By Rev. Canon Grayhame Bowcott
Over the past two years, this column in the HCN has attempted to share different perspectives on how congregations are experiencing vibrancy, ministry growth and the fostering of new relationships. I am deeply thankful the many emails and responses that have come in, from readers who have connected with the themes in this column and often shared experiences from their own ministry contexts.
Today, I’d like to share one example, submitted by Helen Southgate Oldfield, Treasurer of The Parish of the Holy Spirit, Seaforth. Helen shares her congregation’s deliberate efforts to express appreciation to the members of her church for having supported the parish faithfully over the difficult years of the pandemic.
“In September of 2022 our Parish Council was finally back to meeting in person, and we hit the ground running, so to speak, keen to start planning to the end of the year.
We are small congregation in numbers, averaging about 25 per Sunday with about 35 regular participants in the life of the church community. As a Parish Council we have greatly appreciated the incredible support of our members through 2+ years of lock downs. We wanted to host an event beyond worship time to bring us back together, now that we could consider in-person events. So, our Rector and eight member leadership team unanimously decided to don our aprons ourselves and fully prepare a meal at no cost to the parishioners as a “welcome back to more normal times” and a thank you to all for supporting the parish ministry during the previous 2-1/2 years.
The wardens called to personally invite everyone on the parish list, taking care to include those who had not been back since the onset of Covid. We did require preregistration and to our delight 55 people signed up to attend! We had a joyous celebration – a 4 p.m. Evensong on the First Sunday of Advent followed by a delicious turkey dinner with all the trimmings. What an amazing time we had sharing stories and renewing connections.
Additionally, nearly all of these folks came out to the Lessons and Carols service on December 18th and many had planned to come on Christmas Eve however, we live in the snow belt of Huron County and were affected by closures due to the blizzard. In spite of this letdown, we have the warm memories of our 2 Advent events to soften the loss. We remain hopeful and have deep gratitude for God's grace as we move into 2023!”
On the key points that I’d like to highlight from Helen’s account of her congregation’s Lessons and Carols service and parish meal is the fact that they sound like fun! Most Anglican congregations have resurfaced on the other side of the pandemic a little worse for the wear, meaning that most congregations are in need of a little fun and levity to brighten the spirits and to promote a rekindling of the relationships for their members.
As we are entering into the warmer weather and the renewed life of the Spring/Easter season, now is a perfect time for congregational leaders to be sensitive to the spiritual health of their communities.
Is there regular laughter in your congregation? Are you having fun? While sometimes the Christian faith can be solemn and reverent, it is also true that one of the signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit is joy!
If laughter, fun and joy are not present in your congregation, perhaps this is an indicator that it is time for leadership to make space for levity. Often, when conflict or worries are overwhelming the members of a congregation, it is worthwhile to reflect on the moments when bonding and celebration have most recently been present.
Our experience of Church should be joyful! If joy is absent, we might be neglecting the most important element of congregational faith – our relationships.
Thanks again to Helen and Holy Spirit, Seaforth, for sharing their story of Making Space for Levity!
Rev. Canon 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.