[In the past] While preparing for [worship], there [were] a relatively small number of people at Coffee Hour. I would have multiple requests for things, but usually they were not so overwhelming that I could not remember them. I joyously find myself serving a larger congregation than I had thought, but Coffee Hour has become a challenge because of the number of people bringing different things to me during this time. I can no longer remember them all, and find myself exhausted and stressed at the end of the time. How do I gracefully handle this (pleasant) challenge? (I don't want to discourage people from approaching me, just from thinking I have the memory of an elephant.)
Perplexed and caring pastor
Matriarch Jan offers the idea of setting Sunday aside for worship and avoiding the business of church on that day:
Because you are not an elephant, nor their "ecclesiastical honey do-er" let them know - first via your leadership boards and then via the newsletter or announcements to all others - that it would be helpful for them to write down any messages they wish you to have following or before worship. If they don't write it down then you can't ensure they'll be addressed.
Some congregations have a deacon or other assistant stand beside the pastor after worship with a pad and pencil to write down what people say. This hasn't worked in our congregation because it felt strange and frankly made me feel like I was trying to be all that.
I simply say, "I really want to remember what you're telling me, so please write it down or email me on Monday." It is a wonderful problem to have so many people around with things to say.
Another issue to address involves a more serious shift in your congregation's culture. Sunday is set apart for worship. Yes, the pastor and other leaders are standing there and it's incredibly tempting to do ask the pastor if she's free for lunch Tuesday or to ask the deacon if he could order more communion cups. But it's the leaders' worship time too. We have tried to set a rule that there is "no church business" before, during, or after worship if at all possible. Using Sunday mornings (if that's when you worship) to touch base with the Building & Grounds coordinator to talk about new lighting ideas or to schedule things with the pastor distracts from everybody's worship. (We sometimes have to have official meetings before worship but it's not easy. Last Sunday I was finished with that meeting exactly 3 minutes before worship started. Not exactly the way you want to prepare to lead prayer, etc.)
It sounds like your congregation is growing - which is good. But growth means things also have to change - which is also good, but not everyone will see it that way.
St. Casserole writes:
Carry a small notebook with you to write down information. I use this method to remember the variety of things I'm told "in passing" by my congregation.
As you greet people after worship, you may find it useful to have a member stand behind you with paper and pen to record any information you wish to remember. You'll be careful with private information and so choose a trustworthy person for this job.
I certainly know that challenge of being told or asked things that I cannot always remember. A number of years ago, I concluded that I could let people know how important their concerns are to me by making sure I receive them in a workable form. Two primary practices come to mind:
First, I let people know that I want and need to be able to visit with a wide number of people on Sunday mornings -- before worship, after worship, and in the Community time ('coffee hour'). To that end, if someone begins a conversation that clearly deserves and/or requires more time and focus than I can give it and still move on to talk with others, then I suggest that this person set a time for a visit with me. The person will not feel brushed off, if I say something like "I really want to talk more with you; let's set a time to get together."
Second (more directly to your point) -- I simply say to people, "Oh, I want to be able to check on that, would you please write that down so that I won't forget it." They can hand it to me and I put it in my pocket -- and then empty my pocket of notes onto my desk after the coffee hour. Or when, as of happens, someone wants to give me something during that time that they want me to read, comment on, etc., I just say, "Oh, thank you, I don't want to lose track of that - Would you please put that on the desk in the office for me?!"
I find that if people know that I am asking them to help with communication in this way because what they are telling me is important to me then they are happy to do so.
Rector in Hawai’i suggests that if notes end up in the wash instead of her desk:
I've finally learned to ask them to email me the next day because I can't remember everything in the controlled chaos of a Sunday morning. Or I ask them to write down whatever it is and slip it under the office door. (I tried putting those slips in a pocket but they ended up going through the wash.)
It's also a good idea to put short notices in the newsletter and Sunday leaflet asking for their 'help' in helping you to remember their needs. This way they all know that it's really difficult to remember everything and you're not picking on one or two in particular. I've found parishioners are more than willing to 'help' me remember. Just don't forget to acknowledge their need first.
Wise layperson offers the member's point of view:
Be up-front with folks about your desire to remember their requests. I would suggest any of the following (depending on your comfort level):
-- Let folks know that coffee hour is not the best time to come to you with requests (especially if it is between services). Ask them to contact you during office hours or by email with details of their concerns/ ideas
-- Carry a small notebook or PDA with you and make a note as the request is being made.
-- Ask people who make requests of you to follow up with you by a certain day if they haven't heard from you (even if you write it down it might drop to the bottom of the pile during the week).
-- Find ways to remind people (without whining) that, they are many and you are one and it may take you a while to get round to everything and that if you forget or are slow to respond it is not that you are intentionally ignoring them.
Since you say your are finding Coffee Hour exhausting as a result of all of the requests I would suggest that you go with the first option on my list. Tell people that coffee hour is just not the best time to give you one more thing to remember.
Other things you can do:
-- Delegate: if your congregation supports a staff, point the person with the need at the correct staff person to handle the issue.
-- Breathe: be intentional about how you approach coffee hour. Think about what you want to get out of that time and stick to your guns.
-- Don't let anyone corner you for more than 3 minutes and don't hang out with the same few people each time. If Coffee Hour is your chance to move among the congregation in an informal way then don't let it turn into a business meeting. Let folks know that you really want to preserve this time as a chance to 'be with them' and not 'work with them'.
Long time rector encourages people to call her during the week:
I ask people to call me on Monday morning to follow up and have a longer time to chat than we can at coffee. I am not embarrassed to tell people "I think I can remember everything, but really I can't - so help me on this and give me a call to remind me during the week"
Great ideas for controlling the chaos and I would add that I tell people to call me or the secretary Monday, email me or write me a note and leave it on my desk. I also refer them to the staff or ministry leader who covers that area if possible. I find this sorts out the priority of the requests for people and starts them on the road to solving their own problems. The person can then take responsibility for whatever the issue is and work with me. if needed, for further resources. It tells them that I think it is important enough to set aside time for them and puts the ball in their court. It discourages dependency and spreads out the responsibilities.