What does an endowment mean for a church, and how can churches be the best stewards of their resources far into the future? Since the foundation of the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes in 1985, the organization has broadened its focus beyond traditional endowments to recognize that different kinds of resources—people, land, buildings, or money—can impact a church’s trajectory.
Now known as CEEP Network, the organization works “to celebrate, inspire and equip its member parishes, seminaries, and other Episcopal Institutions for effective leadership, stewardship and transformation in the Church and in the world.”
Joe Swimmer, the group’s Executive Director, puts it simply: CEEP Network is “resourced parishes who gather together on a regular basis to learn from each other and to network with each other.” That can often include the drier aspects of church administration, but ultimately, as Swimmer points out, “We are more than the business of the church. We are there to facilitate the church being around for another hundred years.”
With that mission, it makes perfect sense that The Saint John’s Bible is a Ministry Partner of CEEP, and that the Heritage Edition has found a home with many CEEP Network parishes.
The Heritage Edition has been displayed at the Annual Gathering of the CEEP Network for nearly a decade, introducing it to many attendees. The streak wasn’t broken by COVID, as The Saint John’s Bible continued to serve as a partner during CEEP Network’s virtual 2021 Annual Gathering. All parties are looking forward to a return to the in-person Gathering in 2022, where all seven volumes of the Heritage Edition will once again be on display.
The Saint John’s Bible has also been utilized in CEEP Network programming such as a recent digital workshop on Visio Divina aimed at helping attendees “expand their spiritual and visual imagination.”
“I think what most interests people when they see The Saint John’s Bible with us at the Annual Conference, or when we do one of these digital workshops, is what a different and unique vehicle the Heritage Edition is for sharing the gospel,” says Swimmer.
CEEP Members Share the Gospel Virtually
The Reverend Ryan Fleenor, Rector at Saint Luke’s Parish in Darien, Connecticut, has found The Saint John’s Bible an especially useful vehicle during this era of online events. Rev. Fleenor recently conducted a 24-week Bible study via Zoom, leveraging the church’s electronic access to the Bible’s illuminations to deliver stunning visual aids.
“It helped parishioners who were part of that Bible study engage with the story in a different way,” says Rev. Fleenor. “One of the benefits of being online in that format was you could really zoom in and look at the illuminations in greater detail, and facilitate a conversation about them in ways that might even be more challenging in person.
“And people loved it,” he says. “It was really a wonderful way to stay connected throughout the worst of the pandemic, in the depths of winter. People looked forward to Tuesday night for an hour of conversation about the scripture.”
Bringing New Voices into the Conversation
Swimmer notes that experiencing The Saint John’s Bible up close can be a moving and unique tool to draw people in. “It hearkens to a bygone age, but one that is so important in this image-driven world of ours,” he says. “It brings people to scripture in a way they might not otherwise have ever thought to come to scripture—a hugely beautiful and powerful way.”
The Very Reverend Doctor Andrew Keyse, Dean of Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kansas City, Missouri, agrees. “It’s been a very good evangelism tool as we’ve carried it around greater Kansas City,” he says. “It brings people of all faiths—or even of no faith—together to look at a beautiful piece of art, which also happens to be a Bible.”
Dean Keyse observes that presentations in the community by the Cathedral’s docents have brought new people to the church. “For some people it’s a safe way to bring them into a conversation about scripture because they may view it as a piece of art as opposed to a religious thing,” he says. “That brings them into the conversation and then allows them to feel comfortable asking questions or searching—whatever they’re looking for.”
Faith in Dialogue with Society
Asked how the Heritage Edition complements an Episcopalian community, Rev. Fleenor responds with a thought-provoking list. “Firstly, we are a people of Word and sacrament and the size and beauty of the volumes help lift up the Word and give it almost an equal weight to the table in our liturgy.
“Secondly, we are a tradition that has always valued creativity and beauty. We have a long history of having a privileged place for artists and musicians, and allowing art to help us be open in new ways to what the spirit would have us hear in scripture.”
Finally, he observes, “The Heritage Edition incorporates so much contemporary imagery—the images from outer space, the double helix of the DNA strand, challenging images of war and inequality in our contemporary society. And I think that at its best the Episcopal church wants to put our faith in real dialogue with contemporary society. And we believe that the scripture still has something to say to the world in which we live.”
The True “Business of the Church”
Insights like that illustrate the value of CEEP Network’s mission of putting members in touch with one another to facilitate the ultimate goal.
“When I say ‘the business of the church’ let’s not forget that the business of the church is proclaiming the gospel and that everything else that we do is in service of that,” says Swimmer.
“So, getting the parish administration right, getting the stewardship right, getting governance structures in order—that all is in service of proclaiming the gospel and making disciples of people. And when you have a tool like The Saint John’s Bible, it’s a means by which you make that most important first function of the church happen.”