June 19, 2019
Today we consider what it might mean to “Extend your congregation’s spiritual presence beyond church walls.”This is week 8 in our 9 week blog series about ways to connect our church with the wider community. These posts are inspired by the work of Robert Crossman, Ann A. Michel, Kim Mitchel, and Lovett H. Weems, Jr., as found in the article https://www.churchleadership.com/50-ways/50-ways-to-take-church-to-the-community/from the Lewis Centre for Christian Leadership.
This section has 8 ideas to consider. I wonder how we might think about this in our context here at CHWUC. The thought from the original article appears in blue, with my commentary underneath as it applies to us in our context at CHWUC.
Extend your congregation’s spiritual presence beyond church walls
Step 35. Recognize that many “unchurched” people are spiritually inclined but apprehensive about attending church because they feel unwelcome, distrust institutions, or have been hurt in the past.
My grad project at Atlantic School of Theology addresses folks who identify as Spiritual-but-not-Religious in the United Church. My research concludes that The United Church of Canada can be and is (in many cases) a welcoming community for people that are seeking spiritual community, but not interested in subscribing to a particular doctrine. We have doctrine in The United Church of Canada, but the great thing is that we don’t require our members to claim belief in any particular statements of faith to be a part of our communities of faith. If you are interested in my presentation about this subject please visit this link: https://youtu.be/2-WMg6Jr9CE
Step 36. Pay attention to the heightened receptiveness to spiritual engagement around religious holidays such as Easter and Christmas.
We all know that many people who might claim our church as their church only attend worship at Christmas and sometimes Easter. But, here’s the thing, they do still come. There is something about coming here that matters to them and is a part of their own spiritual traditions around these holidays. This is STILL spiritual engagement and such a beautiful time to connect with people who are seeking something by coming here. Imagine what it would be like if they experienced something meaningful and relevant in worship, but also receive a warm welcome from others, and an intentional invitation to future opportunities for spiritual engagement.
Step 37. Offer offsite worship services on special days, such as Christmas Eve, Palm Sunday, and Easter. Select familiar venues where people feel comfortable — parks, restaurants, parking lots, coffee houses.
Now this is a novel idea! What would it look like to offer opportunities for spiritual engagement and worship IN THE COMMUNITY instead of expecting the community to come to us. And this does not mean that we don’t also have worship in the church, but it is about expanding our notions of what worship is and where it has to happen. What would a Christmas Eve service look like at Shubie Park? Or a Palm Sunday parade/hike on the Salt Marsh Trail? We already do a sunrise service on Easter Sunday morning, but how do we really promote this in the community?
Step 38. Offer imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday in public places.
I know for a fact that some of our Anglican Colleagues in HRM did this this past Ash Wednesday and it was well shared on Social Media. This is a very public opportunity to connect with people and something seriously worth considering as you think about engaging the community at large going forward.
Step 39. Partner with other institutions (such as nursing homes, hospitals, or prisons) or commercial establishments (restaurants, bars, shopping centers, or sports facilities) to offer worship services to their constituents or clientele on special days.
This is one area where we are working in the community already. We have a relationship with local nursing homes and have meetings in public places like pubs. The meetings are for us, have we considered how to more publicly invite others to join us for worship in public places like a pub or a pizza joint? It would be an interesting experiment to see who might be interested in sharing in a worship time in these public places!
Step 40. Plan creative outdoor events, such as live nativities or “blessing of the animals” services, to help make your church visibly present to the community in creative ways.
This past Christmas this was done in Windsor, NS and it was a sold out event. People drove from all over the province to attend the live nativity. Is there a way that we could be involved with Cole Harbour Heritage Farm for something like that? Imagine the possibilities
Step 41. Hold your Vacation Bible School in a local park or recreation center. Canvas nearby neighborhoods to invite families.
Have we considered this idea? Of all the ideas that we have considered in this set, I’m not as convinced by this one. We also have to consider that the building that we do have is a great resource and not far out of the community centre. We have an excellent space for Vacation Bible School here. The work then is to make sure we are able to inform and invite our community to it, and like our intention with worship and spiritual engagement opportunities, make it meaningful and relevant to the kids and families that take part.
Step 42. Reach out to local media. Community outreach is often newsworthy, and reporters are often looking for religiously themed stories around the holidays.
This. This. And all of this. Sometimes as church folks we have been shy about letting others know what is happening because we are so afraid of being “that kind of Christian” that brags about church and has a conversion agenda. As a result, our willingness to share the great news about what our church is about and what it is doing in the community is sometimes the best kept secret. Churches that preach hate and division get a lot of attention and it is high time that those of us that are actually practicing what we preach and striving to love our neighbours like Jesus taught us get BOLD and LOUD and share so others come to know God and God’s love through our good work. The God that people see in the media is so often one of fear, shame, and judgement and those of us who know better need to shout that from the rooftops. Let’s let Love speak louder than Hate!
In the Peace and Love of Christ,
Minister of Spiritual Care