Doors Open for Children and Youth

A friend and pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Saginaw, MI, Rev. Ted McCulloch, recently wrote about his experience with children visiting his office and his display of Charlie Brown “stuff”.

“…..I enjoy Charlie Brown and I knew I had quite a bit in my office but I didn’t realize how much.  There’s Snoopy on a motorcycle, a couple of different golf and baseball themed ones, four different Nativity sets plus a Charlie Brown Christmas tree and a Charlie Brown pipe organ one……”   (Thoughts from Ted, Happenings, May 2017, Vol. 180, Issue 5)

Ted is a ‘pastor-artist’ with a special gift in relating with children.  Young and old, I hear from others in the community that children are always around him.   I also know that Ted is intentional  in remaining accessible to the youngest members of the Church.

Ted wrote to the congregation to help motivate them in taking time during the summer months to help children continue in their faith journey to know Jesus – “giving thanks for welcoming the next believers in Christ”.

Thinking about these words from Ted, I sat at my desk contemplating my experiences through the years in working with children and youth.  My first call to the First Presbyterian Church of Davenport, Iowa, forty years ago, was with a focus on ministry with children and youth.  Dr. Marcus Priester from McCormick Theological Seminary influenced my decision to focus my early ministry in working with children and youth.  Do our Presbyterians seminaries still have professors who specialize in Christian Education?     It was early in my ministry I made the decision that the door of my office would always be open to children and youth.

Reflecting on my experiences:  My earliest memories as a child and teenager at the First Presbyterian Church of Aurora, Colorado.  The pastor’s office had an entrance in the hallway leading to a lounge and some Sunday school rooms.  I will never forget the day I walked through that door, at the encouragement of an Assistant Pastor Rev. Robert Meanor, to tell Senior Pastor Rev. DeYoung  I wanted to visit with him about my thinking about ministry as a career.  I was in eight or ninth grade at that time.   From that point on I was invited to be a worship leader.

I will never forget the day Rev. DeYoung told me my paisley tie I was wearing wasn’t appropriate.  He took me to a closet and pulled out a solid black tie for me to wear.  He taught me things I held onto through my entire ministry — the need to keep my feet planted squarely on the floor in not crossing my legs while sitting up front but one example.  He also required me, when leading worship, to come in on Saturday mornings to practice my readings.

Another note from my home church:  These two pastors and Christian Education Director were always in the office on Saturday mornings.  They dressed casually.   It was a good day for people to come into the church to prepare for Sunday!   The doors of all the offices were always open!   A lot of programming, including confirmation classes for youth, took place on Saturday mornings.

How many pastors maintain Saturday morning office hours?

From this point on, as a young pastor, I was sensitive to how pastor’s present themselves, always in appropriate ways, to children and youth.  Where are the offices located and are office doors open or closed?   Are children welcome to visit the pastor?   How often do pastors visit Church School classes or attend youth retreats.

As a maturing pastor, I have always tried to have an ‘open door’ policy when it comes to children and youth visiting me in my office.  When active as a pastor, I always had toys and stuffed animals and puzzles for the kids.  Toddlers would find  in my office a dancing monkey.   Sometimes I would have a small gift – a cross or a “warm fuzzy” or a picture and story about a biblical figure.   I would also let them see and touch things i.e. where I kept the ashes used on Ash Wednesday or the communion kit used to serve the sacrament to homebound members of the church.

All of us as professional clergy need to remember Ted and those pastors who have their doors open for children and youth to enter.  WE need to celebrate having children in our midst.  We must remember, as ‘pastor-artists’, the text:

“Knock and the Door will be opened for you.”  (Matt 7:7)

Thank you Ted and Bob and Tony and Herb and Marcus and many others – for keeping your doors open for me — and all children and youth who long for the desire to learn more about Jesus and the church.

 

 

Saturday Morning Office Hours?

I woke up this Saturday morning grateful to God for “retirement”.  In these moments in casually planning my day, I contemplated a history of Saturday’s past when active in ministry.

As a teenager in the 60’s, I recall going to my church home in Aurora, Colorado, on Saturday mornings–mostly for a required confirmation class.  I also had voice lessons with the choir director.  Church was a place go hang out on Saturday mornings!

When asked to be a worship leader, we always had practice sessions with the pastor on Saturday mornings.  As a teenager, I recall, the church was always open on Saturday mornings.  The casually dressed pastors, two of them, were always around.  There was activity and laughter up and down the halls–almost like Sunday mornings except less formal!

On a serious note, when I was off at college, I learned that my dad would often drop by the church office on Saturday mornings.   For some reason, the pastor shared this with me following his funeral in 1973.  This was something my pastor felt I should know.  What were they talking about?

Dad was a quiet man who didn’t talk much about church.  Yet here was drinking coffee with the pastor on Saturday mornings.  I wonder if he would have had a place to go to talk about things, anything, if these pastor’s were not present in the church on Saturday mornings.  I wonder?

I wonder if I would have been called to be a minister without access to the church on Saturdays?

Many years later, after ordination my ordination in 1977, I accepted my first call to serve in a large church in Davenport, Iowa.  There were three ministers and a full-time director of music on the staff.  I learned some important things in these first years of ministry.   It was always an expectation in that particular church that clergy be ‘on-the-job’ on Saturday mornings.  We always had a staff meeting to talk through the Sunday morning worship services.  Lots of details concerning Sunday worship were discussed.

As an Associate Pastor responsible for Christian Education programming, Saturday mornings were vested in working with youth and church school teachers.  I would do some last minute checks to make sure everything was ready for Sunday classes.  The organist was busy rehearsing on the organ.  The senior pastor was working on the sermon or perhaps, preparing for the next wedding or funeral.  As a large church, we had a large program with lots of details to be juggled at all age levels.   Worth mentioning, there were a host of church members cleaning and polishing in getting this sacred space, the church, ready for Sunday worship.

As years passed as a solo pastor in Evanston, Illinois and then Saginaw, Michigan, I found myself relaxing on Saturdays.  While I would often be at the church doing a variety of things, it was not publicized that the church was open.   In reflecting on this:  MY LOSS!

Because my wife worked a typical Monday through Friday job, we found Saturdays were sacred time to be with each other as a couple doing ‘family-type’ things.  As a pastor, there were always last minute calls that had to be made.  Weddings and funerals were always part of the mix in working and doing ministry on Saturdays.  Instead of holding regular office hours, I would meet with congregants by appointment—mostly in their homes.  In recent years of ministry, to be honest, Saturdays were considered a day when the church was closed.

I wonder about the experience of others?  How many of my clergy colleagues maintain office hours on Saturday mornings?  I wonder if I would have become a pastor had I not had some Saturday morning opportunities to mingle with the sacred.

I wonder?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Annual Meetings

For friends and colleagues preparing for Annual Congregational Meetings, I commend to you an article in the recent Presbyterian Outlook by Christine Chakoian (Jan 18, 2016).

http://pokayoke.wpengine.com/?s=annual+meetings+reimagined

Christine is on target in calling congregational leaders to find ways to get beyond the regurgitation of facts and information that congregations rarely discuss.

 ‘So what might an annual meeting of our congregation look for that we’re not already seeing?’   Christine suggests looking at ways we measure compassion, looking at congregational generosity, scanning congregational resilience – to mention a few.    

I pray for congregations and church leaders preparing for annual congregational meetings.  I hope our churches can find ways to get beyond boring statistical reports.

May we find ways to stretch the boundaries of what satisfies our needs in the work we do in mission and in ministry.

 

Church Playground: Random Thoughts

Nancy and I were out for a late afternoon drive that took us by the urban church I served for 28 years—the Warren Ave Presbyterian Church in Saginaw.

We were a bit startled to drive down Weadock Street, behind the church, to see several children, not much older that four or five, running across the street in front of our car. They were crossing the road to get to the church playground. Where is the supervision? The only adult I saw was a gentleman sound asleep on a park bench toward the back of the playground with a newspaper over his face. My immediate thought, with all the transient foot traffic through this neighborhood, that this wasn’t a safe place for children to be wondering without an adult watching.

Wait a minute! Maybe there is a “mom” standing at a kitchen window watching these children? After all, there are several homes located across the street from this playground.

Wait a minute! Remember when this was truly a dangerous place to live. NOT NOW!  There are those who would disagree….that this is still a pretty dangerous place to live.  Twenty to thirty years ago there were burned-out homes and weed-rodent-infested vacant lots. One could assume there were drugs and guns and gangs up and down these streets—thirty years ago. NOT NOW! All the houses on this part of Weadock street are occupied. Some of them are new.

Wait a minute: Families wishing for their children what all families wish—safe and secure place to live where children can run and play?

Wait a minute!   Remember when the church session had a conversation, over thirty years ago, about putting a fence around this playground? This was a short conversation. The immediate decision was made that the playground was for the entire community.   The church would be sending the wrong message to the residents of the community to fence off this playground. And yes, with regular maintenance, this playground has served the community well.

Wait a minute! The playground is free and open for anyone in the community to enjoy. Why does the church still lock all the doors?   When I was pastor of the church, doors were locked even during Sunday worship and weekly fellowship events?   I wonder if this church will ever unlock the doors of the sanctuary for people in this community to worship – just like they created an open atmosphere in a playground for children to play.[1]

Sermon by Jill Duffield

I have also been thinking about a sermon prepared by Jill Duffield for the Presbyterian Outlook based on the lectionry texts from Ephesians[2].   I wonder what makes for a “hostile” community or church?   Could it be that the neighborhood around the church I once served is seen as a “hostile” place to live? I know in the past the streets of this community were much more hostile than they are now! Jill Duffield has this to say in connection to church playgrounds and the church:

There was a church I used to drive by with some regularity that had a beautiful playground directly in front of the sanctuary. It had a sign with the name of the church attached to the high chain linked face that surrounded the playground.   The gate had a padlock. It sent a powerful message.

Just this week I received an email from my neighborhood association admonishing us to take great caution as a stranger (!) had been seen walking (!) in our neighborhood. We were urged to call the police immediately if we say someone “who just does not belong.” How, one wonders (or not), are we to determine if someone “who just does not belong” and what is the issue with walking on public streets?

Clearly, to some, my neighborhood is a hostile environment. How about our churches? Are they hostile to someone who does not dress as most do on Sunday mornings? Is a hostile to parents of children to sit still for an hour? It is hostile to those who have hearing or vision or mobility impairments? Is it hostile to those who don’t look like the majority of those gathered? Is it hostile to a same-gender couple? Is it hospital to someone of a different theological bent than our pastor or members?”

The truth needs to be heard.

 Jesus Christ puts to death hostility. Please, please preach this on Sunday. Proclaim it!

Regardless where we live, we need to find ways to open our hearts (and the doors of our churches) to all of God’s children.

My thoughts while driving by a church playground.

[1]   Perhaps the church will re-evaluate her policies on locking doors?

[2]   Presbyterian Outlook, 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, July 19, 2015, Ephesians 2: 11-22

Experiential Learning

The experiences of others is perhaps the most valuable of all the tools in the pastor’s “Ministry Toolbox”.  For me, why else spend years upon years of attending ministry conferences in figuring out what others have done to make their experiences both faithful and successful.  For small struggling churches perhaps the most important of all resources is in looking at what others, like yourselves, have done successfully. For example, if you are a small downtown church struggling with what to do with a large and expensive building, take a look at what others have done in similar situations in addressing this concern.

Presbyterians Today June 2015

I just received my June 2015 copy of Presbyterians Today with the cover title.  “Small Churches. Big Impact”.   This issue is full of stories of experiences of others.  This learning from the experience of others will help you open doors in trying new things in the future.  In fact, I am writing this blog because I truly believe learning from the experience of others is for me the most valuable tool in my “Ministry Toolbox”.

I recently heard the statement:  “Non-profits can do as good if not better job in doing mission as the church!”   This was true in the small urban church I served.  An older congregation doing ministry in a large building, partnering with non-profits helped the church use its large facilities in serving the community in ways church officers could never imagine!  The church couldn’t run a soup kitchen like the one that opened in the church for ten years serving 200-300 people every day.  The officers of this 100 member church couldn’t run the after-school program serving as many as 60 neighborhood children every day.  While the church could open her doors and participate with non-profits in providing these programs, the church couldn’t do these things alone.

The new reality that needs to be recognized by many churches I have encountered in my ministry:  Perhaps secular non-profits, in certain contexts, can do a better job than the church in serving the needs of people in our communities.   And if you are connected with a church with a lot of sacred space that is not being used, perhaps a non-profit would enjoy partnering with you in doing Christ’s work?   And partnering with non-profits doesn’t always have to generate income for the church!  All the programs nurtured with non-profits and the church I served were rent-free partnerships.  All we ever tried to recover were expenses.     Just blogging…..