News & Stories

January 6, 2016 Impact story

Under One Roof

Give us the courage to share from both our paucity and our plenty in the certain knowledge that you can transform us and our gifts into more than we could ever imagine.

Between the decision to address the failing roof and outdated interior of St. John’s former rectory in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, and these closing words from the church’s 2015 capital campaign prayer, a lot happened. The church found an architect with an idea that encouraged the congregation to see new possibilities for their life and ministry. The people of St. John’s saw how the building project was linked to their mission to serve others in Christ’s name. They learned how giving and gratitude and faith in God’s abundance are intertwined.

And with the Episcopal Church Foundation's Capital Campaign program, ECF was with them at each step of the way.

ECF’s Erin Weber-Johnson was the third capital campaign consultant that St. John’s rector, the Rev. Wayne Nicholson, interviewed in the fall of 2013. He was sold by her clarity and transparency, impressed that ECF’s fees were lower than other organizations', and delighted that they are Episcopalians. “One time you don’t have to explain everything,” he says.

He invited her to speak to the congregation. She began with prayer and spoke confidently about how a capital campaign can increase annual giving. When a parishioner asked whether writing a campaign prayer wasn’t just prosperity gospel, Weber-Johnson remembers thinking, “Wow, we can do a lot of education here around the theology of giving.”

That education began with a simple exercise in gratitude during the 2014 annual stewardship effort. The assignment: Thank your parish volunteers. Keep it simple, like taking a basket of cookies to the choir. Parish groups were divided up among the vestry and each member did something to thank their volunteers. “They were surprised that it caught on,” says Weber-Johnson. “And some parishioners started doing that in their own jobs.”

Gratitude and giving, it turns out, are contagious.

By 2015, St. John’s had completed the first phase in ECF’s three-fold methodology — Discern-Study-Ask. Unity had emerged as a key value in their life and mission. They had an exciting building plan that would restore the old rectory and link it with the church and parish hall buildings, providing new, flexible space. Anxiety that the building project might split the congregation or leave them in debt was fading as enthusiasm grew for the opportunities the project offered.

With a plan rooted in its values and mission and projected costs in hand, St. John’s explored the feasibility of a capital campaign in the spring of 2015. In addition to a survey, parishioners met in small groups and engaged in listening exercises facilitated by members of the Education For Ministry (EFM) group.

At the study’s end, ECF’s recommended campaign goal of $325,000 was met with a sigh of relief from St. John’s. It fit with what they already knew about themselves and what they thought they could raise.

“Once we were ready to embark on the actual capital campaign, I think Erin's greatest gift to us was the clarity and synthesis she brought,” says Karen Varanauskas, Chair of the Building Committee. “We knew what we wanted the building project to accomplish, and why, but Erin boiled it right down into the theme Under One Roof. Boom. Instant focus.”

Realizing that the solicitation phase of the campaign was going to coincide with their annual giving campaign, the EFM group asked to be trained in building an ethos of giving. “We spent three-quarters of a day creating a really firm theology around the question, ‘what does giving in abundance mean,’” says Weber-Johnson. This group also ultimately wrote the campaign prayer, a full copy of which can be found at the bottom of St. John's capital campaign website.

That workshop bore fruit a few months later. At a Sunday service, in the midst of the annual stewardship effort and with the capital campaign kick-off on the horizon, the congregation was asked to jot down a few words about what they were grateful for. Their cards were turned into large displays posted around the worship space. They remained in place through the capital campaign's end, reminders of the abundance and gratitude that surrounds them.

Now in the campaign’s final weeks, St. John’s is at 90% of the goal — but as important, it has grown closer as a community, gained a deeper understanding of the theology of giving, and opened people’s hearts and minds to what God is doing in their midst.

“People think they’re calling us to hire somebody to raise money, says Louise Baietto, Senior Program Director for ECF’s Capital Campaigns, “but it’s more than raising money.”

Much more.

Written by Susan Elliott. Main image credit: Wassenaar Design Group

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