Archive for ◊ August, 2012 ◊

• Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

This blog is not directly related to churches in transition,. Although, perhaps it could be . . .

A while back, we had a concern at our church when an older member called to tell a church friend that she was having a health issue, that her son was taking her to a hospital and that she would likely have surgery. That was the extent of the conversation and no one at the church heard anymore for weeks. There was growing concern. We didn’t know how to reach the woman’s son (who lived in a distant town), we didn’t know what hospital was conducting the surgery, we had no way of finding out how she was doing, or – most important – there was no way we could reach out and help her as a church community. We were flummoxed on how to proceed. Fortunately, the story ended well. She had successful surgery and was back with us within a few months.

However, there was an important lesson learned. Most churches have their members’ addresses and phone numbers, but they don’t necessarily have a list of emergency contacts. It’s common sense, isn’t it? Whether you’re part of a religious community, an employee in a business or even a resident in your condo/apartment/neighborhood – it’s logical that others have a way to notify your family or a friend in a crisis.

Once my church recognized our information void, it was surprisingly easy to gather what we needed. Our Stewards took on the project and sent out a generic email to all members. It was a simple enough message: Please send us the name, address, email address, and phone number of your emergency contact(s). Of course there are non-tech members without email who require a phone call – or a letter. However, the list was assembled in no time – much to the relief of the church community.

Note: This list should have a level of privacy. Obviously your pastor(s) needs it and perhaps the senior deacon or Stewards. If the church secretary maintains the list, it probably shouldn’t be out on an desk for all to peruse.

But here’s another view on this emergency contact project – it’s a two-way street. Church members providing emergency information should also tell their contacts about their church affiliation. Then, that contact will know to keep church family informed of crisis events. Pastors cannot visit congregants in distress if they don’t know what’s happening or where they are. And contacts, who might be dealing with life and death issues, could appreciate knowing they have a church’s support or, at the very least, the kind attention of a religious professional.

So how can this tie in with a church in transition? Many of your members’ emergency contacts are probably family members, some of whom (siblings and children) might even have been associated with your church at one time. They may have gotten married, moved away, simply become unchurched. Having their names and addresses offers an opportunity for outreach. With the permission of the individual, you might want to add that address to a church newsletter or “Church in Transition” update list.

• Friday, August 03rd, 2012

At my church, we have a portion of the service entitled the “Conversation.” Our minister pulls out a chair and sits down. Then he mentions a word or concept and the congregation has a brief dialogue about what the word means to them. This is at the beginning of the service and it’s interesting to hear what others have to say about words such as caring, change, love and so on. Not surprisingly, the word almost always ends up being the focus of the sermon later in the service.

“Inclusiveness” was our word this past Sunday and lead to a pleasant discussion about being welcoming to all. There are many variations on the inclusiveness concept within a church. Sure – welcoming is what most would respond, but inclusiveness is more than standing and smiling at the sanctuary door. It’s the culture of your church – from the way the chairs are set up to the sermon message. Inclusiveness can be the personality of your church. I won’t repeat my church’s conversation, but I’m sure you have your own thoughts on how your church is either “wonderfully inclusive” or could “do a little better.”

Afterwards I thought about two inclusiveness examples that we missed mentioning in our discussion. That’s children and disenfranchised adults. Both groups can be embraced – or rejected – as far as being an active part of church life. Children can be relegated to Sunday School and the occasional holiday pageant. Adults whose lives may be a little off the norm may be ignored – supposedly welcomed but not included.

Our children participate in about half of the worship service before they go to Sunday School. During our services’ Conversations, you will often hear a young voice express an opinion. And those opinions are worthwhile and add to the tenor of the discussion. They share their prayer concerns and help with some of the church rituals. We also have a few adults who are mentally challenged and they, too, will speak up in comfort. There is one man who always has something to say and – honestly – most of us can not understand his words. Our kind minister listens carefully – and does a pretty good job of interpreting this man’s thoughts. In spite of his difficulties, what he says can enrich us all.

One challenged woman loves music and will get up and dance when we are all singing a lively hymn. As a conservative New England church, you rarely see dancing in our aisles, but we’re delighted with this woman who – in her own way – teaches all to appreciate the sounds around us.

Inclusiveness. Is it a reality at your church on all levels – or is your congregation selective about how they include others? Beyond the welcome at the door -what do you do to make people feel at home in your church home? Or does your church throw open its arms to any and all? Have you ever talked about it at your church? Perhaps your pastor (or you) should pull out a chair sometime and ask the congregation: “Are we truly inclusive?”

Watch for our next blog the week of August 20th