Linda Buskirk

Conversion at St. John the Evangelist, Elkhart

By Linda Buskirk


St. John the Evangelist is a voice calling out, and the people of Elkhart are hearing it.  The Episcopal community of St. John has a rich history, dating back to 1873.  In more recent times, when other historic Elkhart churches headed out to the suburbs, St. John’s stayed downtown. 

That was a very deliberate decision, made by the people of the parish after obedient listening to each other and to the community beyond.


The decision to stay, made in 2012, was courageous because it meant reinvesting significant dollars in a leaking roof and repairing the damage it caused.  A capital campaign in Elkhart County, which led the state in unemployment after the 2008 economic downturn, might seem impossible to outsiders.  But the people of St. John journeyed on, unified in their belief that the parish is called to do ministry in the downtown location. 


This consensus grew from a parish wide listening project that continued beyond the decision to stay.  Leadership wanted input and ideas about what needed to be done, besides replace the roof, to keep parish ministries strong and relevant to those they served. 


The Vestry conducted a parish-wide survey that resulted in a list of projects that went beyond repair to make the church structure more welcoming and accessible yet secure.  Upgrading the kitchen to commercial grade and expanding space for the food pantry were deemed essential in order to grow St. John’s feeding ministry to its financially struggling neighbors. 


A task force of parishioners stepped forward to coordinate a capital campaign fundraising effort.  Transparent communication and a pay-as-we-go construction policy assured parishioners that they knew what was happening and that debt would be avoided. 


The campaign kicked off in May of 2012 with a target of raising $350,000 in pledges to be paid over three to five years.  By the end of the summer, $412,000 in gifts and pledges were secured!   Work soon began on the roof, followed by electrical and other system upgrades.  Soon this year, renovations to the kitchen will begin. 


Father Dan Repp, Rector of St. John’s, explains that in Benedictine fashion, being faithful to the stability of location and conducting obedient listening have allowed a conversion of life experience for the parish.  Here are some examples:


Parishioners have come together with their own elbow grease to paint rooms, rip up smelly carpet and refurnish space that had been rendered unusable due to water damage. 


More parishioners are volunteering for the food pantry.  They are finding new ways to reach outward into the community with ice cream socials and cookouts for the neighborhood.   Meanwhile, more recipients of these ministries are now attending services – one large family recently joined the church as members. 


New events and worship experiences are occurring – including a service featuring blue grass music.


A “Vision Ministry” was started during the listening process and continues today to help articulate the ways St. John’s ministry strengths, resources and location could impact lives in the name of Christ in the future.


In our Diocesan Congregational Development Institute, we learn that the Benedictine “Conversion of Life” concept is evidenced in a congregation when its members find God on their journey together to new places and when they are open to transformation.   The people of St. John the Evangelist Elkhart have found God on their journey in the same place they’ve always been!  They became open to transformation after they listened to God’s call and found ways to capitalize on their strengths, reinvigorate their ministries and transform lives. 


If you’d like to learn more about their journey, please give Father Dan Repp a call (574-295-1725).

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.

A Third Kind of Worship

By: Linda Buskirk

Like most Episcopal churches, Sunday morning services at St. Andrew in Kokomo begin with Rite I at 7:30 AM, and Rite II at 9:00 AM.  And then, a small band sets up in the back of the sanctuary and, at 11:11 AM, Rite III begins.

St. Andrew created its 11:11 service as an entry point into the traditional church, one that is more informal to seekers who unfamiliar and perhaps uncomfortable with a traditional service and formal liturgy.

In October, I was among the attendees of the Diocesan Convention who had the opportunity to experience what the 11:11 service is like.  It is a celebration!  Annie Lightsey, Gabe Doucette and Damon Ashburn led the workshop.  They explained that 11:11 provides younger worshippers opportunities to exercise their gifts and interests in music, art, technology and belonging.  They can be creative in their expression and their worship.

Before you say, as I whispered under my breath when the band started and the screen came down, “This will never happen in my church,” consider that with its 11:11 service, the family of St. Andrew is growing, in part because of new communicants who found the church through the 11:11 service.  They participate in the outreach ministries of the parish, many try the traditional services, they add to the depth and diversity of community, some are baptized, confirmed and pledge, and they have found a place to love and learn about Jesus Christ.

Including this alternative worship experience on Sunday morning sends a message that it is a priority ministry.  It has allowed the culture and community of the 11:11 to affect the overall culture of the parish.  Through the past twelve years of the evolving 11:11 service, the St. Andrew family “has developed a mutual appreciation for all three services.” 

Annie explained that the people drawn to the non-traditional service have commented that they appreciate that it occurs in a very traditional setting.  They enjoy worshiping with all their senses - seeing the rich beauty of the church building, hearing the bells and smelling the smells.  That’s common ground for worshipping Episcopalians! 

The leaders at St. Andrew Kokomo say that the 11:11 service is a work in progress.  While it may be a bit much for many parishes to offer such a service, they do encourage us to consider alternatives to the way we’ve always done things (gasp!).  One suggestion:  explore alternative offerings of the daily offices that include opportunity for common prayer, study and community.  Think of gatherings between five and twenty-five people.

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!