Archive for ◊ May, 2013 ◊

• Friday, May 17th, 2013

The other day I was stopped at a red light in my town and I looked at the wooden telephone poll beside the car. I was astonished to see the number of nails in that pole. Hundreds and hundreds of nails and tacks all around the pole – up to a height of about six feet. Of course I knew where they came from – in fact, I may have been responsible for some of those nails myself.

That pole has held countless signs in its years on the corner – from the family yard sale up the street, to a play at the high school to the local church’s holiday fair. What a history of community activities that pole has displayed. (I remember the days when I would post our church fair sign on that pole – and have to jockey for space because of so many other signs.)

I must admit that – speaking from the church flier perspective – it made me a bit sad. In our town, fewer churches have signs out. When I was growing up – almost every weekend there was some church-sponsored activity being announced on that pole. And behind those activities, were committed and enthusiastic church members who enjoyed giving up a Saturday to organize a car wash or staff an “All-Church Yard Sale.”

Many of today’s churches don’t have the “community” that they did 20 or 30 years ago. Potentially active church members are being pulled in different directions. The teenagers are at soccer practice on a Saturday (even Sunday!), the members of the men’s breakfast group don’t attend because they have yard work, and the young mothers simply don’t have the time or interest to make crafts for the holiday fair. And – frankly – no one really wants a ham and bean supper these days (too high calorie!).

Of course some churches still offer up delicious pancake breakfasts, have bake sales and plan other community gatherings. But – from the telephone pole perspective, it’s not the same as it once was. Times have changed – and sadly, the number of churches that post fliers has diminished. Thus the need for a book like Finishing with Grace.

I suppose some day, the telephone company will need to replace that pole with all its nails. Most people won’t even notice when it is gone and a new one replaces it. But if I am waiting at that red light, I will smile with the memory of the great variety of signs that pole once displayed from just my own church. Those were good times in the life of my community – and my church.

• Friday, May 03rd, 2013

authored by Gretchen

I was recently in Columbus, Ohio presenting a day-long training session for the Interim Ministry Working Group (United Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ) of Ohio. The program title was “Options for Struggling Congregations.” As usual, my presentation included a number of stories about my own experience in churches, as well as the stories you, our readers, and others share with us because of this blog. What I have learned is that people love stories. People love hearing narratives that draw them in on a personal level. They enjoy hearing about people just like them who are struggling with the exact same issues they are.

As my day in Ohio progressed, I was struck anew by the power of sharing our own stories. Not just me telling them when I was speaking, but during our breaks, we all spent time just telling stories related to something that was being taught.

One woman was the pastor of a church that was having their final service the following Sunday. An interim colleague was frustrated in a congregation who won’ t consider the kind of changes that might keep their church alive. Another fellow told the story of his former church building being bought by MacDonalds. We could give context to our own similar experiences or find a new way to understand what we were going through by telling our stories. Each of us saw ourselves in these accounts. We could hear the pain of the storyteller and offer our support. Stories often speak to our greatest joy or our greatest fears. We like hearing how it ended for other people. We are comforted by hearing that it all worked out okay and we are strengthened by hearing about someone else’s strength when it didn’t.

It is very cool how the blogosphere invites us to share our stories. In our comments section, we often read the accounts of pastors and churches who have encountered the challenges we discuss here. More often, we will get an email from a congregation who is struggling and wishes to share their story and ask for guidance. These stories are often the beginning of building relationships.

Jesus was a storyteller extraordinaire. He taught with parables and drew people closer to him with storytelling. Likewise, you and I share our faith with the stories from our lives, and we grow in confidence by sharing those events with others. When a congregation is facing challenging times, that’s the time to get out the church histories and begin rediscovering the congregation’s stories. That is when people should come together to speak of their own very personal experience of faith and their relationship with their church. That is when we should become storytellers like Jesus, because our story is God’s story, and God’s story is ours.