We are all aware of the need to have our church buildings be accessible. Federal and state regulations mandate the physical requirements for access. Our Welcoming Forums from years past highlighted the importance of this issue. However, many of our churches are still not in full compliance for physical accessibility. Most have ramps, some have accessible bathrooms, but movement from one floor to another is still an issue. I recently attended a breakfast event where the church hall was on the second floor with winding stairs. Chairlifts and elevators are expensive so the required upgrades are often not made. A reminder that there are grants available to assist organizations to become compliant, therefore we need to be more vigilant about seeking these funds. The consequences are the deterrence of persons from attending church and clients from accessing outreach programs.
I’m back home preparing for my father’s funeral at the end of this week, and I’ve learned quite a bit being on the receiving end of pastoral care from a local church.
My dad, Dale Bentrup, is a lifelong Lutheran and a stalwart at the two churches he’s attended in my lifetime. His pastor, a dear friend of mine, has been a source of great comfort for my mom and family. And the outpouring of love and support from parishioners has taught me more about the role of the church than three years in seminary ever could.
Of all the word pictures and metaphors used to describe the church, one has always stuck with me: family. But as I’ve thought about it some this past week, I’ve decided that “family” isn’t a very good metaphor for the church.
No, this post isn’t about Drive Through Ashes. Instead, it’s about how God can even use my addiction to Diet Dr Pepper.
Since I started at my parish in July, I’ve probably stopped by our local Sonic at least twice per week to grab my morning caffeine in the form of soda. It’s always the same car hop bringing me my food with a smile and a warm welcome. If some people become friendly with their neighborhood barista, I’ve got my neighborhood car hop.
I’ve been reading a lot of books about “neighboring” recently (see -1>here or -1>here for a couple I recommend). The underlying principle is that we should seek to mold our churches (and parishioners) into good neighbors. That’s the essence of the “parish,” isn’t it? To serve the local community, the area in the defined borders of the parish.
My only lived experience of the 20 century was in its last twenty five years, and I don’t even remember all that much of it, but I do very clearly remember that one Sunday morning a pastor in my somewhat stiff Congregationalist church announced we were going to do a new thing – we were going to turn to our neighbors and offer, what he called, ‘the sign of peace.’
“Shake their hand, give a hug, look them in the eye and say, ‘Peace be with you,’” he invited the somewhat bewildered congregation to do.
This actually came easily to them, in fact, for in spite of the carefully scripted nature of Congregationalist worship – what I later learned was nothing less than a beautiful, exalted Sunday Morning Prayer service – there was always extended chit-chat and “Good mornings” and “How are you today?” in the large, albeit acoustically-live narthex on our way into the church itself. And so it was on that Sunday, much later in the 20 century than its mid-point, when “The Peace” was introduced at Bethany Union Church of Chicago that I remember my mom and dad turned around to those sitting nearby and said ‘Peace, peace, peace,’ and received from others ‘Peace, peace, peace.’
How can we meet better? This month we offer five resources to help your vestry or other church group have more engaging and productive meetings. Please share this digest with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices’ to receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.
Lynne Switalski was just coming off a 3-year Vestry term when she was asked to be the Senior Warden at Saint Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church in South Bend, Indiana. Nine months into that position, the Rector announced he had accepted a call at another parish. Lynne was propelled into a Rector search process, office cleaning and reorganization, and hiring a secretary. With a smile, she calls this her “trial and error learning phase.” Now, with 6 ½ years of experience, Lynne offers these pointers for new Senior Wardens:
Perhaps one of the most notable hallmarks of our Anglican liturgical tradition is rich, resonant choral music. It’s something we’re really good at, and it’s something for which our tradition is well known. Just this past week, in fact, it was breaking news that St. Paul’s Cathedral in London appointed a woman, Carris Jones, as chorister – ‘Vicar Chorale,’ being her exact title. “First female chorister in 1,000-year history,” one headline ran. 
But beyond the sheer heavenly beauty of Anglican choral music, and besides the fact that news headlines are always going to be quick to point out the sensational and ground-breaking, what is it about choirs and choral music that is so important to our Christian worship tradition? Is it merely it’s beauty and quality? I actually hope the answer to that is ‘no’ or, at least, ‘not entirely.’ If the thing we prize about our rich choral tradition is nothing much more than its professional quality and beauty, then that might be part and parcel of why our churches fail to grow, year after year. What’s the difference, then, between a museum piece or something that can be found in a concert hall and what the church, as church, is doing in the neighborhood?
Nearly every morning, I enjoy morning prayer time with a group of friends. I think most of us are Episcopalians, but I don’t know for sure. We come from all over the United States, the Caribbean, and beyond. We read a meditation on the appointed scriptures for the day. We share our thoughts about it, enjoying the rich diversity of our experiences and vantage points. Sometimes we share memories or words to songs that speak meaning into the day’s subject.
We’ve done this so long now, we call each other family. Sometimes people share their worries, ask for prayer, or admit struggles and questions. In response, many prayers and words of encouragement offered. New people easily come into the mix and are welcomed. Anyone can participate.
My daughter’s Montessori school is in transition. The dynamic husband and wife who founded the school more than twenty years ago are devoted Montessorians and have had a profound impact on our local community and, indeed, my own family. But now they are preparing to sell the school, and they have a buyer – in fact, a former teacher at the school, herself a gifted educator, and her husband are getting ready to take the reins.
Even though my siblings and I grew up in parochial Christian schools – my parents made great sacrifices to send us there – I’ve personally never experienced the sale of a school. In and of itself, it’s a strange concept to my mind; our elementary school was connected to a Lutheran congregation, and our high school was part of the Christian Reformed tradition. It’s a strange place in which to be, committed to a school and watching our daughter truly grow and develop, now in the third grade, in the careful and beautiful environment of a Montessori curriculum, while also preparing to go along with what will undoubtedly be change, probably significant change. Even as the new owners promise that the same ethos and standards will continue, I know some kind(s) of change will come.
An often overlooked aspect of our ministries is the need for and importance of transportation. It has potential impact on every demographic within our church, every ministry, our outreach, our finances and our viability, yet is rarely discussed. Examples of transportation impact are as follows:
Our youth depend on parents or guardians to be dropped off; without that reliable access they do not attend Sunday school, confirmation classes and youth events.
Our seniors may have discontinued driving, or are uncomfortable with public transportation and may be leery of coming out at night, limiting their participation in important church events.