November 12, 2006
Reflections on Our House Meetings
Joan Roane and Julianne Stokstad
(JS) Today we're going to talk about the house meetings. We've had six, the seventh and last will meet today. I'm very pleased we've had better than 75% participation. People have spoken their hopes and visions for our church in the next five years. What is clear is this church is close to all our hearts.
The idea of house meetings came about two months ago while sitting in a Board of Trustee's meeting. Our treasurer projected a deficit for next year. Quite simply there are two reasons for this. A full time pastor costs more to fund than a part time pastor. Two, the Korean church will be moving on a larger facility sometime next year. This is challenge also presents us with an opportunity. I wanted to hear what each person's vision for the church and so house meetings were born.
Joan and I will read a few of the responses to give you a taste of their flavor:
"I am unbelievably happy with this church because the people are loving, caring, honest, and straightforward. I want these traits to stay in the congregation."
"The church is now in a good spot, one of the best spots it's been in, in more than my 30 years here."
"This is the first place I learned about what church family can mean. The caring shown to me when I was in need made me feel very well taken care of."
"I like the positive direction, the inclusion of everybody, the progressive Christianity we practice here, and I sure hope the church keeps moving in this direction."
"I come to church because this is the place most connected with the deepening of my faith. God, worship, the people here, are all a part of this. I feel the warmth and caring among the members here." (That's probably what you would all agree with.)
The preliminary analysis shows the following areas most frequently mentioned:
So these four areas were the main things that people's comments focused on. Indeed, they raise more questions than they answer. So Joan and I will have a dialogue, and we haven't prepared these answers. We invite you to be a part of this too about this.
(JR) So, how come we don't have more children and families? I was counting at the beginning of the children's story, and there were seven children here. How many of you here are under fifty, now the children have gone to Sunday School? You could probably fit in one or two rows.
(JS) Not that there's anything wrong with grandparents; we all need them.
(JR): And in California, I understand you can have children at sixty, but I don't think that is a realistic way for us to get more kids in our midst.
(JS) There are children in our community, more than is evident today. We have seven in confirmation class. There are seven other high schoolers. The question is why isn't there more involvement?
(JR) So if we get them, what will they do when they get here? This is one of the problems with our society today. Kids are totally stimulated other places; how can we stimulate them here?
(JS) Is there anything we can do to make them want to come to church?
(man): I think the bringing in of James Christy was absolutely a stroke of genius and grace. Because that's exactly what was needed, something a little bit external, who has worked with the children, and this weekend, three of our children are at the fall youth event. That, I think is the direction that we need to go. Bringing in people who really know how to do that. The other aspect of that is bringing them here on Sunday and that's the hardest thing we're faced with.
(JS) I know. Ummhmm. Lots of questions, and no answers.
(woman) I'd like to get the kids involved in some kind of environmental project where they're connected with the soil. Like making a compost heap or compost bin right outside our church.
(man) I think part of the issue of getting the kids is getting the parents here. And, it seems to me that we've talked about it a lot, but really doing some classy evening music, different kinds of performances, that would be, not just lowest common denominator. We've got so many contacts and talents. A few years ago, we did this program on astronomy. We had fifty people who came every night, and I think, paid $7 apiece. If you have something to really grab, connect, we get adults, and in the process, probably some kids.
(JS) One of my concerns is that we're so active and have so many big projects that we scare people away because we are a small church and don't have enough people to sustain all the work.
(man) One of the things that I heard from my daughter throughout her growing up was that she thought it would be really nice to be involved in the church service more. So I think involving the kids in the service other than just the children's hour might be something that would get more children involved in church. If the kids are really excited about going to church then the parents are going to come too, because that's how they get there.
(woman) In that vein, I remember how thrilled the children were in our former church to be acolytes and light the candles. It's a simple little thing but they were taking part in the service, and they started when they were little, and it was a special treat.
(woman) A little miracle happened this morning, and a lot of you don't even know it did. Little Hannah and Jo-Jo, whose grandparents are in the choir. Hannah called them and said, "I got up and showered myself, and Jo-Jo and I are ready and want to come to church." So, let the children lead us.
(JR) And listen when they do
(JS) There are no easy answers. Our church is much healthier and has many more children than any other UCC church within Marin County.
(woman) I think the walls are kind of blank. If we had a regular art gallery with kids' art, or we had it decorated by the seasons, by children, some kind of involvement. Maybe the children can be involved in the courtyard somehow. Maybe we could simplify things. It wouldn't have to be so elaborate. Maybe we're talking about planting flowers and having kids dig the holes, and making it their church in simple ways.
(JR) Now that's very interesting because one of our questions was, What does a renovated courtyard have to do with kids and youth? And by the way, we do have an art gallery of children's art, left over from last week's Sunday School class. If you didn't see it, look outside in the community room. They drew pictures of "where is God?" and "what is God?"
(JS) My vision is that the courtyard needs to be open, because we need to have a place for the children to run and play. And we have children, and we will have more. There is no other open space on our church property. Having area outside our church, looking as beautiful as inside is a big statement in two ways. It says that we're alive and vital; it says, we're still moving forward. So, how do we get there with a budget deficit looming?
(woman): We have to re-arrange our priorities.
(JS) We're going to have to make some changes, there's no doubt about it.
(JR) I really have a hard time with this. I like to take on everything, and I don't like to let go of anything. And sometimes I drive myself to the point of being somewhat unpleasant. But even so, I still think I have to do everything I used to do, plus three new things. And I think, we as a church are in that position too. We have to keep doing everything we've always done, plus a courtyard and attracting new and younger families to our church. How in the world can we do this?
One of the things that happened to me that was a change time, was moving to California thirteen years ago. I really was dragged here and I went through a huge amount of mourning and grief over leaving my big important high salaried job in New Jersey, my wonderful family, and my brand new grandchild. I had heard nothing but bad things about California. I just didn't see how I could come here and be happy, and I'm happier than I've ever been in my life. It took some struggles; it took a lot. One of the first things I did when I got here was go over to Kinko's and get myself a business card. It said nothing on it but I didn't think I had an identity if I didn't have a business card and I floundered around for a number of years, trying this and trying that until I found my place. But the most important thing that happened in that was that, I think it was maybe, three weeks after we got here, we wound up here, and never left. So this church has a lot of power, and a lot of power to make change and to sustain people during the change process.
(JS) In summary, everyone wants the community to be vital and alive. It seems to me it's human to cling to what we have and know. We all resist change and yet we yearn for it. If we look at the seasons, we know they continually change, but they also always come around again. Seasonally speaking, I saw the church in an autumn phase. Joan recently asked me, "Well, what phase is it in your ministry within this church?" I think we're in a stage of planting seeds, planting the bulbs. Autumn isn't only the time for pruning, it is the time you plant tulips and all the bulbs. This is the time to put sweet peas in your garden if you want to have them blooming before Easter.
When we look in our Christian story, we're coming up to Advent again. And of course, this new life that we celebrate each Advent only matters if it happens in our lives.
So, that's it. You will be hearing more in the time to come about these meetings. The final word is Hope. This church on the hill is a bright light in Marin, and will continue to be a brighter light in Marin. That, I know for sure. Praise be to God. Amen.