Tag Archives: scott gunn

Forward Today: Planning for a future, even with uncertainty

Dear friends in Christ,

The Board of Forward Movement outside Christ Church Glendale in Cincinnati

Last week, Forward Movement’s board of directors met near Cincinnati. It was our first in-person meeting since late 2019. Of course, we were all profoundly grateful just to be together. But beyond our joy at gathering, we had important work to do.

The board has been working on strategic priorities for Forward Movement for several months now. The days of thick three-ring binders with strategic plans are over. The world is changing too fast for that. Instead, many organizations set strategic priorities. Where should an organization invest its time, energy, and money? What are the areas of work that need to be pushed to grow and change to meet the needs of a quickly-changing world?

We’re still working, so I’m not ready to share all the results yet. But I will say this. One of our emerging priorities is to capture data. We want to understand what the church needs, where it is strong, and where it needs help. We want to understand what Forward Movement does well and what we could do better. These things will help us map out our work to serve the church in the months and years to come.

This time of pandemic may seem like a strange time to be thinking strategically, but. The church was already changing quickly before the pandemic, and many of those changes have been dramatically accelerated. Whatever is coming next for the church, it will not be going back to life before the pandemic. There’s no “back to normal” because norms have shifted.

Good leaders and healthy organizations will take advantage of this disruptive time to make changes that might have seemed impossible before the pandemic. Is your church changing now? I suspect so, but is it changing in a purposeful way? If ever there were a time to let go of things that needed to end or to take up bold new ventures, this is it.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is unchanging. The hope of God in Christ is our anchor in a turbulent time. But how we preach the Gospel and how we live as a church must surely change. I am delighted that our board did hard work to help steer Forward Movement through this time so that we can emerge stronger and healthier than ever, ready to meet the needs of the church in our time.

May God bless you in this time and fill you with strength and purpose to discern how you might be called to change and grow.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

Strategy and vision in this ChurchNext course: Vision and the Vestry
Leadership in families, from Grow Christians: Leo the Great
Give the gift of prayer: Forward Day By Day gift subscriptions

Forward Today: Beauty and holiness

Dear friends in Christ,

When I’m not traveling, I hang my proverbial hat at Christ Church Glendale near Cincinnati. In addition to Sunday morning duties, I lead a midweek Bible study.

Stained glass windows in Christ Church Glendale near CincinnatiThis fall, as I was seeking the topic for our Bible study, someone suggest that we look at the Bible stories behind the stained glass windows in our church. I loved this idea, and we spent eight weeks looking at windows and talking about the related Bible passages. One of the members has done quite a bit of work on the windows, including reading notes made by the artisan who made most of the windows. It’s been a team effort.

I know that the Bible study has helped me notice things in some of the windows, and I just about always learn something new when I dive into a Bible passage. Just about everyone talks about their newfound appreciation for the windows that we see every week but not have seen fully. And we also have been able to make deep scriptural connections with the windows and our own lives.

This got me thinking. What else is in our church that we might have seen but not noticed? For that matter, it’s a good reminder that our world is full of delights if we slow down to appreciate them more fully. But churches are special places that are often rich with symbols and images. Sometimes churches make their point by the sheer absence of these things. But good art and architecture always teaches us something if we are willing to be students.

What about your church? Have you slowed down to notice the small and big things? Are you ready to learn from the beauty around you?

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

ChurchNext course: Praying with Visual Art

Explore new forms of prayer: Seek and You Will Find

Order your calendar now: Slow Down. Quiet. It’s Advent

Forward Today: Advent and beyond

Dear friends in Christ,

I’m looking forward to Advent Word again this year. In case you haven’t heard of it, Advent Word is an international community of prayer through the Advent season. For the eighth year, Christians around the world are joined together as each day of Advent invites a focus on a particular word drawn from the lectionary.

This is an ideal social media devotion—a way to claim an often unholy space with the holiness of preparation and repentance. Whether on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, you can follow along for meditations or images through the season. You can savor Advent Word as an individual practice or you might form a group in your congregation.

So why am I mentioning this now, when it’s not even November? In addition to the free online materials, Forward Movement has published Promise & Praise, a book for this Advent season based on this year’s Advent words. In addition to reflections by yours truly, the book includes reflections by Miriam McKenney, Hugo Olaiz, Richelle Thompson, Lisa Kimball, and Michael B. Curry. In an ordinary year, I’d wait a couple more weeks to mention a book, but this year, with shipping delays, I encourage you to order the book soon.

Unrelated to Advent Word, we are also offering Jay Sidebotham’s wonderful Slow Down. Quiet. It’s Advent colorable calendar. Again, to ensure timely delivery, order soon!

Whatever your Advent plans are this year, I encourage you to think ahead to make sure you have what you need if you’re counting on resources. But of course, it’s enough to use the gift of this season as a time to prepare our hearts to welcome Jesus Christ, and you don’t need to buy anything in order to repent.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

Forward Today: Becoming evangelists

Dear friends in Christ,

A couple of days ago, we celebrated the major feast of Saint Luke the Evangelist. Sometimes he is known as Saint Luke the Physician. I love the way the collect for the day ties together the themes of healing and evangelism:

Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son: Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

I wonder if we would think of evangelism differently if we thought of it as a way of sharing the “love and healing power” of Jesus Christ. That’s certainly more compelling than inviting people to church so we can have a few more committee members or pledge units! Too often we confuse our internal need for institutional survival with the world’s need to hear the healing and freeing Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the church, and it’s critical for the mission of the church that its institutions be healthy. But the structures of the church are a means, not an end. Our mission is to make disciples of all nations. Making disciples means offering the Gospel of Jesus Christ that offers people true healing, freedom, wholeness, and salvation.

Our world sometimes seems overrun with chaos, fear, greed, and violence. What if we were out there more often to share a different way? What if we followed Saint Luke’s example and offered the Gospel as healing? What if we told everyone that we live in a world that is ultimately governed by grace, mercy, hope, and love?

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

Explore the Lord’s Prayer in this new book: Bold to Say
From Grow Christians:  The Good News as Luke Understood It
50 Day Bible Challenge: A Journey With Luke

Forward Today: Living as those who serve

Dear friends in Christ,

This Sunday brings another challenging Gospel reading from Mark. This time, Jesus is talking with his disciples about status and role. Who is called to what role? Who is important? As usual, his disciples don’t get it right.

I find the ineptness of the disciples strangely comforting. It makes me feel a bit more at ease about my own frequent ineptness as a follower of Jesus, and it also gives some comfort when I see the church so often get it wrong.

But, also, the Gospel is clearly a summons to do better. Jesus has a clear message to impart, and it’s a message that’s tough for many of us. “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Jesus’ disciples have been jockeying for position and prestige, which is exactly the wrong thing to do. Instead, they should be quick to yield position and jettison prestige. After all, the way of Jesus is a servant ministry.

We live in a culture where the myth of the self-made person dominates. People are told to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. The cultural message often says, those who have less simply need to try harder. But that’s all messed up, and it’s certainly not what Jesus teaches and demands of his followers.

Jesus says we should be quick to give away our power and status. Let someone else have the good seats, the best job, the favorable deal. Point the spotlight at another. Those who have more power and more status need to work harder to give it away.

Are you a servant? Can you give away power and privilege? How about your church? Are there ways your congregation can be a servant community, offering resources to others without expectation of reward?

My experience is that it’s easy for us individual Christians to rationalize the power and status we keep. And it’s effortless for churches to do the same. But, like Jesus’ disciples, we sometimes need to listen to the voice of God or the call of a prophet to pay attention.

I do know this. When I manage to get it right, giving things away feels a lot better than keeping them. The life abundant that Jesus offers all of us paradoxically arrives when we are quick to serve and slow to acquire.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

Pray with the Spirituals in this new book: Face to the Rising Sun
Explore the Lord’s Prayer in this new book: Bold to Say
From Grow Christians:  Saint Francis: For the Love of God
Explore this ChurchNext course: Yes, We’re All Called to Mission

Forward Today: All things may prosper

Dear friends in Christ,

Painted icon of the Archangel Michael, holding a helmet and spear.Today is one of the great red-letter days in the church calendar, the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels. Sometimes this feast day is called Michaelmas, since we are meant to celebrate Holy Eucharist (the Mass) on this day.

This feast day celebrates not only Saint Michael the Archangel, but all the angels and archangels. Unfortunately, many of us suffer from an impoverished understanding of angels. In a world where we are presented with angels as things to adorn pillows and to appear on cheesy art, we forget that angels are not really sweet baby-like creatures.

The scriptures make it clear that angels are often terrifying. There’s a reason the scriptures tell us that many of their conversations with humans begin with “Be not afraid.” Not only are angels themselves frightening, but they often bring messages from God to humanity that also could be scary.

So what do these somewhat terrifying creatures have to do with us in the year 2021? I for one am profoundly grateful for Saint Michael and the whole company of angels. Michael is a warrior for good, someone who rights wrong and seeks justice.

One of the great hymns for today’s feast day is “Christ the fair glory” (listen to St. Thomas Fifth Avenue singing it). The second verse invokes Saint Michael.

Send thine archangel Michael to our succor; / peace-maker blessed, may he banish from us / striving and hatred, so that for the peaceful / all things may prosper.

There is a battle going on in our world today, good versus evil. If you don’t believe me, look at your favorite news website. Fortunately, angels are warriors for good.

As we say every Sunday, we are joined in our worship with angels and archangels. The heavenly host cares about us and our world, and it isn’t just in worship that angels do their work. Aren’t you glad we have Saint Michael and all the angels interceding on our behalf?

A blessed Michaelmas to one and all.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

Image credit: Icon of St. Michael the Archangel. 14th century, Byzantine. Via Wikimedia Commons.


More from our ministry:

Coming next week, on Spirituals and Justice: Face to the Rising Sun

On intercession of the saints and other forms of prayer: Seek and You Will Find

Learn more about angels: Angels of the Bible

Related course from ChurchNext: Meditating on Angels

 

Forward Today: Signposts of Autumn

Dear friends in Christ,

Today marks the beginning of autumn. I don’t know about you, but it hardly feels that way to me. Just yesterday we were sweltering with summer weather in Cincinnati. And most of my beloved autumn rituals aren’t happening because of the pandemic.

I’ve spoken with a lot of clergy lately, and it seems like just about every church is out of sorts. Normally, this time of year finds the launch of a program year with new classes and programs and the return of people who may have been away for the summer. There’s often a buzz of positive energy.

My sense is that I’m not alone in feeling that this autumn is strange. Some people might be missing the “usual” activities of this time of year. Others might think too much is happening, and we should step back. And almost everyone I know is tired, exhausted even.

So what are we to do? It’s easy to say that we should let go of our expectations, but it’s hard to live that way.

Perhaps what we can do is find the few signposts of autumn that we enjoy and cling to those. Maybe your church is offering a Bible study this fall again, but it’s online instead of in-person. Is it possible to enjoy it for what it is? There are plenty of other examples.

I’m not here to tell anyone how to feel! But if I can offer encouragement or consolation, I hope I can do that.

You’re not alone if you struggle with life in this moment. And, at the same time, it’s a worthy practice to find positive glimmers of hope.

Now more than ever, I find prayer and scripture study to be incredibly life-sustaining. Perhaps you’ll join your church’s morning prayer group, or read Forward Day by Day, or try out the Forward Movement daily office podcasts.

Blessings to you. We’ll get through this. After all, Jesus has promised to be with us until the end of the age. THAT we can always count on.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

From Grow Christians: In the Middle

From Grow Christians: Transforming Our Back to School Fears

From RenewalWorks: Blessed are those who mourn

Spend the program year with Forward Movement: Learn more!

Forward Today: Investing our money for the good of the world

Dear friends in Christ,

I’ve long been intrigued by ethical ways to use money for the good of the world. Of course, one choice is to make donations to organizations who seek the improvement of the common good.

There are also ways to make money while also using our money for good. For example, ethical investing puts money in companies with ethically sound practices to support those who are doing good in the world. There are funds which make micro-loans to people in developing countries to help them start enterprises that can be sustainable and support their economic improvement; one can invest in these funds and sometimes get a modest return on the investment. We can buy bonds that underwrite green energy projects, and these bonds may generate income like any other bonds.

I’ve been thinking about churches and their wealth recently. Should our goal be to seek the highest possible return? Or should we temper financial gains with moral and ethical interests. Can we do both?

At Forward Movement, we reinvested our modest investment fund a couple of years ago. Before we had a typical balanced portfolio with policies that were primarily oriented around financial return. After considering several options, we put our entire fund in a balanced ESG (environmental, social and governance investing) portfolio of stocks, bonds, and other instruments. This means we hope to do good with our money. By the way, since we made the switch, our financial performance has exceeded our previous benchmarks. (So it doesn’t always have to cost something to do good, though it often will.)

I’m not here to give financial advice. Talk to someone who does finance for a living to get financial advice!

But I am here to raise questions. Can we, as a church, change the world with our wealth? Can we encourage our members to pool their money to change the world?

Imagine if the church offered alternatives to predatory payday lending programs. Imagine if the church created investment funds to support the launch of small businesses by racial minorities and other groups who may not find financial support in our current systems. Imagine if we bought bonds to support transformational infrastructure, sustainable resource development, and green energy. There are many ways we could use our money to change the world.

Any time we want to change the world, we can start in our own hearts. At our house, we began with our retirement investments. We’re nearly done switching all of our money to ethical or socially conscious investing. We give money to the church of course, but also to other organizations doing good.

Are you using your money to change the world for the better? How is your church doing?

Yours faithfully,

 

 

 

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


 

More from our ministry:

Online Course: What Every Vestry Member Needs to Know about Money with The Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania

Book ideas for churches and small groups: Learn more!

A book of pray and practice: Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book

Forward Today: You CAN make a difference

Dear friends in Christ,

As I mentioned last week, there’s been a lot of heartbreaking news lately. Images and stories out of Haiti and Afghanistan are challenging. The pandemic continues its deadly spread. How can we respond?

I’ve heard people say, “There’s nothing I can do.” Perhaps it’s true that no one of us can single-handedly solve any of these global problems. But it’s just not true that there’s nothing to do. As I said last week, prayer is always a good act. For those of us who are Episcopalians, there are other concrete steps we and our churches can take.

If, like me, you would like to see a serious commitment to welcome Afghan refugees in the US and other nations, you can take action. For people living in the US, the Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations has a simple way to help you contact your Senators and Representatives. Just fill out a brief form to advocate for action to welcome more refugees.

While you’re on that page, notice the link at the bottom if you’d like to make a financial contribution to Episcopal Migration Ministries to support their work in settling refugees. You and your congregation can also indicate your interest in volunteering to help settle refugees. It’s rewarding work, and I hope you will consider doing this Gospel work.

Earthquake damage in Haiti

The people of Haiti have suffered more than most of us can comprehend. It’s been one disaster after another for more than a century. In response to the recent earthquake, you can donate to Episcopal Relief & Development’s relief work there. As you may know, the Diocese of Haiti is part of the Episcopal Church, so Episcopal Relief & Development has a good network through which to do its work.

If you are concerned about the continued spread of COVID, there are several steps you can take. Episcopal Relief & Development has a COVID relief fund that will be especially important for developing nations where a lack a resources may make vaccine campaigns challenging. The Office of Government Relations has a vaccine toolkit to support your work in encouraging vaccination among those who are hesitant. If you have influence over policy, you can create incentives or requirements for the vaccine in your organization, whether church or secular.

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.

And let us never cease to pray.

Almighty God our heavenly Father, you declare your glory and show forth your handiwork in the heavens and in the earth: Deliver us in our various occupations from the service of self alone, that we may do the work you give us to do in truth and beauty and for the common good; for the sake of him who came among us as one who serves, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Yours faithfully,

 

 

 

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

Online Course: Civil Conversations in Uncivil Times with Ray Suarez

From Grow Christians, our family blog: A Summer Morning, Broken Glass and the Bus Stop

Reading suggestion: Book ideas for churches and small groups!

Forward Today: What to do when there’s too much

Dear friends in Christ,

I can’t remember a week with more distressing news stories. The situation in Afghanistan is a nightmare, after decades of nightmares. The people of Haiti, who have already suffered beyond belief, are dealing with another earthquake. The global pandemic shows no signs of letting up, and here in the US we see hospitals overflowing. Fires and severe weather patterns continue to grow worse as climate change accelerates. Add to that the ongoing news of violence, oppression, and scandal, and it’s too much to bear.

What are we Christians to do in the face of impossible problems and insurmountable suffering?

I believe our response begins in prayer. And we should not just start there. Praying without ceasing is never the wrong thing to do. Prayer on its own can change things, and prayer can certainly shape our own hearts. Prayer is action, but it’s not the only kind of action.

As the old saying goes, if you feed someone, you’re not changing world hunger, but you are changing one person’s hunger. That’s simplistic, and there are all kinds of problems with this approach. It’s also not wrong.

So one person can change the world, one life at a time starting with our own. There are lots of small ways we can respond to the suffering in the world beyond our prayers (and I hope we always pray!). We can contact politicians to seek policy changes. We can donate money to reputable non-profit organizations who are working in the places about which we’re concerned. We can look at our own behavior and encourage behavior changes in our friends and colleagues. We can be bearers of grace and mercy in a world that often lacks both.

Whenever I’m not sure where to begin, I pray. Lately, I’ve found the Great Litany to be just the thing. I also like to talk with wise friends who are also seeking to offer a compassionate response to what we see in the news.

The worst thing we can do is to accept evil, suffering, and sin as inevitable. We must make no peace with oppression, violence, degradation, or suffering of any kind. After all, we follow a Savior who defeated the forces of might and evil in his day by his death and resurrection on the third day. God’s love is always stronger than the evil of this world.

Will you join me in prayer? And then let us offer grace and mercy in this world.

Yours faithfully,

 

 

 

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


More from our ministry:

Online Course: Civil Conversations in Uncivil Times with Ray Suarez

From Grow Christians, our family blog: Little by Little

Reading suggestion: The Path: A Journey Through the Bible