June 7, 2016

We Are Episcopal Relief & Development

Last week, I attended the 2016 Network Meeting of Episcopal Relief & Development. The event, which was held at a hotel near Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, was intended to inspire and empower diocesan representatives of the Episcopal charity to bring awareness, enthusiasm, and giving opportunities to the people of their dioceses.

Episcopal Relief & Development logo
The most inspiring presentation—to me at least—was a relatively unlikely one. “The Hidden Meaning of the Ampersand” was presented by Communications Officer Faith Rowold, The talk was about corporate identity and image, and some of the content —discussion of corporate fonts and colors, for example—was not the most obvious to be brought before a room of volunteers. As a writer and designer, however, I was fascinated by this stuff.

Rowold’s most important message was that, although Episcopal Relief & Development began as a relief agency early in World War II, and although activities such as disaster relief at home and abroad remain important, development work has become the organization’s primary focus. This work is carried out using a model referred to as asset-based community development, which might be characterized—my words, not Rowold’s—as a coöperative alternative to simply carrying the white man’s burden.

Episcopal Relief & Development began in 1940 as the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief. Episcopalians may have gotten used to the new name, but the significance of “& Development” may not be widely appreciated. After all, many parishes collect money for Episcopal Relief & Development following major disasters such as the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. The organization may not be mentioned again until the next disaster hits.

Presumably to emphasize the full range of the organization’s mission, volunteers have repeatedly been admonished to eschew the use of the acronym ERD, which had become very common since the current name was adopted. Whenever we refer to the agency, we were told that we must use the complete name: Episcopal Relief & Development. Presenters at the meeting were careful to toe the company line on this matter, but I have always found the prohibition of the use of ERD to be burdensome. Rowold admitted as much by pointing out that the full name contains 11 syllables, whereas the acronym contains only three. Her presentation gave me the opportunity to air my frustrations about the rule.

When speaking about Episcopal Relief & Development, I said, one is likely to need to name the organization repeatedly. Using the full corporate name over and over is time-consuming and, frankly, tedious. It is difficult to resist the temptation to use the full corporate name on first mention and the acronym thereafter.*

This sparked an extended discussion of how one can adhere to what has been laid down as an ironclad rule without one’s conversation seeming stilted. People suggested workarounds, such as using such locutions as “the organization,” rather then “Episcopal Relief & Development.” (Notice that I myself have used such a trick in this essay.)

The most interesting and surprising suggestion was to use “we” in place of “Episcopal Relief & Development” after the corporate name is first mentioned. I had always thought of diocesan and parish representatives for Episcopal Relief & Development as speaking for an external organization, not an organization of which they are actually a part. The organization relies on volunteers to deliver its message and to generate funds, however, and the network meeting I attended was an indication of how important those volunteers are thought to be—most expenses were covered by Episcopal Relief & Development.

Many Episcopalians contribute directly to the support of Episcopal Relief & Development, but Rowold pointed out that even those that do not, support it indirectly if they contribute money to their parish. This is because parishes support dioceses that, in turn, support the general church. The General Convention budgets some money for Episcopal Relief & Development. The value of in-kind contributions from The Episcopal Church are even more valuable. More than $1 million in in-kind contributions are provided in the form of free rent, utilities, and security at the Episcopal Church Center.

In other words, the volunteers (who are now being called network representatives) are very much a part of Episcopal Relief & Development. In a very real way, however, so is nearly everyone who considers his- or herself an Episcopalian. It is time Episcopalians thought of Episcopal Relief & Development as a component of our own parish outreach and time to think of ourselves as part of Episcopal Relief & Development. We are a vital part of Episcopal Relief & Development, and we are such 12 months a year, not simply when disaster strikes.

Spread the word.

We are



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* Interestingly, no one seems inclined to use the acronym ER&D. It is both longer than ERD and suggests that the agency name might be Episcopal Research and Development.

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