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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ask the Matriarch - Product Parties

Our question this week is an interesting and tricky one, and one I'm betting many of us have had to deal with. As far as I know, our male counterparts don't typically encounter this particular issue, and it's not something I ever learned about navigating in seminary!

Since I've been at my first call, I've gotten several invitations to home parties - the ones where someone is selling jewelry, home decor items, kitchen stuff. Before I became a pastor, I normally only went to the parties if it was for a really good friend, or I liked the brand. Personally, I find much of the stuff to be overpriced and I don't like feeling like I have to buy something that I really don't need or want.

As a pastor, I'm concerned that if I attend someone's party but not someone else's, it will offend the one whose party I don't attend. And I would feel like I had to buy something to be nice.

Is it part of my pastoral function to attend all these home parties? How do other revgals handle the invitations?

kathrynzj writes:
GREAT question!

When I was in a church of 150 members, I went to them, but I would not change plans in order to go. And yes, I came and went without buying anything. Now I am in a larger congregation and I go to none. If I actually want something (I like a certain brand's bread mix) - I get it from a non-church going friend.

And I know you didn't ask, but in a similar vein - kids selling stuff? At the smaller church I bought one something from each of them who asked me (if their parents brought it to me I told them gently to have the child ask me themselves). In the larger church I buy nothing from anyone nor does my kid solicit at church. The bill would just add up to too much.

Good luck!

Muthah+ responds:

This is one of those barrier-straddling things of parish ministry that is difficult.  Used to be that if you could buy locally as a pastor you did.  You bought your car from the car dealer in the parish, your medical care was often a doctor or dentist in the congregation, your insurance was carried by a local agent.  Many of your needs were provided by in-kind donations from the community you served from eggs to carpeting.  And in the good ole days the young curates were paired up with local daughters and they lived happily ever after.  (yeah, right!)
The Baby Boom changed all that.  Everyone after the 1960's caught the entrepreneurial bug and economics became the name of the game, not the commonweal.  Here endeth the history lesson.
Personally I hate those kinds of parties. And I know that many of those parties come from the party giver's need to sell.   However, I do not need to buy.  When someone invites you, you can explain quietly to the hostess that you do get invited to many of these kinds of parties and you cannot buy from them all.  If they want you there because you are a friend, go and do not feel obligated to buy.  Most of them will understand.  If they don't, then you don't want to give your imprimatur to their parties. 

And Sharon offers:
I served in one very rural ministry context and those parties were a big part of the social life of the congregation and the community. In that place, I went to all the ones to which I was invited. I could always find a little something that I could save for a family Christmas gift. Looking back, that was the right decision to make there.

In the other churches, I have just thanked each person for the invitation and declined each one. I do regularly buy a category of things that are offered at those kinds of parties. I get those things now from someone who is not connected to my church. If I lived closed to my relatives or to my friends not related to the church I serve, I would be fine with picking and choosing some of their parties to attend.

Whether it's about these kinds of parties or the stuff that kids sell for school and clubs, the important thing is to think through your reasons for doing what you will do, or won't do. Then respond consistently with all the members of your congregation.

My experience is that your church people will understand your decision to not attend their party or to not buy their kids' stuff. They will not as easily understand your decision to say "yes" to some and "no" to others.


Great responses, matriarchs. Thank you!! What about the rest of you? What are your words of wisdom? Please share in the comments section. And as always, if you have a question you'd like the matriarchs to discuss, please send it to us at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.



  1. I would say that if the parties are selling something you would want to buy anyway, then go. If not, don't.

    I occasionally get invited to such events, but it is my busy schedule that gets in the way most of the time, and the congregation seems to understand.

    The few people who feel I favor one group over the other don't seem to need "evidence" to prove their feelings anyway. (In other words, they can't actually show that I have attended X's silpada party but declined Y's tupperware party.)

    I am more likely to face this dilemma when I have my own parties. I like to entertain. So, I have some fellowship events (Advent potluck dinners, summer bbq's, etc) for the church at my house every year where anyone can sign up.

    It is imperfect, but it seems to work.

  2. Mercy, how I dislike those parties, where we feel compelled to buy stuff we don't need in order to maintain relationships! I know that some people need the money very badly, but disguising charity in this way promotes an unhealthy economy based on a never-ending flow of cheap junk. (Disclaimer: I know it's good stuff, but it's still not necessary or even important.)

    Here is what I have said, VERY GENTLY but very consistently: "A pastor's salary is not large, and our manse is small, so I must decline to purchase [whatever], but thank you so much for thinking of me. Is there a time we can get together soon [for coffee/to walk around the park/to view the new show at the local arts center/etc.]?

    I do think the salary piece is an important component. I am as disturbed as anyone by the income inequity in this country, but when a tentmaking, tithing pastor is seen as someone who can afford Silpada and should buy it because a congregant needs the money, we are not seeing clearly.

    And don't get me started on kids selling wrapping paper and magazine subscriptions (although ... Girl Scout Cookies are a whole 'nother thing!).

  3. I usually graciously decline...often because of "schedule." Once or twice I've gone to Pampered Chef parties, but then again I want basically everything they sell, so....yeah.
    The kids soliciting at church actually got so crazy here a couple of years ago that the session made a rule that they can't do that--kids are free to contact people they know from church via email or phone, and if we're asked we will provide info on who is a Girl Scout or Boy Scout for cookie or popcorn purposes, but kids aren't supposed to be pouncing on unsuspecting church members during coffee hour.

  4. on the day my appointment to Most Holy and Undivided was announced, on THAT VERY DAY, I had a phone call from a clergy colleague in the diocese, to point out that obviously now I needed more life insurance and needed to purchase it from HIM.

    And almost the first conversation I had with a parishioner in the new posting, was initiated by the parishioner to point out that obviously now I needed a Nice Little Car of the brand he sold for a living.

    There isn't a body-wash MADE that can deal with THAT kind of ick.

  5. I haven't been invited to such parties here (TBTG, because I've never liked them) but my response would pretty much match Kathryn's. Kids selling stuff is hard; in this parish we don't have very many children so I might consider trying to support them if asked, but it hasn't happened yet. As for GS cookies, again, no GS in my congregation, but at a previous parish the mothers realized that there might be a competition issue and worked out a system for the girl scouts in the parish to have a table and share the sales which worked well (everyone wants GS cookies!)

    And what about supporting/sponsoring people for charitable walks etc? Again in a large parish that can get expensive, no matter how worthy the cause.

  6. As an Interim it was a lot easier to say no. :-)
    Both my settled calls have been in smaller churches. In the first, the Ladies Evening Guild held Tupperware parties as a fundraiser. In that case, I went, but I bought something modest I could actually use. They knew how little they paid me (really, not much at all for a full-time pastor), so they didn't pressure me to do more.
    In both that church and my current setting, I've had one Girl Scout family, and in both cases I've bought from those girls. I did not, however, let my Girl Scout sell at church, which annoyed her quite a lot. I learned this from my dad, who was a U.S. Senator and would not let me sell things (for school or Scouts) in his office. As he pointed out, how could his staff say no? I felt much the same way about the church members. At least I went door-to-door with my daughter instead of sending her out alone the way my parents sent me!

  7. With the GS cookies, I have had the opposite problem: I want to buy, and the many caring parents in school and church have told their children that I am probably inundated by requests so not to ask me. I greatly appreciate their consideration, but to my amusement it has meant I have to go out looking for girls selling cookies! My solution has mostly been to buy from our goddaughter, who has that relationship in addition to being a parish member, and/or telling my husband that he can buy X number of boxes from the first kids who ask him.

    We let the 5 Brownie and Junior troops at the school conduct a joint booth after church one or two Sundays if they want. We also have a very large Cub Scout pack, but somehow the popcorn sales have not been as prominent. School wrapping paper sale has been done as a one for all thing too. If individual kids ask people, we are okay with it as long as they don't go overboard.

    Fortunately, product parties don't seem to be big in my neck of the woods, and I have managed to decline any invitations I have received.

  8. Thanks for the all the interesting comments, y'all. I've only had 3 product party invitations from church members in my 11 years here. In 2 cases it was something I was happy to go to (a Body Shop party and a Silpada party). In the 3rd case, the hosting church member actually invited me as her guest and treated me to the products (facial and skin care stuff). I thought that was really nice, and I felt under no obligation to purchase more.

    There was actually more of this kind of stuff going on in my previous parish, a small rural church - like Sharon, my experience was that this was a central social outlet for folks. It seemed important that I go, and I always purchased the cheapest thing available.

    In my setting, the kids selling stuff is the much bigger issues. I get inundated with requests every year, and I have always felt like I had to say yes to them. I think for next school year, I am going to set myself a new policy - a small amount of money for each kid who asks, but only as a donation. I really don't need a huge tub of cookie dough or an overpriced set of note cards! I worry about how to handle this with my own kids in the future. They haven't had to sell anything so far, but it will be tricky for me when they do. They will see every other child in the congregation hitting up members. And since church is our primary involvement outside of school, I'm not sure who else they would be able to sell stuff too besides family members. Ugh.

  9. I haven't gotten any invitations like these in my larger call, but I think that I can safely say that I wouldn't probably usually decline them. In my smaller church I did go, but it must have been before the huge party trend kicked off, because it wasnt' a huge problem. just happened a couple of times.

    As for the kids going around selling things, that was a big issue in my first church, and I let it be known right away, that I would buy from whoever got to me first, and then it was over.

  10. One more cookie thought, not quite on topic. Last year we invited people to buy a box of cookies to be sent to a parish member who was in basic training in the Navy; someone paid the postage to have them sent to him. Sure helped him make friends, and it gave those who wanted to support Girl Scouts but didn't want cookies a great opportunity. We did it as a booth, with any interested troops participating and sharing the sales.

  11. Umm. The last product party I went to was at a bridal shower - I didn't know that meant sex toys.


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