Pastor’s Page October 2018
October brings us deeper into fall. It’s a season of turning, falling, and raking leaves. It’s the season of Halloween, pumpkins, costumes, and trick-or-treat. It’s also Season of Stewardship at FCC. As we think about church restart, it’s important for us to consider once again our stewardship practices as individuals and as a church.
Ministry requires resources. There are no two ways about it. As a church we count on gifts of time, gifts of service, and gifts of financial resources to make our organization go. In the context of church restart, those gifts become even more critical.
It takes a lot of time, talent, and treasure for the things we are considering: relocating, rebranding, reaching new people, building relationships, clarifying vision, growing, and developing ministries that truly reflect the needs of Stamford rather than the sorts of things we would prefer to do. Restart is demanding, so not only do we need to continue to grow in our giving, we need to focus the resources we have for the greatest impact for growth. This means letting go of everything that isn’t essential to the heart of our mission.
The saying is that money follows mission. The good news is that restart offers us the opportunity to refocus the bulk of our resources on mission. We are anticipating shifting a large piece of the time, talent, and treasure we have spent on our building to focusing on people: building up people, loving people, reaching people, helping people connect to God. A church is first of all people, and restart creates the opportunity to invest in people in new and significant ways. So I’m hopeful that even as our financial picture continues to evolve, every one of us will deepen our stewardship practice. Now is the time to invest in our future.
What a fun event this past Sunday! I’m grateful to Sandy Goldstein and Lynn Colatrella from the Stamford Downtown Special Services District for working with us on a last minute community partnership with the Bark in the Park event. We teamed up to offer a pet blessing to the folks gathered for a celebration of our canine family members.
The point of these kinds of events is for us as a congregation to get beyond our walls and make contact with people in the community who are not yet members of our church. As Mr. Rogers sang, “There are many ways to say I love you.” Offer to bless people’s pets is saying “I love you” to our neighbors. It’s fun. It’s easy. And, as you saw, people will line up to make that connection with us if we are willing to put ourselves out there to meet them.
Making these kinds of connections cannot be only the work of the pastor and staff. We had several congregation members who took advantage of this opportunity to offer blessings. Some folks handed out the treat bags we had prepared. But my intention in this was to give you, dear congregation member, the easiest, most convenient opportunity for you personally to reach out and make your own connections. This is how we share our faith. This is how we grow. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “I have said these things that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). Complete joy is complete giving, complete offering of your heart to your neighbor. There’s no other way that I know of to do this than just to throw yourself into the experience, to step into the crowd, to say “Hello,” to smile. “Would your dog like a treat bag?” “What’s your dog’s name?” “Tell me about your pet.” “Does your pet have any needs I can pray for?” Every one of us can do this. Every one of us needs to learn to get comfortable with this sort of personal engagement because this is a big part of the work of church restart. As I’ve said before, our future is in the people who are not yet members of our church.
In a 2016 article for Ministry Matters, United Methodist pastor Joseph Yoo writes, “John Wesley would open up all small group meetings with the question “How is it with your soul?” That’s a far deeper question than, “How are you?”
I mean, how is your soul doing? How is your spirit faring? Really, how are you?
It’s a jarring question because we often ask, “How are you?” out of habit and usually get impatient when someone has the nerve to actually tell us how they are doing.
Perhaps it’s a question we like to avoid because answering it forces us to really take stock on the health of our souls — which often leads to admitting that we may not be doing as well as we want others to think.”
We find ourselves beginning the program year at First Congregational Church of Stamford with many familiar things: worship, Sunday school, Bible study, Thrift Shop, ministry team meetings, and Prudential Council meetings. Other things seem less familiar and more uncertain: talk about selling our building, meetings of a “restart” team, a budget process that’s more complicated than usual because these big questions of space, location, and identity that have seemed settled for so long are now much less so, which makes it harder to plan income and expenses.
In times like these it’s important we ask ourselves and each other, “How is it with your soul?”
Rev. Yoo continues, “This question steers me to analyze my life and my habits. What are the things that I’m engaging in that bring my soul closer God? What are the things that I’m doing that are putting a wedge between God and myself? What are the things that I’m doing in my life that really make my soul shine brightly and flourish? What are things I’m engaged in that are draining the life out of my soul?”
How is it with your soul? In these unsettling times it’s important that each one of us prioritizes those things that bring spiritual health and wellness.