Sunday, July 07, 2013
Why You Want My Partner In Your Church
Now, from everything I've read from hipster pastors "growing the church" in innovative ways, we're pretty poor prospects for membership, demographics-wise. Oh, I suppose if you're going for that edgy, see-how-inclusive-we-are vibe in your designer congregation two lesbians may be a more desirable addition to your sociodemographic mix than, say, a straight Swedish-American accountant. But I know that our age knocks us way down the "We want you" ladder; in some church circles, we of the graying hair and comfy pants tend to get blamed for our stodgy worship preferences and attitudes that are driving away our young people and holding back the next Great Awakening. Sometimes, reading church-growth stuff on Lutheran websites and social media, I feel the way I imagine our elderly retriever Duke felt back on the day Dad took him and a loaded .22 for that final walk behind the barn.
But allow me to plead a case here -- not my own case, but that of my partner, Fellow Traveler. You may not know much about her other than her occasional third-person appearances on this blog; but if you did know her, you would want her in your church. Totes want her. Signing-bonus want her. Here are some reasons why.
She is an ex-Roman Catholic. With apologies to my RC friends -- I don't want to be accused of sheep-stealing-- ex-Roman Catholics, especially ones who grew up in old-skool, non-hippie parishes, make terrific Lutherans. They don't need remedial instruction in basic church etiquette. They know the church drill. They know the choreography. They know the lingo. And, unlike newbies from so-called free church backgrounds, they're not going to be bugging you about "why" -- not getting into frowny-face arguments with you after the service about the metaphysics of the Real Presence or why pastors give an absolution after the general confession. In fact,,they're not going to talk to you after the service at all, because they're used to sprinting out the door nanoseconds after "Thanks be to God." No off-the-cuff mini-pastoral-counseling sessions while shaking your hand; they want a nice dinner and a holy nap, and want you to have that too, as soon as possible after the service.
She wants to go to a Bible study. Yes; you read that right. Fellow Traveler wants to study the Bible. And by "study the Bible" I mean actually talk about the Bible in an in-depth, informative way -- not initiate a group therapy session to work on her issues or discuss church business or gossip in the guise of fraternal concern or answer questions like "How does that verse make you feel?" If the study is about the Gospel of Mark, then darn it, you'd better be discussing the Gospel of Mark. But, unlike some people in your Bible study -- unlike the crypto-fundamentalists in your congregation-- you can actually discuss Scripture with my partner in a contextual, critical way without her head exploding in shock and horror.
She can handle contemplative services. Fellow Traveler used to work for the Sisters of Mercy. She used to go to Mass with nuns, and Mass at a monastery. She liked it. When you float the idea of a Taize service or Compline and your praise band people go nuts and the old-timers frown and say, "We don't remember doing anything like that before the merger" -- my partner has your back.
She can help you pwn the Pietists. I remember the first time we attended an ELCA church while on vacation only to find that it celebrated the Eucharist twice a month, and we were unfortunate enough to be in town on a "non" week. "What just happened?" Fellow Traveler whispered when the liturgy suddenly imploded. "Why aren't we having Communion?" She was not impressed, later on during the ride back to the hotel, by my Cliff Notes version of Lutheran Pietism and its horror of over-communicating. If you have recalcitrant folks in your congregation who balk at weekly Communion, Fellow Traveler can give an eloquent testimony to the disappointment felt by church visitors seeking the Sacrament but not having it offered to them. And since I've never heard an eloquent argument in favor of infrequent Communion, certainly never from a clergyperson -- lots of rhetorical WIN for you.
She's got your number, Pastor. Like I said, before her retirement Fellow Traveler used to work for nuns. Prior to that she worked for a pastor in another Lutheran iteration. So she knows from church people, She knows you're not Jesus. She knows you occasionally need to blow off steam or tell impious jokes or otherwise act like a civilian. She knows that there are things you don't know. She won't care, and she won't tell. Seriously, not all new church folks have any of that figured out.
She will call it as she sees it. It is one of the things I really admire about FT, by the way. I grew up in a household where expressing what I really thought or felt did not always lead to positive outcomes, so I became the sort of person who -- well, who says, "I'm fine" when I'm really not fine or who composes rambling masterpieces of diplomatic bullshit in answer to questions about sensitive issues. FT, on the other hand, lets the chips fall. Where I, in response to a question about, say, musical quality in a church, would avoid direct eye contact with the interviewer while murmuring, "Well, sometimes it's, um, hard for me to...to concentrate on the service when the organist, um, doesn't seem...well, very familiar with the music," FT would look the questioner straight in the eye and say, "The music is crap." Unvarnished honesty isn't always easy to take, but if you need a regular reality check on your perception of how things are going in your congregation, Fellow Traveler will give it to you.
I know this proposition is still a hard sell if you have your heart set on attracting a [cue the ethereal chorus] young family or the sort of hipsters who hang out at your favorite coffee joint. But you could do much worse. And since we come as a package deal, you'd also be getting someone who would actually like to edit your church newsletter. Think about it. Call us maybe.