Rev. Grayhame Bowcott
Of all the months in the Church’s calendar, September is, by far, my least favourite!
The perspective of many clergy in the diocese is that September ends up being the month when, in an effort to reboot all ministry activities following the holiday summer months, we find ourselves piling up congregational routines that are so busy that they result in clergy fatigue and the neglecting of relationships in our church families.
In September all of the meetings resume! Deanery clergy meetings, parish council meetings, fundraising meetings, pastoral care meetings, Diocesan committee meetings, worship planning, book study and prayer group meetings – I’m sure you can add a few more to my list! On top of this, some congregations host “Back to Church” Sunday open house months or other initiatives aimed at reconnecting with members who may have drifted away from worship habits over the summer, all the while seeking to also welcome any new members who might “drop in” to check out who we are and what we’re all about.
The greatest risk for many congregations in the month of September is that there is a tendency towards over-exerting our leadership and our calendars with a multitude of activities while at the same time underemphasizing the need for a relational checkup with our membership.
Allow me to present an argument that I believe we all need to be reminded of at the end of the summer each year: Church members need to feel recognized, appreciated and cared for. It is remarkable how far a little bit of deliberate attention goes towards marking someone feel valued and needed in a faith community. Unfortunately, many congregations are better at organizing events, meetings and ‘busy work’ than they are at checking in and checking up with their membership.
Here is one simple routine that allows for a congregation to touch base with its entire membership, whether you are a community of a dozen on a Sunday, or over one hundred: congregations need to REFRESH and RELATE.
REFRESH – an intentional effort of updating the community’s membership list, contact information and new member leads. Each congregation should maintain a membership roster that includes more than phone numbers and emails, but might also include important information such as the year someone joined the church family, and perhaps also important anniversaries (blessings and losses) in the lives of their parishioners. The reason why we collect this information is to be able to express care and concern for our family members at the times when they need it most.
The second aspect of this annual checkup is the RELATE action. The role of caring for our congregations is not something that our clergy can do alone. In fact, the larger our communities are, the less likely a single priest (or even a team of clergy) can effectively touch base with all of the members. The responsibility of membership checkups is something that should be shared among wardens, congregational leaders and clergy – working together!
Each congregation should be encouraged to have a team of volunteers enabled to partner with their clergy in reaching out to their church family in the month of September. This is an opportunity to express appreciation to each and every member of the community. Questions like: Is there anything that we might be able to do to help you? Would you be interested in a pastoral visit? Are there any ministries that you might wish to explore? And, importantly: Do you have any questions for the leadership of the congregation?
The simple act of reaching out to each member of our communities with questions such as the ones mentioned here, allows us to express our care for them. It opens up an opportunity for valuable feedback for our leadership. Most importantly, it allows for us to appreciate and value the individuals and families that make up our faith communities.
By REFRESHING and RELATING to our membership in September, before we find ourselves thrown into the busyness of church activities, we can embody the relational care should be a defining characteristic of each Christian community. Let us never get too busy that we neglect the relationships that are the lifeblood of every congregation’s ministry potential.
Rev. Dr. Grayhame Bowcott is passionate about fostering congregational relationships and sharing our Anglican vocation with others. He serves as rector of St. George’s, The Parish of The Blue Mountains and as Program Director for the Licentiate in Theology program at Huron University.