This is an open letter on the results of the April 22nd and 29th town hall meeting on the future of newcomers and children at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church.
Dear St. Michael’s family,
I want to thank everyone who attended our April 22nd town hall meeting on St. Michael’s ministry to children and youth and the April 29th town hall meeting on welcoming newcomers. What follows is a summary of the key points that emerged from the input I received from both meetings. As the data that emerged from these two meetings was not as extensive or complex as the input from the April 15th meeting on worship, I have chosen to condense the key insights from these two meetings into one summary.
As this is a summary of key insights and opinions expressed, these points are not comprehensive, nor does this report cover every opinion that was expressed. However, I do believe that this summary captures the essence of the feedback I received around St. Michael’s values, hopes, and preferences for our future ministry to children and youth, as well as how we want to welcome and incorporate newcomers into our midst.
CHILDREN AND YOUTH
Shared values & areas of consensus
A clear sense of St. Michael’s values emerged from this town hall meeting. As a whole, I heard you say you want:
- Children and youth fully included in every facet of Sunday morning worship. You want our youth serving in leadership roles. Some examples listed include lector, usher, oblationer, and musical leadership.
- Intentional space to be given for pertinent social issues to be processed and discussed from a faith-based perspective (school shootings, etc.).
- A renewed focus on how to strengthen and support the family unit as a whole (family greeters, resources for parents, family mission trips, etc.).
- To connect our children and youth to the larger diocesan family (Camp Allen, partnership with other parishes, etc.).
- More opportunities to nurture intergenerational relationships.
- More feedback from the youth about their own journey of faith (testimonies from their experience on mission trips, etc.).
- Our youth to experience a strong sense of intimacy, belonging, and fun at St. Michael’s.
- An energetic, faith-filled, hardworking, and gifted youth minister!
- Formation. A sense of happiness and belonging is not enough. You want our children and youth to know God in Jesus Christ, to grow in their faith, and for St. Michael’s to instill a moral, theological, and Episcopal framework that can anchor our youth amidst what they often experience as a confusing and unsteady world.
In other areas, a shared value did not emerge. I note the following places where people hold different values.
- Most people are very flexible on how we minister to children and youth as long as our children and youth have a positive experience of church and grow in their faith while at St. Michael’s. However, some people’s ideas were more “set in stone” about the how/when/who related to Sunday school, EYC, etc.
- Most people expressed a desire for children and youth to attend the full worship service. Some people, however, implied (as opposed to directly stated) an assumption (and perhaps even a preference) that youth would be in Sunday school during the Liturgy of the Word.
- Most people indicated that growing the number of children and youth and making them more visible on Sunday morning was a high priority. However, not everyone holds this as a top priority, and people who value increased visibility of children and youth imagine this value being lived out in different ways. For instance, some people love the idea of “youth Sunday” whereas others see it as tokenism.
It is very clear that we are eager to grow our capacity to invite, welcome, and incorporate newcomers into the life of our community. Though some people referenced that growth might challenge the sense of intimacy and closeness we feel as a community, everyone articulated a desire to seek out and welcome more people into the St. Michael’s family. We believe that we have a gift to offer the visitor and that each visitor has a gift to offer us. We want to:
- See our lives enriched as more newcomers are grafted into our corporate, worshiping Body.
- Grow our capacity to invite people to church.
- Organize strategic ways to invite new people to visit St. Michael’s so as to welcome and connect them to God in Christ.
- Include anyone and everyone, no exceptions.
- Respond to each visitor with an intentional, prayerful and strategic follow-up plan, understanding that St. Michael’s will be healthier if the visitor is incorporated.
As one group noted: “How we welcome newcomers can have a big impact on whether or not they come back.” We are a welcoming community and we want to learn how to be more welcoming.
Unlike the other town hall meetings, I did not note as many places where our values were in tension or where a shared value did not emerge. Welcoming newcomers is clearly a shared value. As such, I want to note seven key insights that emerged from the town hall meeting on welcoming newcomers.
- People noted that St. Michael’s would benefit from a stronger small group ministry. We need small groups where people can be vulnerable and authentic and also learn more about the Christian faith. People can experience fellowship on a Sunday morning, but we need more channels by which people can experience intimate community.
- One person can (and often does) make or break someone’s experience. Many people referenced a specific individual who welcomed them to St. Michael’s and even credited this person with their decision to join. The takeaway: you can make all the difference in the world.
- We need to invite people into ministry roles very early on. “This is your second Sunday here? Great! Want to be a greeter next week?!”
- We need better signage. Sunday school, the nursery, and even the sanctuary can be hard to find for first time visitors. We need to make it as easy on newcomers as possible.
- Welcoming newcomers is not a “compartmentalized” aspect of ministry but connected to everything else. Thus, to welcome newcomers we need to ensure that we have excellent formation opportunities, easy to use worship booklets, a clean and crisp campus, etc.
- At some point, attention will need to be given to, for lack of a better word, “branding.” By this, we do not mean “selling” or “marketing” St. Michael’s but rather being very clear on who we are, what we stand for, what we offer so that we can articulate our vision and identity in creative ways to our community via many different communication channels. A few referenced a need for a new, outward facing website geared towards seekers; others suggested that we look into better signage off Hwy 360.
- People are different. There is no such thing as a “newcomer.” There are only individuals, each of whom has a different story, temperament, set of spiritual needs, and idea of church. There is no “one size fits all” way to welcome newcomers. What one experiences as intimacy, another person experiences as “too much.” One person might be outgoing and able to find his or her way into the community; another might wrestle with social anxiety. Thus, our process for welcoming newcomers needs to be clear and repeatable enough to qualify as a process (that can be refined, etc.) and flexible enough to honor the uniqueness of each person’s needs and life experience.
The next step is for me to make sure that I heard you accurately. I read everyone’s written feedback multiple times in preparing this written summary. This report obviously excludes more than it includes, which is necessary when summarizing so much data. However, I do believe that this captures the most important patterns I detected in the feedback. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org by May 16th if you feel that I missed something important.
The results of this town hall meeting will be incorporated into a larger planning and goal-setting process as we seek to create a shared picture of the future at St. Michael’s. I am grateful to all who have given their time, energy, and best thinking to this process. Your input makes a real difference in shaping our future.
Grace and Peace,
The Rev. John Newton