Blog post by Rev. Amy Shanholtzer

I was about ten when I asked my dad, “So how much do you get paid anyway?”  He didn’t answer.  I could tell by the look on his face that I shouldn’t ask that question again.  Money can be a touchy subject in some families.

Sometimes it’s a touchy subject in church too.  We’ve criticized the church for talking too much about money, or heard someone else say it.  We don’t talk about what we make, how we spend it, or even what God might think about what we do with what we have.

Honest conversations as disciples about how we use our financial resources are rare.

So it surprised me when I heard a pastor describe a stewardship training workshop as having a very pastoral approach.  It surprised me even more when Rev. Jim Scovil said that he and another clergy colleague agreed that they finally had the tools that they needed to affirm the ministry and gifts of church members.

After completing Turning Tippers Into Tithers, Rev. Scovil asked himself why he hadn’t done it before. “This program offers a healthy, pastoral approach to stewardship and giving. Our congregation, which averages 80 in worship, experienced a 50% increase in giving after learning and implementing this program last fall,” he said.

Members of Wollaston Congregational Church in Massachusetts found the information presented in the training provocative. “It really smashes some assumptions,” said Peter Johnston, who serves as Minister of Music. “The training gives you a sense of where your church is and where it should go.  It really helped us to put together a thoughtful stewardship program for our church. This program isn’t a magic bullet and it does require some work.”

Six years ago this congregation had 25 people in worship; this summer they received and celebrated their 102nd member.

The Rev. Marlayna Schmidt described her congregation as a small church with dwindling membership and money.  “They hadn’t done a stewardship campaign in 25 years,” she said.  The team didn’t have high expectations going into the training but felt they had little to lose. “Afterwards they said ‘This was the best church workshop I’ve ever attended,’” she said.

Your church has the opportunity to participate in this stewardship training event on Saturday, September 25, 2010 at Christ Church United Methodist in Charleston, WV.  You can register your team of 3-5 (pastor and/or Treasurer, Financial Secretary, Finance Chairperson, Stewardship Chairperson or others designated by your church) by September 7, 2010 for $125.00. This includes training materials, 2 books and lunch for the team.  This event is sponsored by the Congregational Development Team in partnership with the United Methodist Foundation of WV, Inc.

More information and registration materials are available at wvumc.org.  We hope to see you there!

Rev. Shanholtzer is the Director of Evangelism and Congregational Development for the WV Conference of the UMC.  Reach her at shanny2500@aol.com.

Rev. Christopher Gudger-Raines says that clergy health is a spiritual issue in the July edition of  The West Virginia United Methodist which you can read in a simple .pdf format here.

We also publish an enhanced edition via YUDU that’s quite pretty, and has an active link feature.  This means website or email address anywhere in the paper can be clicked on and activated (you’ll go to the website or your email window will pop up, ready to send the email address you just clicked on). If you are new to online reading via YUDU, you can learn how to navigate the service by clicking on the ‘instructions’ link as shown below.  

And of course, there’s the print edition, out in mailboxes this week.

Writing well is hard.  It takes practice, and a ruthless commitment to the delete key – even with one’s favorite sentences.

“Omit needless words.” is rule 17 of The Elements of Style, written by William Strunk and E.B. White. This slim volume is something anyone who writes should have nearby.  I actually read parts of it while I’m editing for the conference newspaper, the website, and the blog.  It keeps me honest with my own writing, too.

E.B. White writes in the introduction about fifty-nine words his teacher, Dr. Strunk, wrote that changed the world (for him at least):

Vigorous writing is concise.  A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.  This requires not that the writer make all sentences short and devoid of detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.


Another great book on writing is On Writing Well by William Zinsser. I read chapter 10 while working on the paper or any writing/editing project.  Zinsser calls it ‘bits and pieces’ and it’s full of great tips to make writing better:

  • use active verbs, unless you have no choice.  “Joe saw him” is strong.  “He was seen by Joe” is weak.
  • Most adverbs are unnecessary.  Music doesn’t ‘blare loudly’.  Music is loud.  “Spare us the news that the athlete grinned widely,” Zinsser writes.
  • contractions aren’t bad (no pun intended). “I will be going to see them” is stiff; “I’ll go see them” is not.

When I keep chapter 10 top of mind, my writing improves almost immediately; yours will too.

I finished reading Stephen King’s book On Writing last week, and loved it. King has read the two books mentioned above (he’s also quite fond of “omit needless words”), and like me, cuts adverbs without mercy from his writing (I never seem to get all of them out, though).  He also gave me the best explanation of editing I’ve read.

He advises writers to think always of the ‘Constant Reader’; the person/audience we are writing for.  King says to write the first draft of a story exactly as you hear it in your head, with no interference from anyone else.  This is good advice, I think; it relates well to the Just Start post from earlier in the month.

Because your goal is for the story to be read by someone, though, the drafts that follow should be edited.   First, edit yourself (see ruthless commitment to the delete key, above).  Then, let someone else look at it and make suggestions.  It helps.  It may be uncomfortable at first – it was for me.  But, when you see your writing get better – cleaner, tighter, more energetic – it will be worth the unease.

Remember:  every word tells.

I’m not suggesting we replace ‘real’ instruments with iPhones.  That would be completely betraying my roots as a music educator – I’d never live it down.

This is pretty cool, though, and the music is well done.  I saw the video first on churchdrop.com, which I follow on twitter.  Great site for exploring technology and the church…just this morning, I found a post about an iPhone app for tithing called myTithe. I’ll download this app, test it, and post my thoughts here.

Everyone at some point, has a tough time with the beginning.  In writing, the beginning is often the most difficult part of the process (I have already obsessed over use of the passive tense in my first 2 sentences).

One day, when working for WV Public Broadcasting, I was obsessing over a piece I was producing for Morning Edition insert.  Finally, the news director looked at me and said: “Just start.”  That piece of advice/encouragement has been with me ever since.  It’s gotten me out of more than one jam.

Stephen King offers similar advice: “The first draft is for you, sit down and write until the story is done,” he says in his book, On Writing.

I usually close the door, put on some music, and let go.  Once I’m done – I walk away from it.  I take a walk or drink a cup of coffee.  Then, I come back for the second draft.   I try to prune the obvious stuff:  adverbs (almost always unnecessary), misspellings, awkward sentences.

Then, the edit.  Once you’ve reached second draft status, it’s time for others to see it.  King says that at this point, the story is no longer only yours, it belongs to the reader as well.  Trust an editor – a good friend, your spouse, your mom to look your work over and make suggestions.  Trust me, your work will be better with an edit, there’s a reason authors take time to thank them in their books.

Later this week:  resources that help writing get better.

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. It’s a non-profit organization dedicated to the belief that great ideas can change the world.  The ‘TED talk” below presents the idea of the ‘golden circle’ of leadership; it explains why companies like Apple, for example one-up their competitors because they start “with the Why.”

Apple doesn’t just tell you what they make (computers) or how (beautifully designed, intuitive); they tell you Why they do it: to challenge the status quo.  That’s at the heart of Apple.

What’s the point of this post on a church blog, you ask.

For awhile now, we’ve been thinking about putting together submission guidelines for conference media, including this blog, the Conference website (wvumc.org), and the West Virginia United Methodist, the Conference newspaper.  Here goes:

1.  Tell the Why…
Go beyond who will be honored, speaking, supplies needed, and other logistical details.  These are important, but if you want people to give to and/or attend what you are writing about, tell them why it matters.

There’s a great example in this month’s newspaper (due in mailboxes this week) about a Shalom Commissioning Service next week in Fairmont.  I did a little research around the history of Shalom ministry in the UMC, and found a great ‘Tell the Why’ nugget.

Communities of Shalom came out of the 1992 Rodney King beating in Los Angeles and the riots that followed. I was not United Methodist at the time of these riots – I was in my early 20s, finding my way in the world – away from the church.  I’m almost 42, married to a United Methodist Pastor, and had never heard this history.  I’ve heard ‘Communities of Shalom’ talked about, and it sounded good…but that’s about it.

Researching the story was fun for me – and it’s my job of course as a journalist, editor, and storyteller to dig for these facts.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to tell the why, in this case, a couple of  sentences sum up the heart of the story for me:

We want to to make disciples of Jesus Christ to transform the World.  Shalom communities help transform places divided by strife.  It seeks to build community – because that’s what Jesus would want us to do.

What a story.

I hope now, that anytime you think of writing an article for the paper or any of our media (and we welcome it!), you will begin with the Why moment.

Part 2 of this series tomorrow, entitled Just Start.


There is much about angels that is believed and longed for.  These images of angels dance on the wall behind the altar at the Blessed John XXIII Pastoral Center in Charleston.  I have spent many a meeting and worship service contemplating their shapes and task of attending to the dying Jesus in his transformation to the Risen Christ.  I am intrigued that, like the shadows that give rise to their existence, they cannot exist without light and without the forms that give them shape.  Perhaps, for each of us, our angels only come when we stand within the light, and they sometime take the shape of all that we are not.

– J.F. Lacaria