  • an icebreaker
  • a presentation (using the Revive video series, or presented by facilitator)
  • a discussion
  • an exercise
  • a take-home practice

 

The six-week sessions (referred to as Module 1, 2 and 3 in Revive materials) are usually held in the fall, winter and spring to avoid the busy church seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter.

Here is a sample schedule for a typical full year with Revive, though you can customize to your needs:

  • Week 1 (mid-August): Letter invitation sent out. Registration begins
  • Week 8 (early October): Registration ends, Opening Retreat is held
  • Week 9 (early October): Module 1, Communicating with God, begins
  • Week 14 (mid-November): Module 1 ends
  • Week 23 (mid-January): Module 2, Engaging in Scripture, begins
  • Week 28 (early March): Module 2, ends
  • Week 35 (mid-April): Module 3, Called for Ministry, begins
  • Week 41 (late May): Module 3, ends
  • Week 42 (early June): Closing Retreat.

 

Purchasing Revive Materials
When you purchase Revive (here), you get everything you need to run the program, including the facilitator and participant guides, and access to 30 short video presentations. Everything you need can be downloaded and printed as needed. The full program costs $299 (USD).

To save time at the copy machine, we do offer pre-printed participant guides for an additional charge.

Ministry leaders invite as many as 12 lay leaders to participate in Revive. Together, clergy, pastoral ministers and lay people deepen and grow in their faith as followers of Christ. It is the journey of a lifetime as you revive!

 

Read more guest posts from Revive here.

Forward Today: Do you have a Bible app?

Dear friends in Christ,

Do you have a Bible app for your phone? You might, like me, prefer to read the Bible out of a paper book. But sometimes I want to look up a passage, and I don’t have my printed Bible with me. And you can’t use search in a paper book! I find it very handy—and sometimes inspiring—to have the Bible on my phone.

I’ve tried a bunch of different apps. Much of the time, I use the Logos app, because it has sophisticated study features and syncs with my desktop software. But it’s certainly not free. My current favorite free app is the YouVersion Bible app. You can get it for Android and iOS, and it includes over 1,500 versions of the Bible.

Way of Love Reading Plan

As I’ve mentioned before in Forward Today, our research through RenewalWorks tells us that daily scripture engagement is one of the most important catalysts for spiritual growth. That’s one of the reasons I was excited to think about offering daily Bible reading plans on the YouVersion Bible app, which has been downloaded almost 400 million times.

Our first plan has just gone live this week. Check out the Way of Love seven-day reading plan. It includes seven excerpts from The Way of Love Bible Challenge: A 50 Day Bible Challenge (learn more here). We hope this is the first of many plans—ways to read and be inspired by God’s word.

So often our phones are objects that get in the way of holy living. Our phones can enable us to pour hours of our lives into a tiny screen. I don’t know about you, but I for one am delighted to find ways to derive inspiration and knowledge from my phone. When the psalmist wrote, “Your word is a lantern to my feet,” I doubt he had in mind the glow of a tiny screen. But our phones can be guides to make time for scripture study.

Have you read the Bible on your phone? What was it like? If you haven’t, I hope you’ll give it a try.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

Today’s Flash Sale: The Way of Love Bible Challenge

Way of Love Bible ChallengeThe Way of Love is the way of Jesus. With seven core spiritual practices, the Way of Love offers an intentional, Spirit-led path to following Jesus. And what better guidebook for the journey than the Bible? The Way of Love Bible Challenge pairs each practice with a passage of scripture as well as reflections, questions, and prayers written by a variety of faith leaders.

Come and see what God has to say about the spiritual practices of Turn – Learn – Pray – Worship – Bless – Go – Rest. Informed by scripture and inspired through prayer, these practices offer the opportunity to transform our relationship with ourselves, with our family and communities, and with our Savior. Featuring fifty days of reflections, The Way of Love Bible Challenge is an extension of The Bible Challenge, a global initiative to encourage daily engagement with scripture and an exploration of the Word of God.

Regular: $15
Today: $11.25

*Discount is valid until 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time

Is your church ready for visitors?

It’s the time of year when plenty of people think of finding a new church. Is your church ready for an influx of guests? We’ve collected a few ideas to help you provide a helpful welcome and introduction to your church and community this fall.


Have a guidebook available for newcomers, or a group study

Walk in Love: Episcopal Beliefs & Practices is a perfect resource for newcomers, while also providing long-time members a deeper understanding of their faith. This award-winning book offers “the most comprehensive, and comprehensible, guide to Episcopal faith and practice available.”


Restock your pamphlets to help guests and members learn more

From Welcome to the Episcopal Church to Ten Ways to Pray, our pamphlets provide concise and accessible answers and explanations to many common visitor questions. Topics like evangelism, prayer, and the sacraments also provide existing members with resources to grow in their faith.

Find over 65 pamphlets and review our latest online pamphlet catalog here.

*All pamphlets come in packs of 10 for $5 each
View our pamphlet catalog. 


Angels of the Bible

Churches that focus on scripture engagement grow, and so do their members

Based on research from RenewalWorks, we know that scripture engagement is one of the four main catalysts for spiritual growth in churches, and the individuals in them.

Take on The Bible Challenge and read the entire Bible in a year; or start with a smaller challenge. Study all the women of the Bible, and coming this October, the Angels of the Bible.

See the narrative of the Bible in a new light by exploring The Path, an excerpted and condensed journey from Genesis through Revelation.

Plan on taking part in the third year of The Good Book Club. We’ll be reading the Gospel of John during Epiphany 2020.


Flexible formation for all generations in mind

Thanks to a generous grant, our Living Discipleship series of formation resources is available for FREE! Available in English and Spanish, we crafted Celebrating the Saints, Exploring the Bible, and Practicing Our Faith, to serve as one-stop formation resources for all-ages.

Each curriculum is free to download and includes all facilitator and participant materials, with variations and options for adapting for adults, youth, and children. Find out more.

Forward Today: Unplugging to plug in

Dear friends in Christ,

I’m writing this from the mountains of Colorado, where I’ve come to spend a few days learning from clergy colleagues. It’s an incredibly beautiful setting, and I’m learning a great deal about how to be a leader in the missionary church.

On Monday, when we arrived, one of the first things we did was sort out the WiFi password. All of us were quick to check emails and stay connected with our families and churches and so forth. Then, late afternoon on the first day, a close lightning strike took out the internet. And because we’re in the mountains, there’s not much of a mobile phone signal.

I’m not going to lie, the prospect of being disconnected was a little unsettling.

But you know what? This has turned out to be a blessing. I think we’re all paying a bit more attention to the speakers, because it’s not so easy to be distracted. In the lodge where I’m staying there’s absolutely no signal whatsoever, so when I walked up to go to bed, there was quiet peace. Often I read for a bit, catch up on social media, or send a few emails. Last night, I went straight to sleep.

I didn’t choose to unplug, but I’m grateful for this time. Avoiding the distraction of the internet has helped me focus on the folks here in a different way than I might have otherwise. And I’m noticing the beauty of this place in ways that I might have missed.

I’ve written about this before. The internet is a great blessing, I think. We can connect with people, learn all sorts of things, and share the Good News of God in Jesus Christ. But it also has some downsides.

Maybe I’ll try unplugging a little more often. It might help me plug in to new things.

Have you tried unplugging for a bit? What was it like? Does online life bring us closer to Jesus, or does it take us away from him? Plenty to ponder.

Yours faithfully,
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 

P.S. I’m grateful to my friend Emily Mellott, who suggested this topic as she walked by when I was standing near a meadow trying to think of a topic—in the one place where there’s a good signal.

Photo by Scott Gunn, taken in Colorado


Today’s Flash Sale: Faith Confirmed

Faith ConfirmedIn our journey through life, we often face big questions: What is the meaning of life? Who is God? Why do people die and what happens after death? Throughout the ages, Christians have turned to the Bible and to the Church for answers.

Faith Confirmed is an introduction to Episcopal beliefs and practices and is a perfect primer for those preparing for confirmation in the Episcopal Church and for all those who want to know more about the essentials of the faith.

Each section of the book contains:

    • a clear and accessible explanation of what Episcopalians believe
    • stories and illustrations to unpack these beliefs
    • thought-provoking questions and a Bible study
    • prayer and suggested prayer topics for the week

 

Regular: $18
Today: $13.50

*Discount is valid until 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time

Forward Today: Thinking about fall in the heat of summer

Dear friends in Christ,

I’m writing from Cincinnati where today promises to be another scorcher. It sure seems like the cool weather of fall is a world away. And yet, we’re only a couple of weeks away from the change. One of my friends already has sent his children back to school. Others will be getting their backpacks ready soon. At Forward Movement, our summer “half-day Fridays” come to an end with the start of September. The point is, you’d better enjoy the last couple of weeks of summer life!

Whether or not the start of September makes much of a difference in your home, it does make a difference to lots of people. This time of year is one of those times when plenty of people think of finding a new church. Is your church ready for an influx of guests?

We at Forward Movement offer lots of resources to help guests learn more about the Episcopal Church, but it’s not just about having a fresh pile of books and pamphlets. Now is a great time to check your signage, make sure your website is up to date, and clear away clutter in the hallways and entries.

I frequently hear that we need to provide a clear path for guests. How do they learn more? How do they get involved? How are they invited into membership? For small and large congregations, it’s a challenge, though the challenge is different. Larger congregations with loads of programs need to provide a roadmap (“Start here, this is next, and finally this is how to become members.”). Smaller congregation won’t have a dizzying array of programs, but they still need to provide a path. Here the solution is probably an individual meeting between guests and either lay leaders or clergy.

Our church is slowly shrinking, and one of the reasons is that we don’t always do a good job of inviting people through our doors. And when they arrive, we’re not often good at welcoming and connecting them into ministries. Check out Invite Welcome Connect, including the book Mary Parmer wrote to help with this process.

Savor the last lazy days of summer, but make time to think about how your church will welcome guests. Lots of people are yearning for a community with purpose. They’re waiting on you to invite them and to offer them a place.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

Today’s Flash Sale: Note to Self

Note to SelfWinner of a 2019 Illumination Book Award for Spirituality!

Discover what God has written onto your heart. What do you want for your life? Who do you want to be in your life, and how do you want to live? We humans need reminders, and when it comes to making a consistent effort to be better people, it’s important to have constant reminders. A “Rule of Life” is an ancient method for building soul memory, and offering reminders to ourselves of the person we hope to be—it is a practice of training your mind and soul to be kind and good.

Creating your own rule of life is grace that only you can offer to yourself, helping remind you to live the life you desire, and the life God wishes for you. Join author and Episcopal priest Charles LaFond as he guides you through the wisdom, creation, and application of your own Rule of Life.

Regular: $18
Today: $13.50

*Discount is valid until 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time

Forward Today: Manifold and Great Mercies

Dear friends in Christ,

Last week, I wrote a bit about mercy and grace. Perhaps because I mentioned a news article of some interest, or perhaps because mercy and grace are entirely countercultural, I noticed that last week’s Forward Today was shared quite a few times. So I thought I would return to the topic of mercy.

We don’t tend to talk about mercy too much. We talk about things to which we are entitled. We talk about fairness. In some sense, fairness is crucial. Women and men should be paid the same rate for the same work, for example. People should have access to the same jobs regardless of their race. Fairness and justice are important markers of ensuring that people are able to flourish as the people God has made them to be, so we should never turn away from our need to work for justice.

But what about mercy? The scriptures are full of stories of God’s mercy toward humanity. Despite our continual rejection of God’s way, God still loves us. Justice would demand that we be punished for our error, but God chooses mercy.

Priest

The Gospels in particular are filled with ways in which Jesus Christ manifests mercy. Jesus offers healing to people without first ensuring they “deserve” it. Jesus is endlessly patient and loving with his followers, who never quite seem to get it. And, in the end, Jesus forgives even those who put him to death.

We are meant to love others as Christ loves us. So we too should manifest mercy. What would it be like to focus on being merciful? In small ways, we could be generous with that driver who sneaks up and wants to cut in front of us on the road. We could be quick to forgive those who offend us with minor slights. In bigger ways, we could rethink how we treat refugees and prisoners. We could find ways to help those who struggle. We could always begin not with the question of “what is fair” but rather ask “what is merciful?”

Often when I attend Rite I services of Holy Eucharist, we say the Prayer of Humble Access from page 337 of The Book of Common Prayer.

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.

Some people don’t like this prayer, maybe because it reminds us we’re not all that special. Because of our continual rejection of God’s love, we probably don’t deserve God’s infinite love, if God’s focus were only on justice. But as the prayer reminds us, God’s property is always to have mercy. I love this prayer because it reminds me that God is merciful to me, and in response to God’s love for me, I pray for strength to share God’s love and mercy with others. There’s nothing I can do to make God love me less or more.

Even if your church doesn’t use this lovely reminder of God’s mercy, you can say the prayer on your own any time, especially before Holy Communion. If we pray for mercy, we might just find ourselves being merciful. We might find ourselves changing the world, one life at a time—beginning with our own.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 

Image by samdessordi.


Today’s Flash Sale: Gifts of God for the People of God

Worship can be a powerful way to encounter the living God. Our stories intersect with God’s story as the gifts of God are celebrated and shared by the people of God. Episcopal priest Furman L. Buchanan explores and reflects on each element of Holy Eucharist, the service most often held on Sunday mornings. Moving from the first spoken word of the service—blessed—to the last phrase—Thanks be to God—Buchanan explains the theological and scriptural elements of the service, helping newcomers and longtime members alike gain a deeper understanding of this gift of God.

Buchanan also shares his own stories, connecting pivotal life experiences with the words and actions of Holy Eucharist. Thoughtful questions at the end of each chapter invite readers to reflect on their own stories and how they connect with God’s story of love and life.

Regular: $15
Today: $11.25

*Discount is valid until 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time

The Lord’s Prayer: Draw Near with Persistence

Furman Buchanan in NepalAll I could remember was the voice of the stranger who reminded me of Jesus: “Be persistent. Search and you will find.”

So I climbed into the darkness—exhausted, cold, and afraid. Eventually, just as promised, a solitary shack stood at the top of Poon Hill. I could see the warm glow of a fire piercing tiny gaps between the boards of the door. A few sparks rose out of the makeshift chimney.

I knocked, and the door opened. An old man answered with a smile as if he had been waiting for my arrival all day. “Namaste,” he greeted with a bow. “Namaste,” I replied with tears in my eyes.

-Furman Buchanan, Gifts of God for the People of God, Chapter 14

Read the FULL chapter here.