by Rev. Racquel Ray, Assoc. Minister (Acting)
When I was a kid I loved school. August, for me, is a time of great excitement. It is a time of planning and organizing. It is a time of preparation. I love the smell of fresh pencils and notebooks. And anyone who has gotten to know me can attest to my love for planners, stickers, and scented markers. I love the flow of the academic year on a college campus beginning in August with orientation and syllabi. I love adding all of the many schedules and activities onto the calendar and color coding the events and people in my calendar system. I love overlapping that planning system with the church Liturgical Calendar and the secular seasonal calendar.
Currently, church staff are all synthesizing various planning calendars and events from all of our ministry teams. Dale and I are merging the Liturgical Calendar with Worship ideas and seasonal events around the fall kick-off, preaching series ideas, guest speakers/preachers, and an over-arching theme. Andrea and I are merging Church School, Youth Group, and Confirmation ideas around the Faith Formation and Youth Ministry team and family engagement opportunities. In co-creative synergy our staff team is innovating ministry within our current contexts around pandemic post traumatic resiliency and rebuilding.
Now is the time to ask, “Where are We?” In the last blog, Rev. Dale wrote about his upcoming visioning retreat (which is next week). The following week, I will be taking a week of retreat visioning also. We are intentionally taking sacred space and time apart from our daily routines to evaluate where we are and where God is taking us.
Last week, I participated in a Rhode Island Minister’s Association (RIMA) Clergy Retreat. We are all asking the same questions: Where are we? And Where are we going? Some ministers are so exhausted, so depleted that they are choosing to NOT rebuild the church to pre-pandemic membership. Instead, they are choosing to embrace the members that attend and deepen the relationships that remain. Of course, the consequence of that are decreased (by about 50%) membership and financial provision for the church. It means less ministry, less programs, and less outreach to the community. Other ministers are being more energetic and co-creative using the time in empty buildings to re-paint, re-build technology, and reach out to members through virtual meetings and worship. All of the ministers are tired. And we’re all trying to discern what God is asking of us as we move forward.
I am not ready to resign myself to decreased membership. I am not ready to accept that our members who are not participating in-person regularly are gone forever. In reaching out to our congregation we have learned that there is definitely a spectrum of risk tolerance and risk aversion. Some folks are not comfortable meeting in person. Others are comfortable meeting in person. And, I’m somewhere in the middle. Our kids are preparing to enter their second year of in-person learning amid the stress of covid. Many of us are working from home and others have returned to their places of professional service.
I am ready to prepare for church growth. I think that when people are again comfortable with meeting in person, they will want to find a place where their spirit is renewed. I think church can offer comfort for the bereaved, conversations around the tough questions, safe fellowship where differences are honored, safe activities for people of all ages, abilities, and identities. I believe the Living Water of Jesus, the renewal of the Holy Spirit, and the unconditional love of God is just what we need. And many people are looking for that.
I will be in my office at church and at my home dining room table busy with planners, stickers, and scented markers. I will be planning, dreaming, and visioning with God. I will be preparing for Back to School and Back to Church. Where are we? Where are you? Where will you be? And how can I help you there?