FILLED WITH HOPE, I AM WAITING

In this sacred Advent season of waiting and hoping I encountered an editorial written by John Wimberly (The Presbyterian Outlook, 12/22/14, pg 5) addressing a concern I have had for years.  My basic question:  Why don’t we give some of our churches more time before closing them?   John Wimberly says in his editorial:

The congregation I served for 30 years was almost closed and the building sold back in the 1970’s.  Thank God the congregation convinced the presbytery to give them more time for God to work through their ministry.  Today, Western Church is a vital, urban ministry where people worship God joyfully, children are educated and the homeless have been fed, clothed and given social services for more than 30 years…..thanks be to God that the majority of presbyters were in no rush to judgment.  They decided to wait with God for something to happen as Western Church.

I thank God for the urban church I served for 28 years, the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church in Saginaw, Michigan.  I am glad the church has an intentional transitional pastor, Rev. Jim Williams, working with this church and presbytery in helping this congregation determine their future.  I pray that the Presbytery of Lake Huron give this church time and resources to help them determine what God has planned next for them.

And thinking about church buildings, the church spends too much time worrying about real estate.  Let’s invest more time thinking about what we could do to maintain a Presbyterian witness in some of these buildings we decide to close.  I can name three former Presbyterian churches in Saginaw with buildings no longer under the Presbyterian umbrella that continue doing ministry in various neighborhoods (Grace, Washington Avenue and Wadsworth Avenue).

Buildings and dealing with church real estate is perhaps the one big obstacle in making the decision to close a church.  As John Wimberly continues to say:

When I see our judicatories selling off property (make that: congregations), I am profoundly troubled.  Unable to envision a successful ministry in the old Central Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC, our presbytery sold the buildings in the early 1980’s to a coalition of community groups.  Today, the buildings house a thriving community center and a non-denominational church in one of D.C.’s most vibrant neighborhoods.  Others had and implemented a vision we lacked.

Again, I would hope that presbyters would consider holding onto these properties and ministries.  It is absolutely true that once a building is sold or torn down the opportunity for a Presbyterian ministry in that location probably ends forever.

It is my hope and prayer that some of the resources the Presbyterian Church invests in helping to form new congregations could be invested keeping some of our small struggling urban (and rural) church doors open.

I am waiting and hoping to see more of our urban (and small rural) churches find ways to keep their doors open.

BEST PRACTICES

As ministry practitioners, it’s never too late to learn from our colleagues!   Even in retirement, I continue to search for and embrace learning from the “BEST PRACTICES” of those who are doing neat things as their respective churches.  My only regret through the years is in not taking more time, while I was an active pastor, in searching out and learning from the best practices of others.

In retirement, I have been worshiping with my wife at the Second Presbyterian Church in Saginaw, MI.  This is a healthy, good-sized, solid and stable church with lots of people in attendance.   It’s neat seeing the large choir and well over a dozen children up front for the weekly children’s message.    Some of the “best practices” from my experience in observing this pastor, Rev. Jim Neuman, and this congregation:

  1. Having a secretary in the office on Sunday morning to answer the phone and handle business of church members who cannot come to the office during the week.   What a great time to ask about your pledge!
  2. Having a teenager available to help park cars of those who are physically disabled.
  3. Lay leaders doing children’s messages.
  4. Wonderful assortment of music including the organ, piano, bells, brass, strings and a group called the “strummers and pluckers”.
  5. Greeters at the church entrances as well as the doors leading into the sanctuary.
  6. An informative, non-threatening assimilation process for those wishing more information about the church.
  7. Several subtle things I learned from the worship experience – little things that Jim Neumann did that most people who were not clergy would notice. Example, how he handles without a heart-beat the disruption caused by a fussy child or when a microphone battery failed to work.

Now granted, lots of churches are doing neat things.  What I am talking about are the little things we can learn from sister congregations in ‘tweaking’ what we are already doing as practitioners.

To get more specific:  I would commend to church pastors stepping up in locating those colleagues willing to share some of their “best practices”.   Your colleagues may also appreciate learning a few new things from you.  Rev. Tom Are Jr. writing for the “NEXT church”  (www.nextchurch.net):  His article:

Not One-Size-Fits-All”  (http://nextchurch.net/onesize/#.VIRZke4o61s)

 …..We have been called to ministry in a time where the landscape is shifting and the work is so diverse that there are many vital aspects of ministry that cannot, and I would argue should not, be taught in seminary.  Why? Because we are our best teachers for each other.

I called three friends who were engaged in ministry in similar contexts and I begged (not kidding) them for a 12 hour day to shadow, to talk strategy and practice and to learn how others spent their time.  Later, much to my surprised, they asked if I would return the favor. We then committed to meet together once a year for several days to share case studies, to vent frustrations, to pray and to remind one another why we are called to our particular ministries.  I wouldn’t say this small group of colleagues saved my life, but they did save a quality of life that I value.”

Tom Are Jr. is Senior Pastor of the Village Church in Prairie Village, Kansas.

Wherever you are in ministry, take some intentional time to identify the “best practices” of your colleagues.  May God bless us all in the work we do in Christ’s service.