Tag Archives: Forward Today

Forward Today: Presented to God

Dear friends in Christ,

“Presentation of Christ in Temple Icon” by Ted (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Tomorrow the church celebrates the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple, observed exactly 40 days after Christmas Day. This commemoration recalls the events recorded in Luke 2:22-40. Jesus’ parents took him to the Temple to present him to God, as the Law required for all firstborn sons.

In the Gospel account of the Presentation, we meet Simeon, a man who had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until after he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Simeon was waiting. One day, he was in the Temple when he saw two parents bringing their infant son to be dedicated to the Lord. It might have looked like a perfectly ordinary event, but this time was different. You see, Simeon knew that the child Jesus was his Savior.

At that moment, he praised God with words that we now sing as the Nunc dimittis. In Rite Two language, Simeon’s praises are recorded like this:

“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.”

In an instant, Simeon recognizes the fulfillment of God’s word both in the tiny baby and in his meeting of his Lord. Simeon knows that this infant lives for the whole world; he has come to enlighten all nations.

I love this moment, because there is so much to see and to learn. Jesus is for everyone. God’s promises are faithful and true. But I especially give thanks to God that Simeon could recognize amidst the ordinary routine a most extraordinary encounter with Jesus Christ.

I pray that when I meet Jesus, whether in his people or in the sacraments, I will have the grace to praise God for meeting him. We all meet Jesus, whether in this life or the life to come. Let us join Simeon’s song to proclaim Jesus as the light that shines brightly with God’s grace and mercy for all nations.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

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From the Grow Christians archives: Praying Compline with children

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Receive your Certification in Episcopal Catechismal Study from ChurchNext

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Forward Today: Called through grace

“St. Paul on road to Damascus” by Ted (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Dear friends in Christ,

Today the church commemorates the Conversion of St. Paul. The story of St. Paul’s dramatic experience on the road to Damascus is told in Acts 26:9-21. Jesus appeared to St. Paul and challenged him to repent from persecuting followers of Jesus and to embrace the Gospel of Christ’s light.

Imagine what that was like for St. Paul. His entire identity was probably rooted in persecuting others, and he was able to give all that up. Think about what it must have been like when the “new Paul” walked into a room of Christians who would certainly fear him and possibly hate him. And, yet, he loved those early Christians until he earned their trust and was able to be their pastor.

I used to not be a fan of St. Paul. I read some of the letters he wrote, and I didn’t appreciate his perspective. Some of his writings still confound me. But I learned to love St. Paul when I began to see him as an inspired human being, with emphasis on the human part. We’re all messed up, and St. Paul was no different. He’s the first to admit that.

Despite his many flaws, Jesus Christ called him to a new life of grace and mercy. That should be encouraging for all of us.

So today, I invite you not just to remember and give thanks for St. Paul, but even more to give thanks for God’s call to us.

As St. Paul was telling his story in the letter to the Galatians, he wrote this: “when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace…”

That’s just it. St. Paul didn’t do anything to deserve God’s grace or God’s call. Quite the opposite. And you and I have not earned God’s grace, but God showers us with blessings through his love, grace, and mercy.

Let us give thanks for God’s mercy and grace. And let us give thanks for all those moments when people are willing to turn away from evil and toward righteousness. St. Paul is our example here.

Are you ready for God’s call? Will you follow St. Paul’s example and go in a new direction?

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

More from our ministry:

Saint Paul as Mentor, Model, and Encourager: The Heart of a Leader

Explore God’s invitations in scripture and in your life: A Generous Beckoning

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From Grow Christians: The Larger than Life Ministry of Phillips Brooks

Forward Today: He’s back!

Dear friends in Christ,

I’m delighted to report that I’m back to work as Forward Movement’s executive director after an extended medical leave. Over the last few months, I’ve been on quite a journey. Let me say a few words about my time away, and then a few words about the future.

As you may have seen, I had some unexpected medical drama last summer while I was on vacation in Singapore. After about six weeks of medical care there, I was finally cleared to return home in early September. Since then, I’ve been focused on getting stronger and healthier.

In the middle of December, I had heart surgery to repair the underlying issues that led to last summer’s issues. I’m pleased to report that the surgery went very well, and it appears that everything is now working as it should.

I’m thrilled to report that my doctors have cleared me to return to work, and as of this week, I’m back at work full-time. I expect that I’ll return to traveling in February, and I am already looking forward to resuming my hobby of ranking airports.

None of this was planned, and it certainly wasn’t fun. Still, there are some positive aspects to the crisis I’ve navigated. For one thing, it has opened me to see God’s presence in my life in new ways.

I’m also profoundly grateful for prayers from strangers and friends all around the world. Your prayers made a difference, and I’m inspired by your generosity.

The Forward Movement staff rose to the occasion and kept things running smoothly in my absence. Our board of directors took on extra work and kept a steady hand on the helm. Forward Movement drew on the experience of Beth Lewis, retired head of 1517 Media, to serve as acting executive director during my medical leave.

While I was in Singapore, my daily prayer life was anchored by our own prayer website. I’d used it before, but it had never been so central in my life. I encourage you to check out this free site if you don’t know of its riches.

Mostly I’m here to say thank you—to God, to my staff colleagues, to our board, to Beth, and to all of you for your prayers.

I’m also here to say that I’m excited about what’s coming down the road for Forward Movement and for me. Soon I will be back on the church conference and speaking circuit, and I hope I’ll have a chance to chat with many of you in person.

Blessings to you.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

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Forward Today: The gifts of praying together

Note: As we continue to pray for healing for the Rev. Canon Scott Gunn, this weekly message will feature guest writers from the Forward Movement staff and board of directors. Today’s message comes from Margaret Ellsworth, Forward Movement’s Marketing Coordinator.

This January marks one year of my most consistent, most life-giving spiritual practices. Every Monday through Saturday in 2022, I’ve started my day by praying Morning Prayer with a group of friends over Zoom.

This is longer than I’ve ever kept up with a consistent habit like this—longer than any workout program, self-improvement life hack, or New Year’s resolution. How did we make it this far?

We didn’t all start out as friends—just folks from various parts of the Internet. Some of us knew each other in person (attending the same parish, or old college classmates.) Others of us were only connected online. What we had in common was our desire to pray.

Over the past year, we have groaned over Job and puzzled over Numbers, and wondered what Jesus was saying to us in the Gospels. We found our favorite canticles and even tried singing them sometimes. We adopted our own cycles of prayer, learning the names of congregations in all 7 dioceses where we had members. And we prayed for each other—for concerns both big and small.

The biggest gift this community has given me is a relief from decision fatigue. I could start my day by hunting down an insightful Bible passage or by extemporizing the perfect prayer. But on the days I wake up tired and uninspired, that extra bit of work is probably going to mean I don’t pray at all. The pattern of prayer we have in the BCP makes it easier to get started. (Even more so if, like our group, you use an app or website that takes the page-flipping out of the equation.)

Praying with a group takes this one step further. I’m not deciding each morning when—or whether—to pray. If I snooze my alarm one more time, I’ll leave the rest of the group hanging. So I show up for them, and they show up for me.

That means showing up in the midst of our daily mess. On any given day, someone is calling in to read their part on the bus to work, or just listening while they get ready for a work meeting. Just last week, I had to hand off the officiant’s part halfway through the Apostles’ Creed to break up an argument between my kids. There’s no pressure to be perfect and reverent—because if we had to be perfect and reverent, we’d never pray together in the first place. Instead we meet each other where we are, and God meets us there too.

We’ve made it this far by making one decision: just show up for prayer each day. It’s a big decision that takes lots of small decisions off our plate. And it has borne fruit for us. As I start my day in prayer, I’m more likely to notice what God is doing throughout the rest of my day. I’m thankful for my friends in helping me show up, and excited to learn what God will show us in the coming year of prayer.

Yours faithfully,

Margaret Ellsworth
Marketing Coordinator

More from our ministry:

Join a community reading through Scripture: The Good Book Club

Pray through the Great Litany this Lent: Hear Us, Good Lord

From Grow Christians: Changing Diapers, Changing Lives

Our first bilingual book of Lenten devotionals: Encuentros con Jesus

Forward Today: Seasons of expectation

Note: As we continue to pray for healing for the Rev. Canon Scott Gunn, this weekly message will feature guest writers from the Forward Movement staff and board of directors. Today’s message comes from Margaret Ellsworth, Forward Movement’s Marketing Coordinator.

The AdventWord of the day is “mountains.” Here’s the photo I shared today.

As we enter December tomorrow, I’m acutely aware that I am living in two calendars at once. On the cultural calendar, we are well into the “Christmas season.” Twinkling lights and red coffee cups, just to name two signs of the season, have been around for a few weeks already. But in the church’s calendar, we are just beginning our season of Advent, our liturgical new year.

In his book Inwardly Digest, Derek Olsen points out how the church calendar helps shape us in the Christian affections: “emotional habits, patterns of feeling that we choose and cultivate.” Each season of the year highlights one of the affections that we might practice their patterns of feeling. “We focus on particular affections as we move through particular seasons,” Olsen writes, “in order that these patterns may become features of our long-term way of being in the presence of God.”

The affection of Advent, according to Olsen, is “watchful expectation.” Expectation is a key emotional habit of the Cultural Christmas season too – in a different way. The expectation of “holiday magic” in our decorations and activities. The expectation of family togetherness, or end-of-year achievement at work. And of course, the expectation to give or receive the perfect gift. 

These expectations can often feel, as Anne Lamott puts it, as “resentments waiting to happen.” Add “watchful” to expectation, though, and the focus shifts. It’s not as much about what we do (or fail to do); rather, it’s about noticing what God is doing, and what God will do.

I’m grateful in this season for AdventWord, which is helping me watch for Christ this week. AdventWord takes words from their familiar context, in the readings for the Sundays of Advent, and asks where YOU see these words in your world. I love seeing how people all over social media are interpreting the words. And when I look for my own photo of the day, I’m watchful. I’m noticing where God is throughout my day. 

AdventWord is only one of the ways we can lean into this season of watchful expectation. It’s a great time to begin (or begin again) in praying the Daily Office, as our liturgical calendar turns over. Or join our newest Forward Day by Day author tomorrow as the new month’s meditations begin. 

We can’t avoid the cultural Christmas season entirely, and truth be told, I wouldn’t want to – it’s a wonderful time of year. But I hope this year I can lay down the expectations it presents, and watch instead for what God is doing in the world.

Yours faithfully,

Margaret Ellsworth
Marketing Coordinator

More from our ministry:

Find gifts for the disciples and evangelists in your life with our Holiday Gift Guide

Look for God’s work in creation: The Creation Care Bible Challenge

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New from ChurchNext: Introducing the Quaker Tradition 

Forward Today: Inwardly digest the Word of God

Note: As we continue to pray for healing for the Rev. Canon Scott Gunn, this weekly message will feature guest writers from the Forward Movement staff and board of directors. Today’s message comes from Richelle Thompson, Forward Movement’s Managing Editor.

Veggie Tales should not be a primary source for biblical knowledge. But as I started preparing for Forward Movement’s upcoming Good Book Club Bible study, I realized that most of what I knew about the book of Esther came from the toddler days of my children, when the cartoon was on incessant repeat.

Through the singsong of animated vegetables, I learned the story of Esther. But I didn’t know it.

The Good Book Club LogoOver the years, I’ve found that each time I encounter with scripture—even the same passages—I discover something new. Certainly, my understanding of Noah’s Ark has changed since my Sunday School, finger-puppet days. Exodus challenges me in new ways as I learn more about racial injustice and examine my heart for its unbidden prejudices. My response to the Gospel of Luke has varied, from when I was pregnant and scared to when my daughter was a young teen, the age of Mary when the angel Gabriel tells her she will bear a child.

The words of scripture don’t change. But I have. Through the various seasons of life, the Word of God speaks to me in different ways. And it’s not just a matter of aging or my own personal experience. The affairs of the world—climate change, political strife, natural disasters—influence how I read and understand scripture.

That’s why reading the Bible can never be a one-and-done thing. Numerous studies show that reading scripture is directly related to our spiritual health and vitality. We know that intellectually, just like we know vegetables (real ones, not animated ones) are better choices than Snickers and ice cream. But it’s all too easy to fall into bad habits or be apathetic to our spiritual health.

On Sunday, one of my favorite prayers from the Book of Common Prayer was the collect—the words at the beginning of the service that call us into worship:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Read. Mark. Learn. Inwardly Digest. What a wonderful process for engaging in scripture! It’s not just a matter or reading or hearing it but about letting scripture nourish our souls and permeate our lives. For me, the most effective way to do this is through a daily guide for reading the Bible — and if possible, to do it in community, in small-group studies or as part of an online program. There are lots of resources out there, but naturally, I’m partial to Forward Movement ones. These include the Bible Challenge series. These books offer 40 or 50 (or even 365) days of daily scripture reading, reflection, and prayer. They’re a great resource for personal and group reflection.

I’m also a fan of the Good Book Club. During the season after Epiphany, Forward Movement invites the church to join in reading through a portion of the Bible—together. Over the years, we’ve moved through the four gospels, Acts, Romans, and Exodus. This year, starting on January 6, we’ll read the books of Ruth and Esther. The Good Book Club offers weekly emails as a companion through the readings, study guides for group discussion, and a live, online ChurchNext class. I might have learned the story of Esther from dancing cucumbers, peas, and leeks, but now it’s time to inwardly digest the Word of God. I can’t wait.

Yours faithfully,

Richelle Thompson
Managing Editor

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Forward Today: The rhythm of prayer book living

Note: As we continue to pray for healing for the Rev. Canon Scott Gunn, this weekly message will feature guest writers from the Forward Movement staff and board of directors. Today’s message comes from Margaret Ellsworth, Forward Movement’s Marketing Coordinator.

There are a LOT of prayer books on my shelf. (Occupational hazards of being a clergy kid, religion grad student, and now staff member at a publishing ministry.) The oldest one is this little Book of Common Prayer, here at the top. It’s worn at the edges, and features some extra decoration from a scribble-happy younger sister. This prayer book has traveled with me for a long time.

I received this BCP in my Easter basket when I was a kid. But after the Easter treats were eaten and the Easter basket was put away, the BCP went up on a shelf, mostly unused. Until I graduated from college and prepared to head out to a new city for a summer internship. When I was packing, I slipped this prayer book into my suitcase almost as an afterthought. Just in case it might come in handy.

It was during that internship, living on my own for the first time, that I really got to know the prayer book. I read through the psalms and the lectionary and realized that if I really stuck to this seven-week cycle I could write these poems on my heart. I prayed Compline in my little room. I stepped into the rhythm of prayer book living, which has sustained me in the years since.

I’ve got a new prayer book on my shelf now—Forward Movement’s new Book of Common Prayer, Gift Edition. This book is designed to be portable, just as my first little BCP was, so it can fit in a backpack or a purse or a suitcase. It’s also designed to be beautiful, because the God we praise in its pages is the maker of beautiful things. Because giving thanks to God, always and everywhere, should be a good and joyful thing.

I recently read through the prayer book on sacraments as part of an inquirer’s class. The folks reading with me, from all ages and stages of life, are all preparing for a sacramental encounter of their own. Some are being received from other traditions, exploring the rich heritage of prayer that characterizes the Episcopal Church. Some are preparing for confirmation, getting ready to claim familiar words and actions as their own. Some are preparing for baptism, or to stand up with children and godchildren to support them in their life in Christ. All of them find their place in the Book of Common Prayer.

I’m saving my newest prayer book for my three-year-old daughter, who will by God’s grace be baptized soon. It’ll stay on her shelf for now—she’s a scribbler too, and a notorious page-ripper to boot. But I’ll fill out the presentation page with her name anyway, and hold it for her until she can open it herself. Whenever and however she takes it up on her own, I hope she knows that this book—and the rhythm of faithful life it represents to me—belongs to her already. I hope and pray that she will carry that joy with her wherever she goes.

Yours faithfully,

Margaret Ellsworth
Marketing Coordinator

More from our ministry:

Dig deeper into sacraments and practices: Walk in Love

Practices to sustain a life of faith: Vital Signs of Faith

Join ChurchNext’s live class with the author of Vital Signs of Faith

Check out the Top 5 Courses for Fall from ChurchNext

Forward Today: Luke the evangelist

Note: As we continue to pray for healing for the Rev. Canon Scott Gunn, this weekly message will feature guest writers from the Forward Movement staff and board of directors. Today’s message comes from the Rt. Rev. Susan Brown Snook, Bishop of the Diocese of San Diego and member of the Forward Movement Board.

“Saint Luke” by James Tissot, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

I love the Gospel of Luke, whose feast day is this week. It is full of joy, prayer, and awareness of both the suffering of the world and what Jesus has done to bring healing and restoration. Luke was a physician. He knew a great deal about the human body and about the cures that doctors could bring, and he probably also despaired as he saw people suffering from ailments that doctors could not cure. But then he heard the gospel of Jesus, and realized that Jesus came to heal the world in a new way: body, mind, and spirit.

So Luke became an evangelist. And what an evangelist he was, writing more of the New Testament than anyone else (the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles). Because of Luke, we know stories we read nowhere else, from Christmas to Pentecost. As the only writer who recorded the experiences of the early church after Jesus’ resurrection, Luke tells us how the church understood its mission, as Jesus tells the apostles in Acts 1:8: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Sharing the gospel of Christ rarely happens in a smooth, graceful progression. In Acts, the apostles have successes and setbacks. They work wondrous miracles and make rookie mistakes. They struggle over different interpretations of their mission, and they follow the lead of the Spirit in fits and starts. They fail to take literally the mandate from Jesus to go to the ends of the earth, and they stay in Jerusalem where they are comfortable—until they just can’t stay there anymore.

In other words, those early apostles are a lot like us. We too have setbacks, mistakes, struggles, divisions, and failure. Yet the Holy Spirit is with us, prompting us to courageously care for the world around us. Like those early apostles, we have a gospel of healing, wholeness, reconciliation, and restoration to share. Like them, we need the courage the Holy Spirit brings to share that good news. And like them, we know that the good news of Christ can still transform the world.

Yours faithfully,

The Rt. Rev. Susan Brown Snook
Bishop of the Diocese of San Diego
Member of the Forward Movement Board

More from our ministry:

Journey with St. Luke through Bible Challenge volumes on Luke and Acts
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Forward Today: The Good Shepherd

Note: As we continue to pray for healing for the Rev. Canon Scott Gunn, this weekly message will feature guest writers from the Forward Movement staff and board of directors. Today’s message comes from Jamie McMahon, Member of the Forward Movement Board.

For about 15 years now I have participated in the life of an international Anglican religious community called the Oratory of the Good Shepherd. While my day-to-day and week-to-week faith community is my parish of Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, my experience with the Oratory has deepened my spiritual life in numerous ways.

The Oratory is a community of brothers, both lay and ordained, founded in Cambridge, England in 1913, which has provinces in North America, Australia, Southern Africa, and Europe. Although brothers do not generally live in community, they are grouped together into local and regional colleges and meet regularly for prayer and support. They follow a common Rule and discipline for their lives. I am a Companion of the Oratory and follow a modified Rule in my own life based around daily prayer, regular Eucharistic participation in addition to Sundays, a regular examination of conscience and use of the sacrament of reconciliation, participation in an annual retreat or quiet day, and charitable giving.

Earlier this fall, I attended the Oratory’s annual retreat in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. Over the course of those days I was able to spend time in silence and prayer with God and with the other brothers and companions.

Our retreat leader provided several short talks to assist in our spiritual work. At one point, he talked about how we don’t always know what God is doing in the corners of our lives, in the bits we cannot see, but that God is always there. In keeping with the theme of the Oratory, we were also reminded that when we recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd in our prayers, we recognize that we have, in fact, never been alone. This voice is not the voice of a stranger and the Good Shepherd has spent time with us even when we haven’t noticed.

Spend some time with John 10:1-18 and think about where the Good Shepherd may have been active in your life, perhaps in some way that you didn’t even pay attention to at the time.

If you are interested in learning more about the Oratory of the Good Shepherd, please have a look at the website oratory1913.com or connect with us at www.facebook.com/OGS1913.

Yours faithfully,

Jamie McMahon
Member of the Forward Movement Board

More from our ministry:

Dive deeper into this Gospel: A Journey with John Bible Challenge

Create your own Rule of Life with Vital Signs of Faith

From Grow Christians: A Flock of Minecraft Sheep

Forward Today: Jesus’ other teaching

Note: As we continue to pray for healing for the Rev. Canon Scott Gunn, this weekly message will feature guest writers from the Forward Movement staff and board of directors. Today’s message comes from Canon Clyde Kunz, President of the Standing Committee in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona and Member of the Forward Movement Board.

When asked the question “What is the most important of Jesus’ teachings?” most of us would probably respond:  to love one another.

And we would of course be right.  But we tend to overlook the other lesson He tried to communicate repeatedly:  to give, and to do so generously.

Why do we tend to remember the one but ignore the other?  Probably because we believe it easier to love than to be generous.  But as true disciples of Jesus, we need to understand that generosity actually IS love.

This time of year, we begin to hear messages about Christian stewardship – the giving of our time, talent and treasure.  We unfortunately sometimes hear from stewardship campaign leaders (even from the pulpit!) that the reason for our giving is to balance the church’s budget, or to cover roof or parking lot repairs.  But the reason for Christian stewardship as Jesus taught it has virtually NOTHING to do with covering the church’s expenses!

So what is it about?  In Matthew chapter 6, repeated again in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus teaches “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  And therein lies the key.  The core of the teaching.  Aligning our giving with our hearts.

Which compels me to ask myself:  where is my heart?

The late Rev. Billy Graham used to quote this passage from Matthew, after which he’d say: “Give me five minutes with a person’s checkbook, and I will tell you where their heart is.” And I wonder if someone were to look at my check register (or nowadays my credit card statement) where would they believe my heart to be?  Or more to the point, what might they assume it is that I worship?

Would it be the somewhat exotic vacations I am inclined to take?  The pricey restaurants I frequent more than my expanding waistline can justify?  While there is nothing wrong with enjoying some of the good things life has to offer, I sometimes wonder how those expenditures might compare with my giving to support the work of God’s kingdom. Jesus’ teaching on giving is all about aligning our heart with our generosity.

This time of year, our mailboxes are filled with requests from genuinely worthy causes.  But might we consider prioritizing our support of God’s kingdom when making our charitable contributions this year?  We can do so by pledging generously to our parish’s annual stewardship campaign.  And as true disciples we can also support the Episcopal Church’s Bless Campaign, the work of our seminaries or of organizational ministries like Forward Movement.  All are ways in which we can, as Jesus taught us, align our giving and our heart.

During this year’s season of giving, where is it I want my heart to be?

Yours faithfully,

Canon Clyde Kunz
Board Member, Forward Movement
President of Standing Committee,  Episcopal Diocese of Arizona

More from our ministry:

Support the ministry of Forward Movement: Donate today

Explore Christian stewardship and a holy use of wealth: The Unjust Steward

Giving is a Vital Sign of Faith – learn more in Kate Moorehead Carroll’s book

New ChurchNext course: Sharing God’s Resources Through An Ancient Practice