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With Jesus at our center, let us NOT be what we were

April 2020 

Dear Friends,

I am a HUGE Mel Brooks fan. Always have been. Always will be.

Perhaps one of the funniest and most memorable Mel Brooks scenes is from his 1981 film A History of the World: Part 1, in which Brooks, in the role of Moses, comes down from Mount Sinai carrying three tablets containing 15 commandments. He then drops one (with the best use of "Oy!" I can recall) and as the tablet breaks, we are left with only 10 commandments.*

It is brilliant.

I bring this up because we need more humor right now. And also because it is a good reminder that we do indeed have only 10 commandments. All the other rules and regulations we have are ours and we can change them. 

As Winston Churchill was working to form the United Nations after WWII, he famously said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste”. From something bad came something good. The worldwide pandemic which has caused churches to close to public worship is indeed a crisis. And one that presents the church with opportunities.

I have seen several webinars and articles about "restarting" our churches after the crisis. But I have not seen a good, sound conversation about NOT restarting our churches. Rather, let us relaunch our congregations. Let us be nimble church plants in gorgeous 150-year old buildings. Let us dream a new church into being, one that is not modeled on the way church was. Rather, on what it could be.

What if church services were held on other days than Sundays and thus allow more flexibility for families whose weekends are over-scheduled?

What if our Latino ministry was "in-culture" but not in Spanish?

What if, now that we know we can do it, we used live streaming and other digital tools to reach a larger audience, that can become a new way of congregating?

And what if, as we come back, we don't reflexively re-start everything we had been doing but first checked to make sure that everything we do moving forward is part of our mission?

As we do this, we'll fail at some things but we'll be trying new ways. This in itself is exciting. 

The bottom line is this: let us not let the opportunity created by this crisis go to waste. Let us take it and run with it.

I'll finish with this (think of it as an iron-clad guarantee): as we dream a new church into being, even falling along the way, as long as we are prayerful, open, loving, discerning, and always looking for Jesus in what we do, we'll be fine. 

With gratitude, 

Fr. Lorenzo
*See the end of this email for the translation of the other 5 commandments as they were actually written on the Mel Brooks tablet.


During this pandemic, TryTank created and launched Dial-A-Priest, a hotline that provides hospitals with Episcopal clergy for Ministration at the Time of Death. Here's a little update on what's happening:

  • We put out a call to retired clergy to participate. We were hoping to get to 100 volunteers in about two weeks. We had 100 in 4 days and then they kept coming. We now have the original 100, 150 more on an "already vetted" waitlist and just under 70 on a second waitlist. 
  • Although we started with only hospitals, we have expanded our services to also cover nursing homes since very few have chaplains on staff and they obviously have a need. 
  • We also expanded the Dial-A-Priest coverage to include pastoral care to patients and families beyond the Ministration at the Time of Death caused by COVID-19.
As tends to happen when we do one experiment, we have found data that suggests another experiment we might try. In this case, we have just briefly tapped into the great resource that is our retired clergy. Decades of experience that could offer wisdom. I am sure that more experiments will spring from that. 
Experiment Deep Dive: "Crowdfunding in a Box"
As we began to think about the church in a post-COVID-19 world, we came up with an idea that can serve a few needs - "Crowdfunding in a Box."

The Need
Many congregations have suffered a HUGE financial hit from this pandemic. They need money fast.

Our Experimental Solution
Let's develop an easy to follow system for executing a successful crowdfunding campaign using best practices from the industry. It breaks down into three main steps: 
  1. Mission clarity
  2. The Campaign Video
  3. Execution of the campaign
The goal of the crowdfunding campaign is to raise funds. According to Nonprofits' Source, the average amount that a nonprofit organization raises from a crowdfunding campaign is $9,237.55. I'm sure many churches could use an extra $10k right now. 

However, there are two really important side benefits of the crowdfunding campaign.

First, going through the relatively simple and quick exercises for mission clarity will help churches get to the core of who they are and why they exist. This will help in reimagining what they could become (see the main article above).

Second, the moment that members of a congregation start sharing the video and campaign on social media and telling their friends about it they are, yup, evangelizing! And who knows, when I ask my friends to support my parish because it is important to me and it makes a difference in the community, then maybe someone will see the video and decide they might find a home there. 
We will measure the success of the experiment by looking at:
  • the number of congregations who participate
  • how many of those who participate launch the campaign
  • how much money is raised
  • how many interactions the campaign gets
What do YOU think??
By the way, expect an email soon with your invitation to participate in this experiment. 
You will want to attend eFormation this year! It's awesome!

This amazing digital ministry conference will take place on June 3 from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (EST).   Digital and ministry leaders will discuss practical resources as well as future-forward initiatives. This all-day, all-online conference will also feature opportunities for prayer and small groups throughout the day. Presenters include the Rev. Keith Anderson, Crystal Cheatham, the Rev. Dr. David Peters, the Rev. Dr. Bruce Reyes-Chow, Ellie Singer, Ryan Panzer, Sandy Milien, and Sr. Nancy Usselman. These 30-minute presentations will speak to our need to be digitally savvy, connected leaders, rooted in our commitment to formation and community. Join us for this innovative way to learn and lead! eFormation is a ministry of Lifelong Learning at Virginia Theological Seminary. For more information, click here. To register, click here
Remember our Alexa Prayer skill? We have news!

Well, now both Alexa and Google Assistant have learned some Episcopal prayers. Thanks to our new partnership with Forward Movement, you can now say, “Alexa, open Episcopal Prayer” or “Google Talk to Episcopal Prayer” and your device will begin playing their morning or evening prayer podcasts.  

“Whether people are at home or on the go, Alexa’s ability to lead us through the daily office will be both useful and inspiring,” said the Rev. Canon Scott Gunn, executive director of Forward Movement in the release announcing our collaboration. “As a bit of a geek, I’m excited about this marriage of technology and Anglican tradition to equip disciples for daily prayer.”  

Depending on the time of day, either Alexa or Google Assistant will either play the morning prayer or evening prayer podcasts, which include the full liturgy of the daily office along with the assigned psalms and readings for the day.  Try it. And tell your friends. 
About our regular experiments

As with most of the world, TryTank has had to adjust to the COVID-19 reality. We had to cancel our Gospel Choir and Evangelism Theater tours. And most of our experiments are on pause. We are moving them forward a little at a time, but the real work is in the congregations and they are...well, busy. And so we have worked on our response experiments and are looking forward to getting back up to full speed soon. Of course, if you have any questions about a specific experiment, hit "reply" and ask away.
Free webinar on developing a plan for coming back!

Check out this great FREE webinar resource from our good friends at FaithX: 

It’s fair to say that our ideas of how to be and do Church have been turned on their heads over the last several weeks, and many of us are just starting to think about what it might be like to return to some semblance of “normal.” Some churches may have found new opportunities through online gatherings, but most of the people we have spoken with are anticipating being with their community in the church building again. 

So wouldn't it would be a good idea to go back with a plan in mind: a plan based on a vision, a plan imbued with flexibility, a plan that is sensitive to a greatly-altered context, and a plan that is based on discernment grounded in data?

In this webinar, we will provide you with tips on how to use demographic and analytic data to maintain context awareness as you develop a plan to make it through the transition into whatever our new normal will be. We will provide you access and orientation to a free tool (MapDash for COVID-19), that will ground your discernment in that kind of data. Data that can help you help your people and your neighborhoods survive and thrive in new ways in the aftermath and recovery from COVID-19.

You can register HERE. (Right now the webinar is full. But if you register, you will get the recording of the webinar to watch at your leisure. And Fr. Ken Howard tells me that if there are a lot of people on the waitlist, they'll also offer it again so you can ask questions. He's a great guy!)
The last five commandments (from the main article above)

From the Jewish Humor website:

Here's a translation of the five [commandments in the tablet that fell]: You can interpret them any way you want -- that's what we've been doing to the surviving Ten Commandments for thousands of years. But our favorites are Lo Tatzkhik or Lo Titzkhak - obviously, an inside joke by the Brooks crew, Lo Tikneh - perhaps the basis for not buying retail, and Lo Teshaber - irony of ironies - as the tablet fell to the ground and broke into tiny pieces.

11. Lo Ta'avor - You shall not pass.
12. Lo Tatzkhik - You shall not make people laugh or Lo Titzkhak - You shall not laugh.
13. Lo Tikneh - You shall not buy.
14. Lo Talunu - You shall not stay. (But the third letter may be a resh, which makes translation difficult.)
15. Lo Teshaber - You shall not break. 
Do you have an idea for an experiment for church growth and innovation? Do you think it will help people encounter Christ? Hit reply and let's talk!
About us
The TryTank Experimental Laboratory is a place to explore church growth and innovation. It is a joint project between Virginia Theological Seminary and the General Theological Seminary. The TryTank offers a much-needed inventive approach to the challenges facing the Episcopal Church. 
Copyright © 2020 TryTank Experimental Lab, All rights reserved.

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