By Ed Thompson
Last Sunday, March 10, we started our second annual Road Show/Listening Tour at Kuhn Memorial Presbyterian Church in Barboursville. It’s a two-hour opportunity to have your Session Records reviewed by Stated Clerk Maureen Wright, to consult with Treasurer/Financial Administrator Rocky Poole about any questions you have regarding your church’s finances, and to talk with me about trends in the Presbytery. In the second hour, we ask some questions to learn more about how your church is doing, and we give you the chance to tell us how we as a presbytery might be able to help your church. This is open to everyone who is interested, not just clerks and treasurers.
There are six more stops on the tour: Wednesday, March 20 at 6:30 p.m. at Beechwood Presbyterian Church in Parkersburg; Sunday, March 24 at 3 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church in South Charleston; Wednesday, April 3 at 6:30 p.m. at Clifton Presbyterian Church in Maxwelton; Wednesday, April 10 at 6:30 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church in Buckhannon; Sunday, April 28 at 3 p.m. at Bradley Presbyterian Church; Sunday, May 5 at 3 p.m. at Church of our Savior in Clarksburg.
(Full disclosure – I’ll miss the stop in Beechwood as I’ll be taking some vacation to meet my granddaughter, who was born on March 2. I had cleared time on my schedule based on her due date, but she arrived two weeks later than we expected.)
One of the things that was reinforced by what I heard last Sunday is how many of our churches are involved in feeding ministries. We support food banks. We help with filling backpacks, so kids don’t go hungry over the weekend. We give and give generously, and we work with other churches in our communities to support these efforts. We’re not trying to do it all by ourselves. One of our churches told me earlier that they had collected more than 2,000 lbs. of food this past year. And they have fewer than 20 members. It blows me away how much we care and how much we do. I also shudder to think what would happen to the people using the food banks if we weren’t involved in these efforts. We’re making a difference.
I was also fascinated by the story of a church that sent a few members to a nearby nursing home every week to play the piano for the residents and to sing some old familiar hymns with them. The church members enjoyed it as much as the people who lived there. They were creating a community. We could also say they were creating a church, or at least extending the presence of the church, in an environment where people were seeking what they offered.
I remember reading a story several years ago about a congregation that sold their building and began to hold their worship services in the dining room of a nearby nursing home. It helped the church because they didn’t have to maintain a building, pay insurance or utilities, cut the grass or plow the snow. It involved people who, while they might belong to another church, could no longer easily attend, but they could get to the dining room for worship. It was a win-win situation.
The story stands out because I’ve never heard of anyone else doing that. I frequently hear churches asking, “How can we attract young families?” or “What do we have to do to attract young people?” Those aren’t bad questions. However, I’m not sure they are the right questions.
It’s one thing to hope that young families or young people will join your church if they’re swarming around your neighborhood. However, if they’ve closed the nearest school so you seldom see a school bus on the street and most of the people you encounter at the grocery store look like they could be on Medicare or belong to AARP, maybe those dreams of young people or young families joining your church are misplaced. Maybe we need to be looking to the nursing homes.
Or maybe we should be looking around our neighborhood. That may take a little extra effort if we’re no longer living in the same neighborhood as our church, but I think it’s probably worth it. If you drive around your neighborhood, who and what do you see? If you took a walk for two blocks in any direction around your church, who would you encounter? Maybe you could just hang out at the local coffee shop, gas station, post office, McDonald’s or Tudor’s Biscuit World, and listen/overhear the conversations going on. I suspect that might tell you something about the needs of your neighbors. If you’re really brave or an extreme extrovert, you might also ask the people you meet, “What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing?”
We’re doing so much good. Our hearts are in the right place. But maybe we need to shift our focus, so we’re not dreaming about the ways things used to be but instead can begin to recognize the opportunities and the people right around us.