by Mary Pieper   |   comments
<h1><a href="/blog/st-johns-classic">St. John's Classic Bike Ride</a></h1>

On Sept. 7 more than 40 bicyclists rode in the third annual St. John’s Classic, hosted by St. John’s Episcopal Church in Mason City, Iowa. Cyclists could chose a 22-mile ride, a 50-mile ride, or a 100-mile “century” ride, a new feature this year.

It was a hot day, so some cyclists chose to take shorter routes than the ones they originally planned to ride. A few had to get a ride back to the church in the SAG wagon. However, five hardy souls went ahead and rode the century route despite the heat.

When the ride was over, bicyclists had lunch at the St. John’s Fellowship Hall and enjoyed music by two local bands, the rock group ZooLooDoo and the Sorta Jazz Sextet. So far the church has raised $2,212.80 through rider registration fees and private donations. An additional donation from UPS is pending.

St. John’s keeps 10 percent of the gross proceeds from the ride for church debt reduction. The rest goes to the Brain Injury Alliance of Iowa, a not-for-profit organization that works to create a better future through brain injury prevention, advocacy, education, research and support.

St. John’s donates 90 percent of the proceeds from the ride to BIA-Iowa because Kacey Vaughan, son of church members Don and Jackie Vaughan, received a traumatic brain injury in a car accident in 2000.

Kacey, now 33, lives in Ankeny in his own apartment. A Brain Injury Waiver from the state of Iowa pays for people to come in and make sure he eats and takes his medicine.

Both Jackie and Don are members of the board of directors for BIA-Iowa. Jackie is in her third year as board president. Kacey was at this year’s St. John’s Classic to help out, along with church members and volunteers from BIA-Iowa.

BIA-Iowa donated bike helmets for both youth and adults, as well as T-shirts and other items, to be given away during the ride. The freebies were placed on a table near the sidewalk outside the church. Passers-by as well as riders were invited to help themselves. The bike helmets in particular were a popular item. 

Almost everything for the ride was donated, so very little cash had to be spent on items such as bottled water, food for lunch, door prizes and the goodie bags for the riders.

Special thanks go to National Episcopal Health Ministries for donating the flashing safety lights worn by the bicyclists.

The annual ride is an ideal project for St. John’s because several members are passionate about cycling. It also fits in with our mission of “Reaching Out With God’s Love to Everybody.”

Mary Pieper is a member of St. John’s Episcopal Church.

by Matthew Ellis   |   comments
<h1><a href="/blog/mission-accomplished">Mission Accomplished!</a></h1>

I have a very rational and justified fear of heights. To me, it seems far more inexplicable to NOT be afraid of heights. That being said, I recognize I probably avoid them more often than most people. 

So I was as surprised as anyone when I found myself at our parish retreat at Waycross Camp and Conference Center watching my fellow parishioners taking turns attempting to scale the climbing wall, then jumping off a perfectly good platform onto a zip line. The kids made it look easy, of course, with a dexterity and speed that Spider-Man only wishes he had. As we transitioned into the adults, it was clear this was not as easy as the kids had made it look. Several of us were able to get to within a few feet of the top before their fingers gave way or they were simply unable to make the transition onto the platform. 

I sat there watching each person either make it and celebrate or try and fail to get up the wall. Regardless of outcome, those watching were encouraging and cheered on the effort. It eventually reached a point where I had to decide if I was going to climb it or not. I was encouraged by the staff's professionalism. They seemed to take it seriously, which reassured me. As my wife had just successfully scaled the wall, I felt I had no choice but to drag myself over to the wall and make an attempt. 

My strategy was simple: Keep moving, focus on the step ahead, and ask for advice about where to go next. This worked pretty well for the most part, and I felt like I was moving along alright. I developed a rhythm that kept me looking ahead, and staying plastered to the wall reduced the feeling that I was a mere slip and series of snapped ropes away from falling to my death. 

Eventually, I reached the most difficult stage, which involved transitioning from the comfortable rhythm of climbing the wall to swinging your body weight onto a platform above your head with very little leverage. I almost made it, briefly lost my sense of balance and then panicked. A glance at the ground below nearly froze me but I was so close and I didn't want to fail. I willed myself onto the platform and lay there, drenched in sweat. 

Note: There is no video of my climb, but in my mind it looked exactly like this:

Only halfway done, though. Now I had to convince myself to jump from a perfectly good platform and trust the zip line to get me safely back to the ground. In many ways, this was actually worse than the climb. The staff person helping us move to the zip line was very nice but way too talkative for my needs. 

As Charlie began encouraging me to take in the glorious view, I asked him to wrap it up. He then began telling me all the things I could say, sing, shout, or scream on the way down. I interrupted him, ever so gently: "GET ME OFF OF HERE." At that point, he seemed to realize that it was in everyone's best interest for him to finally get me off the platform. Well, as you can guess, the zip line held and I survived. 

I have to say, the rest of the weekend I felt pretty good. It's been a long time since I pushed myself to do something that I really didn't know if I could finish or not. Add the pressure of having many friends watching and I was thrilled that I was able to finish.

If it's been a while since you have pushed yourself out of your comfort zone, why not give something new a try? If public speaking makes you uncomfortable, why not join a Toastmasters club this fall? Maybe now is the time to take up biking or write that book you've been thinking about for years.

It's worth it. Find something you dread, give it a try and feel yourself grow. Attempting something you have always avoided can help you see yourself in a new light. Staying on the ground is definitely safer but then you never get to see that terrific view from high above. 

by Matthew Ellis   |   comments
<h1><a href="/blog/new-aca-toolkit-for-faith-based-organizations-released">New ACA Toolkit for Faith-Based Organizations Released</a></h1>

Health Care Law Toolkit for Faith and Community-Based Organizations

This toolkit will help faith and community leaders learn and educate others about the health care law. These materials can be used as bulletin inserts, at enrollment events and for other education and outreach efforts. 

Click here to access the new toolkit!

by Matthew Ellis   |   comments
<h1><a href="/blog/friday-roundup-read-this-9-20-13">Friday Roundup: Read This</a></h1>

Each week, we highlight stories from our newsfeed on Prismatic. No account is required to see what we think is worth reading, so visit our profile often! We update it daily so there is usually something new to check out. Here is a sample of what we liked this week:

Rokia Traoré's "Beautiful Africa" Streaming in Full As NPR First Listen: "As Smart and Lovely As Its Creator" via Nonesuch Journal
[Something a little different for today: I listened to this all week and it's great. Enjoy! ~Matt] The West African ngoni lute figures as prominently as the electric guitars; her rhythms boast a distinctly African sway.

Visualizing Health Policy: Premium Subsidy Scenarios Under Obamacare vis Kaiser Family Foundation
This month’s Visualizing Health Policy infographic shows 3 scenarios that illustrate the cost of health insurance under the Affordable Care Act for families in different circumstances, both before and after premium subsidies (in the form of a tax credit).

Nutritionists' Healthiest Snack Picks for Kids via Huffington Post
One smart way to get kids eating more of what they need is by focusing on snack time.

Harvard study finds food expiration labels are misleading via
Americans throw out billions of pounds of food every year because they falsely believe "sell-by" and "best-before" dates on package labels indicate food safety, researchers have found.

Let us know which articles you liked (or didn't) in the comments!


by Jayce Hafner   |   comments

At summer camp in the Diocese of Virginia many years ago, I remember sitting with the other campers in the outdoor shrine and learning that every person is a member of the Body of Christ. Like the many body parts, we are a diverse group, yet no part or person is separate from or more important than the others. Rather, we need each other to effectively function as a whole. Our counselors translated the metaphor of the physical body to the reality of community, conveying that no one person can reach fullness of life without the rest of the community also achieving this same wholeness.

I recall this lesson when I think about the Affordable Care Act. This law will grant our neighbors the same access to health care that more affluent members of their community have enjoyed for decades. At last, our community can receive the care that it needs to grow collectively into fullness of life. The ACA is not perfect, and I expect there will be some kinks that will doubtless need to be worked out in the implementation process. Even so, the ACA is a comprehensive, conscientious, and necessary piece of legislation that will care for our society’s most vulnerable, and that will build healthy, strong communities in its wake.

The Episcopal Church has several policy resolutions that support comprehensive and accessible health care, from GC ’91:  “Call upon the President, Congress, governors, and leaders to devise universal access to health care for the nation’s people” [GC 1991 A099], to GC ’09: “That The Episcopal Church urge its members to contact elected federal, state and territorial officials encouraging them to… establish a system to provide basic health care to all.” [GC 2009  C071]  We used our policy to advocate for the Affordable Care Act in 2009, mobilizing thousands of Episcopalians to write their representatives, conduct visits, and rally their communities in support of this legislation. After months of effort, we celebrated the passage of the ACA, and breathed a collective sigh of relief knowing that millions of uninsured Americans could access the health care that they need to survive.

But our work is not over.

Approximately three years later, I met with several members of Congress and faith leaders of diverse denominations. We took turns going around the table and sharing our denomination’s involvement with the ACA, and I proudly recounted how Episcopalians worked extremely hard to pass this legislation in 2009. After hearing my short speech, one of the congressmen turned and told me that passing the Act is not enough; we must now work to ensure that the legislation is fully implemented.

Implementation is now our primary task. Almost 50 million Americans are living without health care insurance, and the ACA will do us no good unless its provisions are carried out. Many Americans do not know what the ACA is, whether it will affect them, or if it is something that they can afford. Their worries will only be ameliorated through education, and this is where The Episcopal Church can play a powerful role.

Churches are community centers, safe havens where people can gather for fellowship, learning, and growth. As such, they are appropriate channels for educating others about the ACA. Church leaders can spread information through sermons, bulletin inserts, or church announcements in the Sunday service. Members of the congregation can host educational seminars, drawing on readily available resources posted to government websites. Most importantly, churches can engage in ministry with their wider communities, working to disseminate information and enrollment opportunities to the people who need them the most.  As members of the Body of Christ, we must work together to ensure that every ‘part’ receives the care that it needs, so that all parts, together, can live happy, healthy, and full lives.

Other Applicable General Convention Resolutions:

This Friday, Matthew Ellis of National Episcopal Health Ministries will present on a White House conference call. During this call, Ellis will discuss faith and community outreach, education, and enrollment, while highlighting the work of NEHM and the Episcopal Public Policy Network around the ACA. Please join us in congratulating him on this exciting opportunity!

Jayce Hafner is the Domestic Policy Analyst for The Episcopal Church's Office of Government Relations.