As noted in the last post, I promised a post about my new church. Before going to the church many times, I already knew there would be differences. I was going from a large, moderately conservative, diverse church with blah carpet and chairs to a small, conservatively progressive, nearly homogenous church with a beautiful interior. I was going from a church with multiple education classes, multiple services, women’s groups, men’s groups, many youth groups and activities, several nurseries, countless programs, a thirty-ish people choir, plus a praise team with many instruments including drums, songs on the wall, and so many people it split into parishes to a church with basically one class, a choir of 8-15 depending on the Sunday, mostly organ accompaniment, sometimes piano, and the occasional special music of handbells, violins, or flute, a couple of junior high students, only one child younger than they, maybe fifteen college students, several graduate or young professionals, and the remainder of the congregation is middle aged or older, a hymn book and a second “modern” songbook from perhaps the late 90s, and small enough congregation to gather in a room at the back of the sanctuary that’s just a hair bigger than my living room for fellowship after each service.
Still with a much smaller congregation, I have needed time to learn names. Thankfully, shortly after I began regularly attending, we got a new minister (oh yeah, I started going there and really liked the minister, and then he retired and a new one began so...more transition) and there was a need for the congregation to wear nametags. I appreciated this as I was getting to know people, and often, if I included my new last name, people would realize my connection and give me a jolly welcome. Weekly fellowship time after the service, coupled with the many potlucks, dinners, and service activities (usually paired with a potluck...haha) has given me the opportunity to meet a lot of the people. For a somewhat shy person who reluctantly mingles, this has been a nice way to break me into knowing a congregation. It took several years for me to find people at the former church, and that was one of my worries coming into this church. They have all been warm and welcoming, make it a point to talk to me, and I am getting to know them.
Also shortly after we married and in my early months attending the church, a group of young graduate students and professionals formed. We meet Thursday evenings, usually over dinner and drinks. We pick a topic, and we talk about it, Jesus, and the world. Sometimes we discuss rest or Sabbath, sometimes we discuss parables, sometimes we discuss prayer and the Holy Spirit. Not only has this met my need for meeting people of our age and forming relationships, but it has met my need for deep, philosophical theological conversations. I was concerned when I left my church that I would not have these or take a long time to build relationships where they were possible. There are no small groups or really many groups to connect to and have these discussions. My former church is known for having theologically sound, intellectually deep sermons and people in the congregation. Words from the pulpit and usually in classes or with other congregants were thoughtful and challenged me. I was not sure I would find the same at the new church. I cannot say I have needed to take my journal to note sermon points, but there are some poignant statements, and often I end up thinking more during and after the service about how I should go out and be in the world rather than the clever thing that was said. That seems as good as filling journal pages. The new pastor is also female, and I have not been a member of churches that ordain women. I know some verses that are not for this and some discussions about culture, time, interpretation. Right now, I don’t think Jesus cares so much about whether I hear preaching from a male or female.
One of the things I really love about the church is the way they love others. You walk in and are welcomed. Someone on your pew will say hello. When the peace is passed, you’ll get a dose. After the benediction, you will also probably be asked to join everyone for the fellowship time. One of my first impressions was of people trying to meet me and make me feel welcome. My second was how this very small church is so active in the community. It sustains an incredible number of projects to care about so many across a wide range of issues. They host PACEM, which my former church with so many more members did too. They collect funds for nets to prevent malaria in Africa, a walk to fight hunger and food insecurity. They send people to fight for social justice and community betterment initiatives. They are always collecting food for food pantries, school supplies for needy kids, toiletries for the women at a local correctional facility, Thanksgiving meals for local families. They host potlucks with suggested ticket prices with proceeds going to an organization helping disabled individuals. The list goes on and on and on. It seems there are always at least four or five projects going on. They dream and list big needs and come in their small number with willing hands to meet those needs. I love that. I am drawn to that. I am a part of that. Christ compels us.
That’s the thing about a small church. Everyone is necessary to make it run. Everyone is on a committee. Everyone is needed to meet the needs of the community. In my former church, I was in the choir for a short while and served on a couple of groups, but largely, I could attend the church and absorb without really “being a part” of the work. I could take it in without being noticed, without really being called to give back. (Of course, they ask you to contribute when you become a member, but for the most part, you could fly under the radar without anyone really checking in on you.) In this church, you go away for a vacation and people check in on your one-Sunday-absence. That is kind of lovely. I cannot hide here. I cannot feel the depression or other emotions, withdraw, sit alone, and then leave unnoticed. They need me here. They want me here. It is a scary and wonderful thing to be needed and wanted, knowing your presence builds up the congregation.
In fact, I’ve already been given a “role” of sorts. I am in one of the hospitality groups providing refreshments for the after service fellowship time one Sunday per month. The lady who approached me to join her and one other woman is incredibly sweet, and just how could I say no to joining and helping them? I am currently attending a short class (4 weeks) to learn about the church and denomination. It is the precursor to membership, if I choose to join the church. Right now also happens to be nomination time to committees for the church. I hadn’t even decided on whether I would transfer my membership yet but I was nominated to join the trustees of the church. The trustees are the legal body for the church and also sort of an operations team making sure the building logistics and needs are addressed. It is a three year appointment. Though honored, I had to turn them down since I had not decided on membership transfer, and it wanted to read more about the theology of the church. I’m currently working my way through the social principles guide, and what they stand for really resonates with me.
Methodists are methodological. They address all issues you can think of so thoroughly in ways I have not seen at other churches. Pastors are assigned churches. At first it seemed so different than the Baptist and Presbyterian ways of “calling” pastors that I was used to, but now I kind of understand why. Pastors also are assigned a church for around 4-5 years. This keeps the Word fresh, dissuades congregations for putting pastors on pedestals or creating a harsh environment for those who are not at a good fit, and allows for a natural progression of pastoring larger churches. Pastors are shuffled around as needed, which means churches are not often left struggling and looking for a pastor.
Lastly, I love that they determine the year’s budget based on giving pledges rather than prior year spending or just what they decide they might spend. I have been at churches who come up quite short at the end of the year compared to what they planned to spend and what they did spend. It is hard, there is a lot of pressure on congregants to empty pockets the last weeks of the year, and there are sometimes difficult cuts that have to occur. I do not mean that churches should only know what people intend to give so they have an excuse not to pray or trust God for their needs. This model just seems to allow the church to move in freedom within their budget because they have a decent estimate of what to expect. The people also seem to pledge their money to the church for the next year and then are quite generous with needs and outreach on top of their regular giving.