The Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF) was founded in 1949 by the Rt. Rev. Henry Knox Sherrill (1890-1980), at a time when The Episcopal Church, like the country, was growing in size and developing centralized, corporate models of governance and administration. Sherrill was a visionary and Christ-centered role model. He was devoted to the Church's mission and a committed leader of the ecumenical movement at both the national and international levels.
Sherrill founded ECF after being elected Presiding Bishop and seeking creative ways to disseminate resources to support the mission of the wider Church. With the exception of the Presiding Bishop, the Board of Directors was made up of lay people from the Church, business, and government from across the country. ECF continues to uphold this tradition as it lives out its commitment to the ministry of all the baptized and the promotion of effective lay–clergy partnerships.
Initially, ECF funds were used to strengthen The Episcopal Church's infrastructure as well as to expand its work across the country and around the world. ECF established a revolving loan fund that aided in the construction of hundreds of Episcopal churches in the United States and abroad. Furthermore, through its Fellowship Program, ECF supported doctoral students who planned to teach in Episcopal Church seminaries. ECF also supported numerous local outreach ministries across the country. For nearly four decades, Sherrill's original vision for ECF informed and motivated new levels of giving, resulting in significant financial resources for important Episcopal Church programs that would otherwise go unfunded.
In the late 1980s, ECF transitioned from Sherrill's operational model to a more programmatic portfolio. The Episcopal Church Building Fund took over ECF's responsibilities for church building loans, and ECF focused on new areas of work, such as clergy health and wholeness, which later became the CREDO program, which is now administered and funded by the Church Pension Group (CPG).
ECF launched and spun off other initiatives that grew a network of individuals, congregations, and dioceses all committed to advancing healthy and strong leadership throughout the Church.
In 1995, ECF took on primary responsibility for planned giving throughout the Episcopal Church, ushering in a new era of stewardship and philanthropy. This philanthropic movement now includes consultation and support for endowment management and general fundraising.
Simultaneously, ECF created educational and training events, published a popular monthly magazine called Vestry Papers, conducted Church-wide research, and expanded its role in the broad area of leadership development. As the twenty-first century began and ECF approached its 60th anniversary, it articulated and implemented a new mission of assisting Episcopal faith communities in visioning and planning, developing leadership, and raising financial resources for ministry.
The original Fellow grants became the Fellowship Partners Program, Vestry Papers became the website ECF Vital Practices, and the organization established itself as a major resource center for the Episcopal Church.
Bishop Sherrill's leadership style and original vision for his beloved organization are consistent with the fact that ECF has not been burdened with the old but has instead lived creatively into the newness of these times. Looking back over the past 73 years, ECF now moves forward into the future with the same hope and promise of the Gospel that inspired its founder.