If my premise is true, that the future of the Church will be found in how we choose to invest in our relationships gathered around our shared faith in Christ, how should congregations focus their energy in the years ahead?
By Rev. Grayhame Bowcott
It was in 2009 that I served in a parish internship placement as one step of the postulancy process towards my ordination in Huron. That summer my fiancé, Jacqueline, and I thought we had won the lottery: we got to spend a whole summer serving a little jewel of a church in our Diocese - St. Andrew’s-by-the-Lake in Turkey Point!
I remember the advice given to me by my supervisor, The Rev’d Canon Tony Bouwmeester: “There’s no real trick to ministry. Simply spend time with those in the congregation and community and be honest about your faith. You’ll find that the more you care about them, the more they will be interested in sharing their lives and their faith with you.”
That summer I gleaned a foundational understanding about the Church, one that has shaped all of the ministry that I have done since: The Church, Our Church, is, at its best, a gathering of relationships around the Gospel. The more that we invest in the diversity of our relationships, the more they have a tendency to grow.
That summer my fiancé and I tested out this premise. We accepted every single offer to visit both congregation members and residents of the wider community. We were hosted for dinners, taken on boat excursions on Lake Erie, and we gathered weekly for sunset beach-side services. We called up the families of all the existing children in the community and rebooted a Messy Church-style Vacation Bible School.
We opened up the sanctuary for movie nights, and barbeques and the annual church yard sale. We handed out flyers to the whole community, sharing that while St. Andrew’s was proud to be an Anglican congregation, we were also desiring to be the Community Church for everyone in Turkey Point.
The wisdom that we learned that summer was that each visit, each new connection in the community increased the likelihood that a person or family would feel part of that St. Andrew’s faith community. We found that the pews on Sunday were always full, and that we had an abundance of resources to sustain our ministry projects, and even more to give away to support local causes.
Returning to the advice of my mentor, Canon Tony, it wasn’t rocket science. Jesus spent all his time being present to others, being in relationship with them. We as pastors were called to do the same.
I also succinctly remember a moment that summer that greatly clashed with this approach to congregational evangelism.
Each year St. Andrew’s undertook a summer renovation project. That summer the goal was to replace the sanctuary roof. We were faced with a fairly straightforward question: what sort of roof should we invest in? There were new steel roof options that could last for a hundred years; there were premium shingles that could last for forty; and then there was the least expensive option that would serve for another 15-20 years.
I remember someone laughing and saying: “This is an easy one! We’ll all be gone in twenty years so that’s all we need to worry about!”
This response was like a punch in my gut. I knew that the members of our Parish Council had the best intentions but I was deeply disappointed that they weren’t recognizing that I would still be around in twenty years. My children would still be around. Their grandchildren might still have an interest in vacationing in that community. Why could they not see the future of the Church as a legacy of relationships that they needed to invest in? In the same way that previous generations had passed down the Church that they had inherited?
Last year the Anglican Church of Canada published a series of articles contributed by Rev. Dr. Neil Elliot, a church statistician who is employed by the National Church. Dr. Elliot’s new claim to fame was the statement that statistics suggest that our beloved Anglican Church will be “Gone by 2040” (in 18 years).
Every time I hear the fatalism of this announcement it is like a fresh punch to the gut. It makes me want to yell out: “I will be here in 2040!” And if I am going to be here, who else will be in relationship with me?
In my next few articles in the upcoming months I’d like to share some of the relational habits of congregations that are not declining. If my premise is true, that the future of the Church will be found in how we choose to invest in our relationships gathered around our shared faith in Christ, how should congregations focus their energy in the years ahead? Join me as we dig further into conversation together!
Rev. Dr. Grayhame Bowcott is passionate about fostering congregational relationships and sharing our Anglican vocation with others. He serves as rector of St. George’s, The Parish of The Blue Mountains. email@example.com