Summertime and the Living is Easy

Summertime and the Living is Easy

 It is interesting that Unitarian Universalist congregations have historically slowed down during the summer months of July and August.  Do you know why that is?  Before 1940 the majority of people in the United States lived in rural areas.  Most were farming families or were involved in supporting those farm families.  Schools closed to allow the children to help out in growing and harvesting the crops that sustained the communities.  Most of the food grown was consumed within a short radius around where it was grown.

Today, we import and export food around the world and a small percentage of the population manages to produce, harvest, and ship that food.  I get produce from California and Florida as well as South America.  The meat might come from the southwest.  Grains come from Iowa and Nebraska. 

Our churches were also small with a rural flavor outside of the larger cities.  Being farmers, they also needed to work more during the growing season.  The urban churches had people who would seek cooler climates during the hottest part of the year so they would head to the mountains or the seashore.  The ministers would do the same.  Many churches would close their doors for two to three months and open again when the weather turned more pleasant.  This was before the wide spread use of air conditioning in buildings. 

But today we are a more mobile society.  Many people relocate in August to get settled before the school year begins for their children.  They also seek out new religious homes for themselves during this time.  As a result, many churches have started having a more full program of worship and religious education during the summer months.  When I served a parish in Florida, we used to only meet every other week for a light program.  I urged them to go to a full schedule of services and also preached at least three or four Sundays during the summer.  This allowed us to be more welcoming to those seeking new communities of faith. 

So while this issue is focused on self-care, I am also telling you to not forget the new folk who will be seeking a new church home.  So how do you do both?

You plan for the time away but make sure that someone is minding the store during that time.  You plan for people to take vacation and you plan for keeping the programs vital and vibrant. You don’t allow the “B” team to do all the worship.  You train them to be substitute “A” team members who keep the quality of worship and other programs as high as possible.  If you plan accordingly, then leaders can take care of themselves and get the needed rest to recharge the batteries.  They leave knowing that they have people who will continue to offer meaningful worship and religious education for those who are still in the community. 

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New Beginnings

sunrise_10New Beginnings

 The cycle of a church year is based upon the school year in most cases.  Students begin school in late August in most of the United States.  Ministers start new settlements in congregations in August and opening Sunday is usually the first Sunday after Labor Day.  There is some ceremonial marking of this welcome to the new program year.  Some congregations hold a water communion service which welcomes back all who had been absent from church over the summer due to travel or other reasons.  It also is a time of welcoming new people who have moved into the community and are seeking a new religious home. 

What is your church doing to make new people welcome?  Have you spent some time cleaning out closets and rooms of the accumulation of stuff that is no longer used?  Have you polished up the wood?  Cleaned the floors?  It is said that you only have a few minutes to make a strong impression on someone new.  Are your signs noticeable to direct people to the sanctuary?  Does your parking lot designate spots for visitors?  Are they near the front door?  Are your greeters and ushers trained to welcome new people appropriately? 

Welcoming is a job for the whole congregation.  It won’t do for most people to pay no attention to newcomers.  Greeting people that you don’t know is everybody’s task.  It doesn’t matter that they may have been members for some time.  You don’t know them and this gives a chance to meet new friends. 

Some of the best welcoming that I have ever seen in a congregation started in the parking lot as people got out of their cars.  They were greeted warmly and directed toward the front door by a member of the congregation stationed for just that purpose.  As the new people approached the front door, they were greeted by another member who directed them to the guest table to obtain a name tag.  If there were children present, another greeter from the RE department talked to the parents, took them to the RE area to show them where their child would be, and let them know how they would be contacted during the service if that was needed.  An usher helped the new people to find a seat and gave them an order of service.  The usher noticed if the new people needed any assistance devices such as a headset or large print order of service. 

There was a part of the service where people were encouraged to turn to others near them and greet them warmly.  After the service, members invited the newcomers to join them in the coffee hour and showed them the way.  They introduced the newcomers to others and discovered something of common interest so that the newcomers would feel more comfortable.  Attentive members made sure to bring the newcomers over to the minister so that the minister could have a chance to chat with them. 

As the newcomers were leaving, they were encouraged to come back.  They were also invited to attend other events throughout the week that might be of interest to them.  Later in the week, a phone call was made to them to answer any questions and again thank them for attending and hope that they would return. 

This way of intentional welcoming will result in people feeling well cared for and wanting to come back into the community.  So it doesn’t matter that your congregation is fifty or five hundred, urban, suburban, or rural.  What does matter is the way you go about welcoming the newcomer into your midst.  If Unitarian Universalism has any chance of growing, it will be because of every congregation paying attention to the little things that keep people coming back, getting involved, joining, and adding their gifts and talents to the fabric of the congregation.

I hope that your new program year starts strong and stays that way and that you focus your energy to attracting and keeping the many people who would love to be Unitarian Universalists.

Yours in the Faith,