How Does Participation in Our Congregation Affect Your Life: Old First E-pistle 10.22.15

How Does Participation in Our Congregation Affect Your Life: Old First E-pistle 10.22.15

There is a closed online-group for UCC clergy. It’s a wonderful resource really. A place where clergy — in most UCC congregations the only “staff person” in their place of employment… and sometimes feeling significant isolation!) — suddenly have colleagues and support. The online-group is a place to talk. To ask questions. A table for discussion; to share ideas, resources. Or simply to trust there’s a sympathetic ear. It’s used in all these ways.

Clergy face complicated situations — interpersonal and institutional — in complex and intimate systems (neither family nor bureaucracies and yet somehow both!). In the nature of our work, we are often asked to hold private information and heavy burdens in confidence. (The addicts who fall off the wagon are among the most difficult for me, but I can feel the weight just as heavy sometimes when someone I hoped to see in church is missing.) Pastoring can be really lonely. To have a place where one can share, even if only virtually, is a godsend.

Some of my colleagues use it to vent (and the happenings they describe often sound familiar!), and others seem to be mostly self-promoting (???). I have found it most helpful for crowdsourcing — getting input and ideas from a wider range of perspectives and experiences than I can possibly have. For example, when Jonathan V. agreed to teach the post-confirmation Sunday School class, he asked about possible curriculae for that age group. I posted and in a couple hours, had an annotated list for us to investigate further.

Other recent posts have included:

~ is there a way for someone to join the church and become a member when they don’t want to stand before the congregation in worship for the covenant promises?
~ help with understanding how Affordable Care Act tax credits work when the employer is a religious institution,
~ how to respond when someone in the church family joins a cult,
~ a discussion of words we use in worship and the bulletin for the offering sequence,
~ a request for recommendations for sites where podcasts can be posted,
~ suggestions about how congregations can take on topics like domestic violence and rape.

Into this heady and practical mix of topics, I posted last week:

“Can anyone point me to studies about whether — and how — involvement in a faith community… for those people who participate ‘regularly’ in a congregation… can introduce, grow and reinforce values that are recognizably different from the culture / society at large? Can a church effectively create a meaningful subculture for people? Or at least, do the stories and teachings, the beliefs and practices folks learn and work with at church influence them, their decisions and lives? Is congregational life an effective teaching method or means of ‘service learning’?”

I continued on:

“I’m not looking for churches to be better or more influential than synagogues or other faith communities — Lord, no! I’d be happy with a study that showed the influence that any part-time volunteer organization — civic groups or bowling leagues! — can have in their members’ lives!

My real question is whether or to what extent the part-time nature and limited engagements with voluntary associations translate into the rest of folks’ time and commitments. Can such voluntary organizations significantly affect the worldview, values and behavior of their participants?

…Not exactly a vocational crisis — LOL — but it seems a pertinent question if we want to evaluate our effectiveness. (Also, as I write this post, I remember it was essentially the question of my M.Div. thesis. Guess I didn’t answer it convincingly! But there’re some comfort in a consistency of my concerns…)”

To which there came no answers, comments, suggestions. Not one. None. The silence was curious, if not deafening.

Maybe everyone was really busy that day? Or maybe it’s a concern that is mine alone, and others couldn’t quite figure out what I was talking about or asking.

I share it with you for two reasons. First, Old First has a lot of librarian / researcher types, and it occurred to me: someone local might know an answer, have a lead, or be able to tell me how to find out.

But, secondly, I also thought: maybe it’s not a study I’m really looking for. Maybe I simply want to poll you all. You can be my study! I’d be really interested in knowing how you might answer questions like:

~ What difference does Old First make in how you live your life? Do things we say and do, believe and practice at church often show up and have an effect well beyond church?

~ What are your values or behaviors that you source back to Old First and our faith tradition? Or that, at the least, you feel that church is supporting you in striving to attain? How is the congregation most effective in teaching them? How is it least effective (or where could it improve)?

~ How would your life be different if church and its stories, teachings, fellowship and service were no part of it?

Let me know.

And see you in church,

Michael