February 22, 2017

Getting Outside of Our Churches

For many, their only worship experience or connection with other Episcopalians are in their home congregations. There are churches that are less than a mile apart and as individuals or congregations we have never visited or seen the inside of our neighboring churches. 

The reasons given for being strangers to each other are many: we are too busy; they are “high” church and we are “low” church; we didn’t know there was another Episcopal church nearby; their members are of another ethnic or cultural background; it is hard to plan logistically given worship times, etc. How can we be welcoming and inviting to non-Episcopalians when we find it so difficult to exercise that habit among ourselves? 

Back in the day, people use to do “pulpit exchanges”, where the choir and clergy from one church would switch with a neighboring church. Are we still doing those? This great idea was an opportunity to experience a different worship leader, music, liturgy, and expand our circle of friends. Also done in the past, and some still participate in today, are joint Lenten programs where congregations share a meal and reflection for Lent, alternating the hosting church. 
No matter what we are experiencing in our home congregations, positive or negative, as lay or clergy, as a current or prospective leader, other congregations have experienced the same. So there can be practical and financial benefits for our mutual exchanges. Examples include getting references from each other for the use of service companies and going beyond that to leveraging our size to obtain group discounts. In our outreach programs, with collaboration, we can have greater influence and impact in our communities and also have a larger pool of volunteers. We can share clergy for congregations struggling without a priest, we can have joint leadership meetings to discuss common issues. 
Most important for us as individuals and the church to grow spiritually it is essential that we not stagnate in our worship practices and experience Christ anew not only in our own but also neighboring congregations.