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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Ask the Matriarch—Changing Spots

Two things: One, Thanks for all your prayers for the families of those affected by Monday's tragedy. I live in Northern Virginia and several families here have children at Tech who thankfully were not targets, but still feel the impact of what happened. It's very sobering; I used to work in higher-ed administration at a school of comparable size and I can't stop thinking about what I would have done if I wore the shoes of those administrators on that day. How horrible.

Second: Thanks for your prayers for my health. I'm still no closer to better, and typing remains a struggle for me although I'm getting better at typing one-handed. I have a orthopedist appointment on monday, and I'll keep you posted on what happens over at the Lounge.

On to the question for this week: You have leopards. They have spots.

What are some ways of introducing an activity or practice into one's "church culture" where it's not been before? For instance: My tiny rural church never had a narthex, so socializing tended to be done right in the sanctuary. We are expanding our building to include a new sanctuary and narthex area, and some members have expressed a desire—with which I tend to agree—to keep the loud socializing outside the sanctuary, and preserve a sense of quiet inside the sanctuary for worshippers who want to pray, meditate or read before the service. Are there creative ways to get people on board with this without offending too many of the loudly gregarious people?

This week, we welcome a new matriarch to this column: Singing Owl! She writes that even with a large entryway—rivaling the size of the sanctuary, she STILL has problems with people lingering, loitering, socializing (she used the word congregating, no pun intended), particularly after church. "I have had some success by enlisting the GENTLE help of the ushers, who are quietly finding ways to sort of funnel people towards the entry," she says. And there's been times she's needed to periodically remind people from the pulpit that the sanctuary needs to be a place where people can pray, meditate, and so on. "I did a bit of teaching on the place of sacred spaces and why it is good to have them," she writes. "In our denomination, prayer at the front is common, sometimes group prayer, and sometimes individuals. So I sometimes remind people at the beginning of the service that people at the conclusion may want to pray, and to please keep the sanctuary a place to meet with God." Keep the message about socializing in the narthex/entry positive and regular, and that can help.

Jan, who recently moved her coffee hour from the narthex to the parlor, notes that trying something out for a certain period—one month, for example—is a good approach to handling lots of situations: trying a new hymn, a new inclusion in the liturgy, a new way of sitting in worship, etc. "Do it for four weeks and then listen for comments," she writes. "While you'll never please everybody, we've found that the majority is often OK with changes. They just need to get used to it and alter their spiritual muscle memory."

Then there's that old joke: How many [insert denomination here]s does it take to change a light bulb?
[Horrified response]: Change??!!!?!?!

How about you? How do you help your parishioners adapt to a new practice?


  1. change is often painful...but often worth the pain! We moved from regular to cafe church during 2006- there have been problems but the benefits have been wonderful see our Mothering Sunday 2006 service:here
    hope it encourages if nothing else!!!

  2. Here's a suggestion: How about setting up a committee of those very loud and gregarious folks to come up with an idea of how to herd the after worship socializing into the new narthex?

  3. I have a different take. We paid attention to what the community was doing and embraced it. My former rector noticed that people were "congregating" at the back of the church in the mornings. Since we move during our liturgy anyway, we encouraged this by starting the liturgy at the back, around our large baptismal font (it's a big one, like for immersion).

    We have our gathering rite there, then move into the seating area for the Word and move again to the table for the Eucharist. It flows and it's just wonderful. We get the service started by starting the gathering hymn.

    P.S. What's the Lounge?

  4. The lounge is my blog! Sorry about that. Gallycat's Lounge.

  5. Sally, when I get home I need to talk with you. I want to do something similar and I'd love to pick your brain a bit.

  6. Change is necessary to keep us from getting stuck in one place for too long. But, it's still hard. I wonder if we get 'paralyzed' about what we think we're giving up and often need to look at what we could gain.

    A perhaps 'smaller' change but very hard for some of our people was getting a answering device like some businesses have. When people call a church they want a live human answering their call. We needed a few extensions to cover staff and other groups that meet here.

    I suggested we take a fun approach to it and introduce it with a "rap" type poem. We worked one out...I didn't know I could rap until then...and someone who taught music got the congregation involved by having them become the background rhythm. It was mainly telling them in verse what extension belonged to related ones only. So, everyone could participate if they chose to.

    Most received it well and in good humour. It was a hard pill to swallow, so why not use a joyful, fun way to introduce it.

    People also need to know that anything new will need adjusting as we learn how it goes and as we continue to change.

    If your children didn't grow, learn, etc. you'd be checking with them, the doctor, or school and try to find out what is happening. Right?!

    Offering the ministry of listening for those who are having a hard time helps. Getting people involved..all sides can be helpful.

    Besides God, change is the only constant.

  7. Well, you could get downright blunt as the rector of my childhood parish did when he entered the nave and quoted Habakkuk 2.20: "But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him." Of course, that was back in the days of "Father says" when you could get away with that more easily (but perhaps still not pastorally!).

    One idea from our tradition (Episcopal) is to have a "consecration" of the space. We had a congregation here in MD which was had a multi-function space which was used for both worship and fellowship prior to building a new fellowship hall. When the fellowship hall was finished, there was still a sense that the worship space had a "social hall" function (not unlike your situation).

    The rector waited until their parish's feast day (Ascension day) and they had a very special service of blessing and consecration. The new fellowship hall was blessed and "set apart" (those are the key words!) for social events to build up the Body of Christ. The former "multi-function" space was reconsecrated as "sacred worship" space - and they pulled out the incense and holy water to do so.

    The rector tells me it worked amazingly well. People finally had clarity about what activities belonged where - and it was done in the context of liturgy which made it official and everyone participated in the process.


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