The photo above is courtesy of Pixabay
Article by Peter Koeppel, member of Trinity Memorial Church in Binghamton and the diocesan Stewardship Resources team.
Is there anything like it was last year, around this time? Not in the world of our daily lives, it would appear, but our spiritual lives continue mostly fine. God is still there, patiently listening to our prayers, extending love, as always. Sure, it would be more fun if we could celebrate worship services in the same way we did a year ago, but our love for one another tells us that we shouldn’t. As Bishop DeDe keeps reminding us: the buildings may be closed, but the Church is wide open. If you’ve been offering virtual worship services, it may well be open more widely than it ever has been.
So, here we are approaching the fall season—Startup Sunday after a long summer: getting our young members included in an inviting program, music, the annual Stewardship Campaign, and planning for the upcoming Advent and Christmas seasons are likely on our list of activities. All will look different from prior years.
In all of these, build on the theme that your Church is open more widely than ever. Some activities which you may have relied on in years past, may need to be adjusted—by now, that’s likely expected:
- In-person activities will need to be limited in line with health precautions appropriate for your congregation and community;
- Reaching out to your parishioners, young and older, will need to include reaching out virtually.
As we look specifically to organizing our annual Stewardship campaign, reaching out virtually opens up new venues for connecting that we may not have used heavily in years past: particularly, reaching out via video calls and meetings, or phone calls. My own congregation has some members who are mobility-limited, and not too keen on learning how to use the internet. In years past, we would have relied on ride-sharing and postal communications to reach them. This year, we will reach out to them by phone, in addition to reaching out to them in more customary ways, as health precautions permit.
The notion of needing to connect to parishioners in ways that are customary in your congregation is important, as is the notion of expanding the ways in which you reach out to them.
There is something comforting, and inviting, about receiving a carefully phrased letter and pledge card in the mail, as may have been a practice in your Stewardship Campaign in years past. And now you may decide to complement this by emailed invitations, and virtual get-togethers, as well as expand your on-line presence by allowing not just donations, but also pledges to be submitted online. You may also want to think about how you reach out to your lay ministers, to engage them for their time and talent in the transformed ministries of your congregation.
Expanding your online presence to allow online pledges is no cure-all. You need to anticipate that some of your parishioners will take to pledging online very easily and happily, while others really will want to hold the pledge card in their hands for prayerful consideration, before filling it out and returning it. Some may wish to place it in an offering plate, as a sacred commitment before God. This act, taken on its own, does not transfer neatly into an online environment—the thought of sitting or kneeling in front of a PC or laptop in prayer and consideration as an isolated activity does not work that well for me, personally—but as one component of a virtual connection between your parish and its members offering online pledging does make sense.
And therein lies a key lesson: defining relationships with our parishioners in new ways is, eventually, all-encompassing. It doesn’t start or stop with offering virtual worship services, online donations, or online pledges.
As we look at this perhaps somewhat scary future, we need to remember that we really are continuing to tread in new territory, just as we were when we first had to figure out how to offer virtual services, and how to carry on our ministries in the face of closed buildings.
We may have run into some problems when first figuring out how to offer worship services and carry on our ministries, and had to adjust our approach, or even change directions on how to approach these new challenges. Similarly, we will need to be sensitive to how we approach our annual Stewardship campaign, and be prepared to adjust and change directions, based on what we learn as we go.
This year continues to present challenges and opportunities to invent and implement new ways to live and work as a congregation. If this feels overwhelming, take heart in knowing that you are not alone in working through new approaches to keep your Church open far more widely than you may have planned on: all of us are working through this. Allow yourself the opportunity to try out some new approaches, learn which ones work for your congregation, and which ones don’t, and adjust your campaign as you go. It’s ok. If something doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean that you failed—it means that you learned something new about your congregation, that you can now use in adjusting how you approach your members.
As an extra resource, TENS (The Episcopal Network for Stewardship) has put together a great set of materials you can build on for both an in-person and a virtual campaign. I’m thinking you might want to make use of both. Access to some of these materials requires a membership, and here’s the best part: our Diocese has a diocesan membership, so all of the congregations in the Diocese can get access. If you need the login information, please contact the diocesan office. May you learn something new and useful about yourself and about your congregation as you, together, step up to the challenging times in which we live.