Mondays in ministry...

I know a lot of clergy take Mondays off: it is great to take a breather after a full Sunday but I have found over the years that Mondays are better for catching up than taking off (at least for me.) My mentor in ministry, Ray Swartzback, taught me that Monday is the best time to follow up on the pastoral concerns people tell you after worship; it is a good time to return phone calls and make hospital visits, too.

So, that is what this Monday has been: returning phone calls and emails, setting up visits and getting a jump on pastoral concerns. Nothing earth shattering or even life-changing, just a great time to build relationships within the faith community. Like someone once told me, "In this high tech era, we need high touch congregations." Places that take individuals seriously, like the old TV pub "Cheers," where everyone does know your name and are glad that you came!

Which reminds me that one of the truly counter-cultural challenges facing our small, side-lined congregations has to do with cultivating a healthy sense of community - and I think there are two parts to this challenge.
First, so many declining churches are insular and parochial - cliques - that no longer know how to be open to guests and folks outside the fold. God knows everyone in these cliques want to welcome folk into their embrace, but they've been meeting together for so long and doing the same old things with the same old people for so long that they are unable to see what a closed society has been erected. We are joiners - not people who start NEW small groups, as a rule - and one consequence is that we lock people out of our community before they even show up.

The second challenge is built on the first: creating new small groups instead of grafting new people onto the old. On average we have between 70-85 people in worship every Sunday; that means that we must be starting 4-7 new small groups each year so that new friends and guests will feel welcomed. Without this effort, people will fall away and sense that we are not a place of hospitality - something the old timers don't get but which has to be done nevertheless.

I was struck by this again on Sunday morning when I pulled together a small ad hoc singing group to work on "Down to the River to Pray" a la "O Brother Where Art Thou?" Twelve people showed up - two very new women to the congregation - and another 7 people have told me that they would like to be a part of the music. It was a blast: good music, lots of laughter and a time for people to build new connections with one another. Not rocket science, just a gentle way of being together. We'll keep doing this throughout the summer - no midweek practice times, no all or nothing commitments - just come when you can and sing as feels right.

It seems that our members have created a few other very interesting small groups for new community this year, too: an acoustic guitar and singing group for people interested in learning to start the guitar, a knitting group for folks wanting to create prayer shawls for babies and parents and home-bound members, a film and culture movie group that has met to discuss where a sense of God's presence might be found in a host of contemporary films and a small group bringing refreshments to the local peace activists during the worst days of a bitter winter.

It is good to take time on Mondays to reflect on this work. It is good to have the space to work on building connections. "How good and pleasant it is," said the Psalmist, "when brothers and sisters dwell together in... unity." As Dorothy Bass has shown over and over, healthy small churches - and vibrant large congregations - are built on renewing the core practices of our faith - practices of hospitality and singing, honoring our bodies and deepening Sabbath. I give thanks this day for: Monday, Monday...


Black Pete said…
"Down the the River to Pray"? Are you EVER on the right track, my man!
RJ said…
It is SO much fun and the folk are having a ball learning and singing it. Waay too much fun. Thanks.

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