Episcopal Compliments embraces spirit of appreciation during Advent

By Sharon Sheridan
Posted Dec 12, 2012

[Episcopal News Service] This definitely belongs on Santa’s “nice” list.

On the evening of Dec. 4, a certain anonymous Episcopalian in a certain undisclosed diocese in the continental United States was surfing on her iPhone while watching the movie “Bridesmaids” on television when she saw a Facebook friend had “liked” a compliments page at his college. Curious, she clicked through to the site.

“What I found was just anonymous compliments by students at his college. And they were so earnest and heartfelt and genuinely kind,” she said. “I thought, ‘Gosh, if college students can do this, maybe Advent’s a good time for [members of] the Episcopal Church to take some time and have an opportunity to be kind to one another.”

And lo, the Episcopal Compliments Facebook page was born.

The page was quiet for the first day and a half. “I came back from a meeting at noon Thursday, and suddenly things were happening,” recounted Ms. Episcopal Compliments, “EC” for short. By Dec. 10, 130 people had “liked” the page – only 12 of them Facebook “friends” of EC – and the page had reached more than 3,400 people.

“I think it’s remarkable,” she said. The fact that so many people had interacted with the page without becoming “friends” of it “really speaks to the whole quality of the Web in that one connection leads to many other connections.”

For the most part, posters aren’t highlighting the Episcopal Church’s most visible leaders. “There are youth leaders and deacons and altar guild ladies and Sunday school teachers getting the compliments,” EC said. “It feels like it’s really grassroots.”

And the comments come from across the country – Virginia, Indiana, New York, Texas, Michigan.

A Dec. 7 compliment acknowledges Peter, a third-grader from Saint James Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who “sold hot chocolate at a roadside stand and raised $650 to buy food for a homeless shelter.”

Another poster offered “thanks and blessings for the terrific job and devotion that the ‘coffee hour’ folks do for our Grace Church [in] Chanute, Kansas.”

On Dec. 9, EC was delighted to discover two people from the same congregation complimenting each other about something that occurred in their South Dakota church that day. “One is complimenting a deacon who had children up at the altar. And then that deacon … is complimenting the people in the congregation and the kids with being willing to go with a sort of ad-hoc situation.”

“That makes me happy,” EC said. “These are just simple people just doing the normal work of the church. It’s people who are volunteering, it’s people who have made a difference in individuals’ lives … That’s where the grace and the life of the church is. It’s right at the local level. And so, even though I don’t even know any of these people, I take great delight in hearing just a sentence or two about their ministry.”

EC has kept her identity hidden because she believes that helps maintain the page’s grassroots nature, she said. “Obviously I don’t believe in anonymity when it comes to criticizing.”

But in this case, it’s a plus that an anonymous person, not an official Episcopal Church entity, is sponsoring the page, she said. “It’s just one Episcopalian who said, ‘Hey, this is a good idea.’ What it means is that people can own it for themselves. It’s not tied to any official view of evangelism or anything. There’s nothing behind it, other than providing a channel.”

Anonymity seems to serve the complimenters well, also. EC moderates the submissions, but “I haven’t seen anything … that would cause me to question the sincerity of someone. I think it’s a genuinely thoughtful group of people out there.”

Several years ago, she recalled, she adopted as her Lenten discipline sending an e-mail or handwritten note to someone about something she appreciated each day. The positive responses she received even six or eight months later were “amazing,” she said.

“I thought, my goodness if I could keep this up all the time! I wish I could. I wish we all could take the time to do that. … There’s a little bit of that to Episcopal Compliments, just taking the moment when you think a nice thing or you want to compliment somebody on something they do well or something you’ve observed them do that you’ve found to be kind, to just try to take a moment and let them know.”

From now until Christmas, Episcopalians are invited to send compliments for anonymous posting to the page via Facebook message or by e-mailing episcopalcompliments@gmail.com. They also can follow the flow of kind words on Twitter @episcompliments.

“I think as of Dec. 25 we’ll put it away until next year,” EC said. “I’m not going to shut the page down, but I’m going to kind of go underground until maybe next Advent. I can’t do this all the time; I have a full-time job. I’m happy to resurrect it next Advent if that’s what people want.

“I see myself as being the cutting and pasting fingers of Jesus here. We’re sent out to be his hands and feet. This is just a little way that I can be the fingers.”

— Sharon Sheridan is an ENS correspondent.