On giving

“Money is not the only commodity that is fun to give. We can give time, we can give our expertise, we can give our love or simply give a smile. What does that cost? The point is, none of us can ever run out of something worthwhile to give.” ― Steve Goodier

The annual pledge drive is underway, most often we talk of stewardship, that is "all we do, with all that we have".  Certainly God (and the church) desire a commitment, one well beyond money.  Money is only one aspect of how our priorities are known, but an important one.

Our pledge and general giving to the church is different than all the other ways we use money.  It is not an exchange of goods or service like most of the money we spend.  It is even different than other charitable giving.  Giving to the church ought to be part of our spiritual disciplines, even in small amounts.

Our regular giving generally comes from our regular income.  It makes sense that in changes as our income and circumstances change.  Many are generous to make gifts to particular ministries as well.  This is helpful to ensure funding for specific ministries, but is ideally 'additional' giving, once some support to the regular budget has been offered.  Sometimes special gifts are offered as a gift or memorial, these often hold some special purpose in the church as well.

In addition to your pledge, I hope that you would consider two other aspects of financial support.  First, capital gifts, that is additional support for 'capital improvements'.  While we are still in planning stages, the staff and vestry are preparing for a capital campaign.  More information will be offered soon, but I believe it is important to note this as we plan.  Capital gifts often come from one's wealth or irregular income.  Perhaps you have pledged as a part of your income and want to direct giving from a bonus or inheritance.  Many have gifted stock as well, it is a way to share from one's wealth as well as eliminating a tax liability.

The other aspect is planned gifts.  I know that we are included in the estate of some of the members at Ascension, I believe others have also provided such an accommodation, but may not have shared their plan.  Planned gifts are often used to plan for the future of the church, these too sometimes come with a directive.  Many churches create a foundation or endowment for such gifts to ensure the intent is honored.

I am grateful for all who support Ascension.  I hope that these thoughts help offer some insight as you consider who you continue to support Ascension.  May the Spirit guide and direct us as we prayerfully consider this aspect of our faith.

Blessings -

Fr. Paul 

The lectionary... a continuation 'On Scripture'

Our Sunday readings are part of a lectionary, pre-selected readings.  There are two lectionaries in the back of the Book of Common Prayer.  One is for Sunday services, it is a three year cycle, labeled by letters ("A", "B", "C").  The other is a "Daily Office" lectionary, it is a two year cycle, labeled 'Year One' and 'Year Two'.  If one follows these you will read most of the Bible over two years.

A number of years ago the Episcopal Church voted to follow the "Revised Common Lectionary" on Sundays, rather than the one in the prayer book.  This aligns us with many other 'connected' churches, such as the Roman Catholic, Methodist and Lutheran Churches.  This means on most Sundays we hear the same readings as friends and family in these churches and have common ground for conversation!  That's right, you can share something from a sermon on Sunday (hint, hint) with a friend that attends another church and they may have heard a sermon on the same passage!

Both lectionaries 'begin' on 1st Advent.  We are currently in 'Year A', but will soon switch to 'Year B'.  This three year cycle focuses on a different Gospel each year, but includes readings from each Gospel.  This past year our emphasis has been on Matthew (Year A), and soon we will focus on Mark as we enter Year B.

The daily lectionary also hinges on Advent 1.  I remember what year we are in by thinking that "odd" years, such as 201'7' are Year 1 and "even" years, such as 201'8' are Year 2.  The only exception is the season of Advent... of course all of this is made easier when you can use a lectionary website to provide the correct readings.  I hope this insight into where we get our readings helps to connect you to our readings.  

Additionally, there are dozens of great readings plans that can help guide your reading of scripture.  Each has it's advantages, my hope and prayer is that we all spend some time with the scriptures each week.  This immersion into the story helps encourage and inspire us as we aspire to follow Christ.

On Scripture

The Bible is an incredible book.  I've heard it argued that it is actually a library of books, which is great if you've got a book reading quota to meet, but otherwise feels somewhat trivial.  It is a collection of writings and stories that tell a story.   I love the story. 

I found the story of God's people, as found in scripture, fascinating at an early age.  I've had many Bibles, but a few have 'stayed' with me longer, including a newsprint copy that caught my attention early.  In part, the reading plan in the back caught my attention.  I began checking off various readings as I made my way through as a teenager, although I never completed the task in that Bible.

In seminary I was struck by the fact that I was unsure if I had read every verse of the Bible.  Struck more so because I knew that part of the ordination service included my profession that I believed the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be inspired by God.  I did not think it was fair to make such a profession unless I completed the journey.  I had a lot of other reading to do, so I got more systematic.  This helped me complete the task, but the desire for the story continued.  

During my first year as a priest I reread the entire Bible with a few members who were studying for ordination, along with then Deacon (now priest) Ann Whitney.  During that year I also found a podcast "The Daily Audio Bible".  Now, I have read (and listened) through the Bible many times over.  With each subsequent reading I have moments where I think, "I love this part..." and "I don't remember this part!".

As much as I love the story, I also love what is not said.  It keeps my imagination turning and keeps me seeking understanding and thinking about God.  I hope that you too are reading scripture daily, or regularly.  How else might we engage with these stories together?

Fresh Food Day 2017

Ascension’s 7th annual outreach event for nearby neighbors was a huge hit! Over 300 adults and children attended Fresh Food Day 2017.

Because of the many volunteers and multiple organizations and nonprofits, participants enjoyed FREE fun educational activities focusing on healthy eating and lifestyle. Lets not forget the bounce house and professional face painter. Over 60 Ascension volunteers along with volunteers from Kids-U, The New Room, Moss Haven Elementary and Lake Highlands High School helped contribute to a wonderful day.

Some other groups and organizations involved included Richland College, Breast Bridge Network, Baylor Diabetes Health and Wellness, Junior League, Children’s Health, Dallas Water Department and Dallas Fire Department.

In particular, a special thanks and recognition goes to PepsiCo and Sharing Life Community Outreach for the donation of over 1000 lbs. of produce! Participants were able to take home large amounts of various produce to include apples, bananas, potatoes, peppers and carrots!
I am grateful for the Ascension volunteers who helped shine the light of Christ to the neighborhood giving their time and talent to contributing to a very special day for our neighbors in need.

Dabney Dwyer, Ascension Outbound

Click here for a video slide show of Fresh Food Day.

Serving our neighbors

Ascension members serve our neighbors in a variety of ways.  As a part of that, we have also tried to show our appreciation to the Firefighters at Station #28, our immediate neighbor to the South of Church.  We have met at church to take the food over, which has been fun.  Some had asked if this was the best way to show our support.  To that end our Formation Director, Sarah Klitzke, recently met with Fire Chief Ray O'Dell.  She offers the following as an update:

Recently, I met with Station 28 Fire Chief, Ray O’Dell. We spent some time talking about how Ascension can be good neighbors and show our appreciation to the firefighters and emergency workers at Station 28. He told me that they have loved the food that Ascension brings on Thanksgiving, but that often they get food from hotels that cater on holidays for the stations as well. He said that they felt that they would benefit more from an invitation to share meals with us at a different time, such as parish-wide picnics, events, and fundraisers. We discussed some other options as well; collecting for a donation of an item off their station wish-list around Christmas and having the children deliver it, or even the possibility of a service project at the station. I think there are a lot of ways that we can continue to be good neighbors to them in the way that benefits them the most. I will continue to communicate with Chief O’Dell and keep our Ascension family informed.

Online Directory

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.    
- George Bernard Shaw

The nature of communication has changed dramatically over the last century, even more so over the past few decades. There are more modes and methods to communicate than ever before. Even so, these have not replaced the merits or value of long-standing methods. For example, a handwritten note of thanks or encouragement is still treasured. 

As a community, we try to make the most of the variety of methods. Generally, we ascribe to the communicate early and often theory. Our weekly email and bulletins include information about events or groups that meet, the website includes this as well as registrations and general information about our church. We also post to social media regularly, to both encourage participation, but also with pictures to celebrate recent events. 

One area that has been challenging lately is how best to allow members to be in touch with one another. Some simply exchange contact information, or connect via social media. In the past we had picture directories that helped members to meet others and be in touch. Our database actually allows us to host an online church directory. It is secure, as each member must create an account, additionally, one must be in the database before an account can be established.  

You can set up your access with this link: https://ascension.infellowship.com/
Once you have, you will have to click the box to be included in the church directory. From there you can control how much information is shared. You can also update contact information or pictures as your preference. Most of the vestry and committee chairs have created an account to this online directory. The more people that participate the more helpful it will be. 

Blessings -
Fr. Paul

Responding to the needs of others

"If you knew what I know about the power of giving, you would not let a single meal pass without sharing it in some way." - Buddha

Charitable contributions have changed a lot in the information age.  Ready access to information and increased expectations about transparency have helped in many ways.  Organizations are held to a higher degree of scrutiny than ever before.  Following Hurricane Harvey and the other severe weather events a few members asked me about Episcopal Relief and Development and our support there.

First, I believe we are fortunate to have this as a national ministry.  It allows us to respond to many needs and tragedies through our churches.  They offer a lot of information about how this help is offered on their website.  They also include financials and annual summaries, where one might note that, "at least 90% of every donor dollar goes directly to programs".

Others asked about the difference between individual donations, versus when the church takes up an offering.  Both methods have advantages.  I will do my best to summarize a few.  When we give as a church, it shows that this is a priority for us as a community.  It may also simplify your giving record for taxes.  When we give as individuals the money is available to those in need a bit faster.  Given the timing of Hurricane Harvey in particular we had people asking on a Monday, so encouraging people to give directly seemed to make the most sense.

I am proud of Ascension for responding to so many different needs, through many different ways.  As a church we support many ministries locally and around the world.  May we continue to strive to extend help, through financial and other means as we seek to be Christ to the world around us.

Blessings -
Fr. Paul

Church work days coming...

"Many hands make light work." John Heywood

The church, by it's very nature, relies heavily upon it's members to participate in the work of being church.  We do our best to place the emphasis of this work on our ministries, although it also includes taking care of our facilities.  While we have a regular cleaning crew to clean floors, bathrooms and a bit more, there is much more to do.

We have two work days coming up at Ascension.  The first is Sunday October 1st, following the 10:15 service.  The hope is that members can come for worship (dressed casually) and stay to help with some of the work around campus.  The other date is Saturday November 11.

There are many projects, something for everyone as it were.  Our Junior Warden Herb Kadane and the other members of the 'Property, Plant and Equipment' (PP&E) committee will help direct us as we gather.  There is a lot of trimming and raking to be done, so bringing tree and shrub trimmers, rakes and gloves would be most helpful.  There is also work to be done inside, particularly in the Nave.  Please plan to come, sign up, bring what you can to help the effort.  Contact Herb with questions or to coordinate on equipment needed.

Blessings - 
Fr. Paul 

Advocacy Matters

"All advocacy is, at its core, an exercise in empathy." Samantha Power

I believe that following Christ includes advocating for the needs of others.  Our political system can make advocacy complicated, intimidating and generally challenging.  I believe our separation of Church and State is helpful; as such I refrain from endorsing a candidate or party, but instead focus on specific legislation or more broadly on particular issues.

I am grateful to serve as a member of the board for Texas Impact.  Many of you know this, as we have talked about different organizations and means to be engaged politically in the context of our faith.  Texas Impact focuses on Texas legislation, I know that several members have subscribed to their updates and have enjoyed the connection.

I am in Austin today attending a board meeting for Texas Impact.  I am happy to say that the general legislative outcome was positive.  That said, there were some substantial bills that we opposed that still passed.  Perhaps most notably SB4, the 'sanctuary cities' bill.  The fact that a federal court has an injunction against it is good news.  I have a one page summary of the bills we addressed and the outcome if you are interested.

I am grateful for the support I have experienced from Ascension for my advocacy.  I will continue my efforts and am happy to share more about how I'm engaged with this, as well as offer encouragement as to how you can be involved as you are interested.

Blessings -
Fr. Paul

Stephen Ministry

(This blog is a repost from our "old" site, as the information is needed and we hope it remains helpful to you).

Life happens.  Perhaps you have experienced the recent loss of a loved one.  Maybe you’ve lost a job.  Are you dealing with a divorce, a terminal illness or hospitalization?  Do you simply need someone to listen?

Life happens.  And with it come stresses and challenges. Often people suffer silently, not requesting or receiving the level of care they themselves need.  In the midst of a challenging season, it can be extremely helpful to have someone come alongside us to provide stability, understanding, encouragement and hope.  

At Ascension, your clergy are dedicated to walking with you on your life’s journey.  But with a limited number of clergy for a congregation of our size, you can quickly see why it’s impossible for us to meet every single need of every single person.  This is why we are excited to offer Stephen Ministry here at Ascension.  It’s Christ helping people through people in an amazing, intentional ministry of care.

Stephen Ministers are not counselors.  They are not “know-it-alls.”  They are not individuals who try to fix everyone’s troubles.  They simply provide love, care and support when we need it most.  A Stephen Minister is an individual who can help us navigate our present situation in the strictest confidence, and with the deepest compassion.

Perhaps you, a friend, or a family member would benefit from this kind of help and support.   Starting in January 2018, we will be offering a comprehensive, 50-hour training course here at Ascension for those who wish to become Stephen Ministers.  And we will be assessing folks in our church family who might benefit from being a care receiver.  Because life happens.

Are you called to this caring ministry of presence?  Are you already a Stephen Minister who wishes to get back in the game?  Want to find out more?  

Mark your calendars for an informational workshop, Saturday, October 7, from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at First United Methodist Church of Richardson.  The workshop will be facilitated by our own Laura Warner Gilmer, a national trainer with Stephen Ministries.  Come and discover how you can make a difference in someone’s life.

Please call Mother Marci, Stephen Ministry Leader/Coordinator, at the church (214-340-4196) for more information.