In all the excitement of regathering, the lack of people signing up to usher barely registers. A few Sundays later, during the prelude, someone asks why the candles aren’t lit on the altar. Suddenly you begin to recognize what’s happening: the church is experiencing a volunteer deficit.
This makes sense after 62 weeks of exclusively online worship. Some have gotten out of the habit of volunteering for various church ministries; others haven’t yet returned; still others may never return.
The reality is that parish ministry will look different in the coming months and even years in ways we have not yet fully realized. Yet this moment offers us an opportunity for a ministry reset, a chance to determine what is essential and, equally importantly, what is not.
What follows are some thoughts on how to proactively address this moment in ministry.
Many folks feel all of the above during the holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. Sadly, these are the terms many clergy persons use to describe themselves during the entire season of pandemic.
We’ve been in Covid time for more than four months now. It has taken a while for us to realize our spiritual needs and desires and our abilities to meet them. The human contact, the Eucharist, the singing together, are all missed sorely. We find some of our spiritual longings are met by Zoom, a technology developed just in time to allow us to see each other, to connect, to gather, to pray together on Sunday.
Still, through the weeks, the end of the day is hard. More and more, people report having trouble getting to sleep, especially if they have checked in on the news in the hours prior. The what ifs, the hows, and the realities of our personal lives, the community and the nation are alarming or frightening or discouraging at best. Those who live alone have no one with whom to process the day, the week, the season. Others welcome a transition from day to night just as much.
In Romans 16, greetings are sent to a variety of people in this Christian community culminating with verse 16, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” Instructive in these verses is that the majority of greetings emphasize the positive works that the recipients have accomplished in their ministry.
Examples of these accolades include: “benefactor of many people”; “risked their lives for me”; “ hard work in the Lord”; “being chosen in the Lord”; “our co-worker in Christ”; “fidelity to Christ has stood the test”; “the first convert to Christ in Asia”; “my dear friend in the lord”; and "being my mother, brother or sister in the Lord".
This Thanksgiving I visited my young cousin who was hosting his first dinner. Just before leaving he said to me, “I now really appreciate all the dinners you’ve hosted over the years. I did not realize what happened behind the scenes as I always arrive in time to eat and then leave after an evening of fun. It’s a lot of work!”
For many years at our church, five large containers of bread and pastries are donated weekly by a local restaurant to our Feeding Outreach Ministry. A new vestry member was surprised on discovering that behind the scenes each week someone had to pick up the containers and bread, and others had to sort and bag the bread and clean the containers, in addition to completing an annual application. We laughed and asked if she thought the “Bread Fairy” did all the work.
"Then he said to his disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.'" (Matthew 9: 37)
Jesus asked his disciples to join him in praying for more help to reach out to the crowds of people seeking God's good news and healing. I wonder if the disciples' next prayer time was filled with asking God for workers. Because, boom, those prayers were answered in the next chapter. Jesus called his disciples together to let them know, "Hey, I found the workers! They are YOU."
He gave them the authority to do some pretty amazing things. Then he sent them out to do them.
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.
Who doesn’t like a good worship service? Fortunately our Episcopal liturgy allows us the flexibility to be very creative in our worship expression. While our clergy has the primary role in designing and delivering these worship experiences, there are many roles for the laity in enabling our weekly and special services.
A real concern for many lay leaders is how to have a lively spirit-filled worship when there is no permanent clergy presence. And if there is clergy how do you provide input without the feeling of overstepping boundaries?
Not all volunteers are created equal.
Or to paraphrase another cultural bastion: Differ’nt strokes for different folks.
A faithful, careful reader of Vital Practices stopped me at church on Sunday to talk about last week’s blog, in which I urged congregations to consider having both greeters and ushers. The reason is to make a clear differentiation between the roles: the ushers focus on assisting in the worship, directing people to seats, handing out bulletins, collecting the offertory, and releasing the pews for Holy Eucharist. The greeters, on the other hand, are for greeting – for offering authentic, warm welcomes, particularly for newcomers.
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built upuntil we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. –
Ephesians 4: 11-13 (NIV)
This message is a reminder to vestry members, altar guild members, deacons, Sunday school teachers, members of all committees and commissions – property, capital campaign, stewardship, outreach, etc. – and to the head of the food pantry, Stephen’s ministry or the ushers: YOU are a gift to the church.
If you are like me, you might not think of your volunteering as a “call.” It might have been your idea, you thought, to use your financial expertise on the endowment board. Or perhaps you just couldn’t say no when asked to serve on the annual school backpack project.
But let’s give God some credit and the glory for positioning His people for service. Christ himself has equipped you and GIVEN you to His church! You’ve been called.