The blog

The blog—informal opinions and chat about the parish

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Too focused on the building?

Churches tend to get focused on buildings, and we share that problem. The issue really is that we need a special, dedicated space to do the things we do—worship, sing, and so forth—but we're not a business, so we can't just budget building repairs and maintenance as part of our overhead cost and adjust our prices accordingly. And, because we are Episcopalians, we have a concept of sacred space, so the idea of a minimal concrete-block building, metal folding chairs, and a cheap electronic piano just doesn't fit.

To outsiders (and even, sometimes, to ourselves) all this begins to look like the church equals the building and we make it pretty so we can sit in it and enjoy the beauty. All that, of course, misses the point on two levels. For one thing, we would be the church if we lost all our buildings and had to worship, as early Christians did, in private homes with the doors locked. For another, the ultimate audience for our singing and worship is not ourselves, but God. A beautiful stained glass window is quite pleasant, but really it's there to say something about God, and the whole operation is to please him. (Note to self: Try to remember this the next time a fellow congregation member is singing his/her heart out on a hymn I don't like and doing it badly. If God likes it, my opinion doesn't count for much.)

History of our building

One day, I would like to write a definitive history of that A-frame building. This isn't it, but from what I've heard, St. Matthew's Parish was a going, growing operation in the 1960s. We bought a lot of land out on the edge of town and wanted a building fast, so we went for three pre-fabs (the sanctuary, the parish hall, and the education wing). This explains a lot of the choices in materials and furnishings. After a while, it became clear that the building would not be a five-year temporary, so generous donors provided the stained glass windows and pipe organ.

The congregation declined in numbers for a lot of reasons, so that by the time Rev. Kay arrived attendance was around a dozen. (We are in the 40s now.) With a congregation that small, a lot of important things got put on the back burner, including building maintenance. That's why, when we began planning the Capital Campaign, we had to focus on things like the roof ("Won't make it through another winter" said our contractor.) and exterior paint ("You haven't painted this in how long?"). Next up is the asbestos floor tile in the parish hall—tiles like this have not been made since 1986, and they had a typical service life of 30–40 years. Ours is obviously a lot older than 1986.

The point of all this

Actually, there is more than one point. For one thing, a good building is a tool for reaching out to the community. We learned that when we replaced our aging fire-hazard kitchen stove with a modern one—even making corn bread in the old oven for a dinner meeting was impossible. For another, visitors do form opinions based on what they see. Clean, well-organized and inviting wins over shabby and disintegrating.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Mugging our Visitors

They're in! We now have six dozen coffee mugs to give to first-time visitors, along with a brief brochure explaining the Episcopal Church and our parish. The color is cobalt blue, and the message on both sides (so even left-handers can see it) is

Welcome to
St. Matthew's
Episcopal Church
Ashland, Ohio

I've already given one to a visitor who came to the Maundy Thursday service, and she thought it was mighty fine.

Mugging our Members

Long-time members who would like a mug can also have one. We'd appreciate a donation to offset the cost of the mugs—I'm suggesting $5. The mugs and a donation box are near the Parish Hall door.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Welcoming Church

Building upgrades

Rev. Kay's sermon last Sunday referred to St. Matthew's as a "Welcoming Church." She's not the only one who has used that term for us, and you should see some "welcoming" changes over the next few weeks. We're working on the small things (getting outside lights to work so people can find their way down the Parish Hall steps after an evening meeting) and larger things (freshening up the landscaping).

By Easter, we're hoping to have a welcome gift and brochure available for first-time visitors. Coming to a new church is really scary (Now what am I supposed to do??? Good Grief! They just switched songbooks!!!) I hope the brochure takes some of the edge off that—though having a helpful St. Matthew's person at the elbow of a newcomer will help a lot.

One change we are still working on is a sign directing people to the front door. The route to the real front door is so obscure that almost nobody finds it, and the usual path into the building—through the Parish Hall—puts a newcomer into a really confusing hubbub of people putting on robes, making coffee, talking about football, and setting out trays of food. It takes a lot of endurance for the visitor to burrow through all that to find the real greeters. We need a sign. That's the next step.

The point of all this

Almost nobody goes searching for an Episcopal Church; people are interested in finding God, and the Episcopal Church is a good way to do so. And if our point is to build up the congregation so we have enough people to survive as a group, we have our priorities wrong. Our priority in all of this, whether we're painting the front door red or making coffee or preparing for a Bible study group, is to help people get closer to God through Jesus Christ. We need to remember that.