May I Ask Your Participation?: Old First E-pistle 04.20.18

May I Ask Your Participation?: Old First E-pistle 04.20.18

As long as I have been a minister (now almost 30 years!), I’ve heard church leaders complain. “Everyone expects the church to be here for them, all set and prepared, for whenever they show up, even if or especially when they show up just twice a year! But few people — even regular participants — realize how much work is involved, much less are willing or able to roll up their sleeves and pitch in.”

There’s some truth to that. One of our folks’ mom always says to me: “No matter what, it just is: 10% of the people end up doing all the work; that’s church.”

Another one of you pointed out to me recently and incredibly helpfully, “Church has — not sure why, but maybe because there’s so much of us with a claim on our lives — slipped to a second-tier commitment in most of our people’s lives.”

And finally, the last one of you I’ll begin this E-pistle with today texted me from a wider church meeting where the keynoter had said, “People only come to church once a month on average these days, so your congregation needs to be four times larger just to keep the same size worshipping congregation.”

I tell young pastors that a secret to ministry is to understand that for some reason (one I cannot understand or explain), the needs you meet daily in pastoring will always outstrip your time, energy and talents to meet them. So you just have to make your peace with feeling like you’re not really getting enough done.

And one more bit of my wisdom, People come up with all kinds of great ideas about what the church could or should do. And often they are right. But when even for the best ideas, there’s no one raising their hand to do the work, well, then practically speaking, don’t we have to assume that’s the Spirit telling us ‘Now’s not the time!’?

Why am I writing all this? We are having a Special Congregational Meeting on Sunday. It’s the first of what could become a series of meetings and votes as we begin a path trying to go an extra mile. We’ve offered winter shelter to homeless people for over 30 years. Now we’re considering if partnering with Community Ventures and DePaul USA, we can create permanent, supportive housing for people who had been homeless. It’s a big, complicated process that will take years; and the result could last a generation or more. And Sunday’s vote — the commitments involved — they are only the first of many steps we would need to take to make this possibility a reality.

Is it too much for the pastor to ask in such a moment as this that everyone come out and participate in this Congregational Meeting?

Here’s some other things your pastor would remind you at such a time as this:

Young people who have been confirmed in the last years: you are full members of this church. In this case, that means you can and are expected to show up, listen, learn, ask, share and in the end cast your vote. The same is true of the people who joined the church last week– you have a vote just like someone who has been a member here for 40 years!  

If you are a regular member of this community but not a member, we hope you care about this church and want to be involved in what is going on. While you will not be able to vote, we always begin meetings by giving voice to anyone present. You can participate and be heard too.

Our by-laws prevent people from voting absentee. Because of the importance of this vote before us, many have asked if they could vote, even if they cannot be here this Sunday. Unfortunately, the answer to that is “no”. But the Elders have suggested that members who want to be heard can write their comments out and ask another member to share them at the meeting. It’s not quite a vote, but it does allow you to participate in absentia.

As a church, we should be praying for this meeting. For our congregation in these deliberations. In our polity (church governance system), we are free from the strictures of any outside authority except…. We are free ‘not to do whatever we want; we are free to do no less than what God wants of us.’ Pray for Old First, pray for us on Sunday; pray for our Earth Sunday celebration and for Walter who will be baptized; pray for our leaders; and for every last members’ speaking and hearing such that we can hear each other and God; and pray for whatever the outcome of our meeting…

See you in worship, and afterwards at the meeting, where we’ll still be doing church,