Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Size Matters?

Okay, so maybe I just don't get it, the whole size thing.

[Pause for snickering.]

I'm the pastor of a small congregation. That is the plain truth. I keep thinking (and being told) that I need to find a different adjective. Like...? "Diminutive?" "Cozy?"

We're small. We worship 16-22 people on an average week. We want to have more folks. We know we need to grow. We're committed to mission in the name of Jesus Christ. And we are growing--slowly, but it's happening.

For the time being, though, we're small. What is stunning, and wonderful, is that we're still here. This congregation has gone through a lot. I view the "family" metaphor for church with a hermeneutic of suspicion, but this congregation has endured more than some families which crack apart. They have weathered some pretty troublesome members. They decided to sell the only church building they've ever had in order to continue the mission of the congregation in a more conducive setting. They called a lesbian pastor and waited to see if they would be kicked out of the only denomination they've ever known.

And they are still here. Better than that, they are thriving! The Word of God is proclaimed in our midst, in word and deed. The community which gathers--twice a week, at least--is strong and loving. This is a congregation of folks who really understand ministry, and who are truly focused on the heart of the gospel: love of God and love of neighbor.

But it seems as if every conversation I have with someone who wants to know how we're doing goes like this:

Concerned Person: "So, how is Abiding Peace doing?"
Me: "We're great. The community is really healthy; we're moving forward in the new location; things are going really well."
Concerned Person: "How many people in worship?"

The conversation ends shortly after I offer our latest attendance figures. It seems as if nothing I say matters, if we're not worshipping at least fifty or a hundred or a hundred and fifty or whatever the current "must have" number is for Sunday worship.

I understand this; I really do. Inertia is a dangerous thing in ministry, and low numbers can be indicative of mission drain.

They can also be the beginning of a great success story. The story of Abiding Peace Lutheran Church isn't finished yet. It's going to be great, too. So it would be nice if people could just take a breath and wait for the next chapter, which, I promise, is coming. We're just deep in the creative process. Get the Pulitzers ready.


the reverend mommy said...

We did an official "welcome to the ring" this afternoon on the RevGal blog -- I hope that you go over to St. John's Rev Abi -- she was asking some of these identical questions just a couple of weeks ago.


WeavingLibrarian said...

I am just home from our synod council retreat. Most of our congregations don't even register over in Chicago. But many of them are hanging tight and thriving also. I will add Abiding Peace to my prayers - you seem to doing the right things. I think you are at the beginning of your success story. Take care of yourself and your church family.


Gail said...

Hi"Peace Pastor";I also am "a peace pastor"-- Peace Lutheran in San Bruno, California-- and my congregation is small (but mighty) too..and I fight with our judicatory (who would like our property-- which is literally worth millions), but not our great community (and I know that not all small pastoral/family churches are healthy, but this one is (and was before I came-- I just encourage it). Loved your post...thanks gail

Sally said...

16-22... we have 5-6 in a couple of our smaller circuit churches!!!

Welcome to revgals

Donna said...

I'm sure glad I found Revgals! Thank you all for the welcome. Gail, I know your judicatory well. Actually, I know you--we met at PLTS when I started (summer Greek, 1995). Sierra Pacific is my home synod. I guess I'm still in candidacy there. :) I was denied in 1999 for failure to comply with Vision and Expectations, but we agreed that they would review me every year. I imagine it goes something like this: "Still gay?" "Yup." "Okay, denied." I hope they will see, as you have, that Peace is an important part of the Body of Christ, and not a nice piece of peninsula property. I love the church, I really do. But sometimes it worries me.

Sally said...

I guess the answer to the Sierra Pacific synod could be... still blind... ah well one day!!!