Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Church Juxtaposition

It's hard to describe my relationship with the church. I find church to be both draining and renewing, discouraging and inspiring, and stressful yet calming. I absolutely love the sense of community in our small church, but the leadership is spread so very thin. With only two paid staff members, nearly all the leaders in our church are 100% volunteer based. My current roles include:
  • Christian Education coordinator: Select/Approve Sunday School curriculum, plan events such as Easter Egg hunt, Graduation Breakfast, and Sunday School Kickoff
  • Youth Director: Plan and lead weekly youth group meetings, lock-ins, service projects, etc
  • Session member: Serve on the church's governing board to discuss all behind the scene details such as loan applications, budgets, committee reports, communion set-up, etc; attend meetings (planned and called) and retreats
  • Pastor Nominating Committee (PNC): a 1+ year long process to create a mission study and select the new pastor for our church

Those are just the official titles. They don't include irregular tasks such as reading scripture as lay reader, writing announcements for newsletters,  teaching Sunday School when a teacher cancels, or volunteering in the nursery. As the responsibilities increase, I find myself looking at church as an organization to run rather than a place to worship. At the same time, being so invested in the church is what helps me build relationships and strengthen my faith community. 

In the past few months, I've teetered on the edge of leaving the church. I have one more year on Session and with PNC, so I will see those obligations through. And perhaps with a new pastor, specific causes of tension will dissolve. Anytime I think about quitting, God gives me another opportunity of fellowship and community where I am reminded that this congregation is exactly where I need to be right now. Here are some of those moments over the past two months: 

The quilters club surprised a beloved church member with a quilt. This is the woman that made Jesse and I return to the church when we were visitors five years ago. Our children call her "MawMaw Jack" because she is like a grandmother to them. She's had so many challenges in her life yet she embodies what it means to be a follower of Christ. It was inspiring to witness her humility and gratitude in this moment.

Our church has had several potlucks and dinners over the past few months. This is one of the only times where our whole family (Jesse and kids) attend church together. I love sitting down at a table and sharing a meal with church members. I especially love how other members care for our children.

The church nursery was repainted and decorated a year ago. To not have many children in the church, it is a surprisingly beautiful space filled with toys, books, and nurturing volunteers. I never feel bad about leaving the trio in the nursery.

Youth group meetings have had low attendance this year, which is discouraging. Again, I have to remind myself that we can still have meaningful experiences when there are few in number. In this particular activity, we were discussing how little details create a bigger picture. I gave the teens a picture of a tree and asked them to paint the background with a single color. It was interesting to observe how they saw things differently and had totally different approaches, yet ended with similar results. The point of the activity was to be more attentive to the presence of God and intentionally think about how we perceive things differently.

One of my favorite church events is the annual women's Christmas party. Between meals, stories, handmade ornaments, prayer, and singing-- it's a valuable time filled with strong history and tradition.

Children's Sunday School is my greatest headache. There is a 50/50 chance that no children will attend, which leads to a frustrated teacher. I am not even on the rotation to teach Sunday School, yet I've ended up teaching twice now because volunteer teachers haven't shown up. Still, I find my time encouraging and enjoy interacting with the kids.

The most enriching experiences I've had over the past few months have been cooking and serving dinner with the youth group at a homeless ministry. A few weeks ago the youth made all the beds, cooked tacos, and ate with their homeless neighbors.

Last night we met once again to cook dinner (baked potato bar), eat together, and clean up. It's a joyful experience to be able to put Christ's commandments into action. I make sure to plan meals that require lots of simple tasks. This ensures that the teens feel useful and aren't standing idle. They baked and frosted cupcakes, followed a recipe to make chili, washed and cut vegetables for salad, cooked and crumbled bacon, grilled and sliced chicken, and set everything up to serve. I admire their independence, work ethic, and the fact that they volunteer with such joy. I ask the youth to sit at different tables and make sure to engage the homeless guests in conversation. I walked around and heard laughter erupt at several tables, then saw a teenager holding hands with a homeless man and praying for him at another table. Giving the teens an opportunity to serve has been the greatest ministry for me!

This Saturday I am attending a six hour Session meeting. I don't know all that is on the agenda, but I'm sure it will be another one of those strangely draining yet exciting days. I know I must continue to pray over the church during our time of transition, and pray that God is using me in a way that I can find fulfillment. 

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