Think Biblically

Grace and Gratitude

Grace & Gratitude at Trinity, Fort Wayne

by Linda Buskirk

photo by Trinity Episcopal's Daniel Dombeck.

photo by Trinity Episcopal's Daniel Dombeck.

“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

2 Corinthians 9: 6-7 (ESV)


A fresh batch of stewardship volunteers at Trinity Episcopal Church in Fort Wayne wanted to convey cheerful messages about their ministry – and more frequently than once a year.   They prayed and read biblically-based books and articles about spiritual growth reflected in joyful giving.  They thought about God’s grace, how it was witnessed over and over at Trinity, and how grateful they were because of it.  It felt good to reflect on these things.  But how would they pull all that together for stewardship?

Suddenly they found their inspiration from the Book of Common Prayer, in Rite One:

Open, O Lord, the eyes of all people to behold thy gracious hand in all thy works, that, rejoicing in thy whole creation, they may honor thee with their substance, and be faithful stewards of thy bounty.

The Stewardship Committee became the “Grace and Gratitude Ministry” with this statement of purpose:  to help the people of Trinity behold the gracious hand of God in our shared life together so that, rejoicing in these blessings, we may glorify Christ as grateful stewards of His bounty.

Helping people behold all that God is doing is clearly a year ‘round task, and a joyful one!  For the annual pledge drive, the “G & G” Ministry created a new mission-focused explanation of the church budget, accented with photos of ministries in action. 

They launched a “Gratitude of the Month” recognition.  Here are some examples:

  • Thankful for our volunteers.  The group estimated that just to make a typical Sunday happen at Trinity, more than 140 hours are given!  Symbols of each type of service were placed in an offering plate that was set on the altar – an usher badge, a candle for the acolytes, a linen purificator for Altar Guild, a bulletin for those who fold them faithfully each week, crayons from Sunday School. The plate was overflowing, and the congregation was delighted with this expression of gratitude.
  • The heat is on! - Thanks for new boilers and those who supported the capital campaign that made it possible (Red Hots candies were handed out by ushers, and services were followed up with a chili competition featuring the hottest concoction).
  • Legacy of Your Life – A celebration of those who have remembered Trinity in their estate plans and a workshop about planned giving.

Creativity, fun, reminders of our blessings, and information about the impact that Trinity has on lives inside and outside the church are the focus for Grace & Gratitude’s joyful communications. 

Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

By Jim Stanley

     I have collected authentic Civil War artifacts since I was 12.   I haven’t just read about muskets, bayonets, haversacks and wool kepis. I have handled them. I have felt their heft, admired their workmanship, and wondered at their scratchy, woolen texture. I have been to the places where they were used. There is something almost unspeakably moving about standing in the searing July heat in Gettysburg and marveling at how men did such a thing. Do that; drink it all in; and you will find it impossible not to feel a sense of awe, wonder and gratitude for those who lived and died at that time.

     So what has this to do with the spiritual development of individual Christians and congregations? As Canon SuzeAnne Silla puts it, “It’s vital to each Christian in the Diocese of Northern Indiana to nurture their individual faith through reading the Bible, prayer, receiving communion and going deeper with Jesus. But when we do these things as a community, our own personal faith and experience become a part of and inform the whole.” Diocesan trips to the Holy Land in 2011 and 2013 have proven to be among the most effective tools in accomplishing this mission. 34 members of the diocese went on the first trip and 32 participated in the second.

    Canon Silla suggests, “When you walk where Jesus walked or pray in a garden very much akin to what Gethsemane would have been like you find a deeper texture and connectedness to the Gospel.” One of the most powerful and transformative experiences for pilgrims was walking the way of the cross. Canon Silla says participants have the opportunity to carry a heavy cross – it takes three people to bear it – on part of the walk. There, and at most other places during the 10 day pilgrimage, Scripture is read. “The words of the Bible come to life in surprising, powerful new ways”, Canon Silla says. “We’re no longer reading about events of long ago. In a quite palpable way, we are experiencing those events and wondering together about what it must have been like.”

     The word “together” is an incredibly important adjective where these trips are concerned. As with any tour group, there is camaraderie, laughter, fellowship and fun. But this is something more. Here, disciples of Jesus are able to almost immediately share their impressions, discoveries, hopes and experiences with other pilgrims. Two people may have very different emotions and feelings while walking in the Kidron Valley or praying at the Church of the Annunciation. When they can relate those thoughts and impressions to someone else – often someone from the same parish – there is not only a deepening of individual faith, there is a strengthening of congregational bonds.

     Canon Silla has participated in nine trips to the Holy Land, including the two with the Diocese of Northern Indiana. Each of those trips, she says, has been with diocesan groups and in every single case, the experience has helped to build and strengthen congregations. Canon Silla hopes additional Holy Land pilgrimages happen for our diocese. She would particularly recommend that congregations try to plan such events, either as their own group or by partnering with another congregation from the diocese. Mother Susan Haynes of St. Paul’s Mishawaka and Deb Miller of Trinity Logansport have both expressed an interest in coordinating future trips. Individuals or congregations interested in organizing another Holy Land journey should contact Deb Miller by calling the church:  574-753-2733.

Listening Campaign at Saint Michael and All Angels

By Linda Buskirk


It started as a project for the DCDI team members from Saint Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in South Bend:  a Listening Campaign.  One of the exercises for DCDI participants is to conduct interviews of a few people in their parish, and to report on what they learned by listening.  But the Saint Michael’s team wanted to take that to a whole new level.


It took four of five meetings, but eventually, the Vestry committed to interviewing the entire congregation.  Names were assigned for one-on-one discussions based on four revealing questions:

1)      What brought you to Saint Michael’s?

2)      What keeps you at Saint Michael’s?

3)      What are the greatest strengths of our parish?

4)      What do you see as the greatest challenges facing our parish?


Rector Matthew Cowden explains that the interviews were NOT all about the data.


“The point was not just to find out information, but to build a relationship between the interviewer and interviewee.  It took awhile for Vestry to understand the value of such an enormous undertaking.  Then one Vestry member – a banker – simply stated that the Listening Campaign was exactly what his bank does to enhance customer satisfaction.  When he said, ‘it’s about building relationships,’ the rest of the Vestry got on board,” Father Cowden recalls.


It was not easy – the exercise took six months to complete – but Vestry stuck with it and the goal of reaching 100% of the adults at Saint Michael’s was reached. 


Father Cowden says the outcomes were valuable.  First, out of the process grew a deeper appreciation for the talents and skills in the congregation, many of which were not previously known by leadership or anyone else.


Second, deeper relationships were forged between church members, and new friendship began.


Finally, Saint Michael’s leadership believes there was a direct correlation to the improvement seen in the following year’s Stewardship campaign.  More people pledged and many increased their pledge. There was the sense that it was an “easier ask” because of deeper relationships.


Father Cowden says he believes the people of Saint Michael’s haves always valued relationships and listening, but that the Listening Campaign made that richer. 


“A culture of greater transparency exists.  As people have learned about each other, they understand each other better.  There is a greater understanding of the overall issues and well as who’s in charge of what,” the rector explains.


The leadership of Saint Michael’s are reaping the joyful benefits of listening in obedience.

The Bible Challenge: Helping Us Tell A Story

By: Linda Buskirk

Christmas is a time of retelling the story of the miracles of Jesus’ birth… Mary and Joseph being visited by angels, Mary and Elizabeth together in wonderment about their miracle pregnancies, Mary and Joseph embarking on a journey.  For many people, the most precious story telling happens in children’s pageants, with little cotton-ball-covered sheep, floppy eared donkeys, shepherds in robes a bit too big, wise men with Burger King crowns, the Holy Family knocking on doors, and the triumphant angels proclaiming that God has come to live among us!  Alleluia!

The Christmas Story is meaningful, hopeful, and powerful – and it’s one we know by heart.  Lesser known are hundreds of meaningful, hopeful and powerful stories found elsewhere in the Bible. 

I know they are there, but I don’t always know WHERE.  Sometimes when I need one, I wonder… “Was that in the Old Testament, or did Jesus say that?... or maybe it was in one of Paul’s letters?” 

I am taking on the Bible Challenge this year so I will be more familiar with the Bible and will be able to tell more than one story.  I care about this because of this verse, Deuteronomy 8:3:  “He [God] humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

Jesus quoted this very verse when tempted by Satan to turn rocks into bread while he was fasting in the wilderness.  Jesus answered every temptation with quote from scripture, and the devil retreated.  The Word of God is powerful, and more vital to our sustenance than food. 

I pray that 2013 will be a year of spiritual renewal for me, as I gain a greater understanding of God, His character and the relationship He wants to have with me.  I believe the Bible Challenge will flame this renewal each day.  I also hope the Challenge equips me to tell the right story just when someone needs to hear it. 

The practicalities of getting started on the Challenge entailed figuring out when I would actually read each day.  Several Lents ago I disciplined myself to incorporate a prayer and study time into my day, in the early morning.  I have decided to extend that time to include the Bible Challenge.  I find it’s better for me to have a set schedule rather than hoping I can grab a few minutes here and there.  Take some time to determine what will be the best way for you.

I also determined that I would use the schedule of readings provided by the official Bible Challenge site which are so conveniently forwarded to anyone in the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana by the Bishop’s office. I selected the NIV Study Bible as the “hard copy” Bible to use for the Challenge. 

Additionally, I downloaded the Bible onto my iPad, so when I am traveling I have easy access to it.  My husband also downloaded a version on his phone for the same reason.  We have come a long way from those huge stone tablets God carved and gave to Moses!

By now, you hopefully have received a pamphlet at your (northern Indiana Episcopal) church that outlines the daily Bible ready program.  You can find more information about the Bible Challenge at   You can sign-up for the Bible Challenge on the diocesan website,  When you do so, you will receive via email periodic words of encouragement and reminders of the Bible verses “assigned” for each week.  These are really helpful!   The diocese also created a Northern Indiana Bible Challenge Facebook page:  

If you weren’t really “up for the Challenge” at the beginning of this year, don’t worry or let that be an excuse.  You can start TODAY.  Join hundreds of Episcopalians in northern Indiana who are signed up for the challenge, experience spiritual renewal, and start telling some wonderful stories!