New Members in Mission

February 19, 2007 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

Quotidian Grace writes about her recent experience attending a new member’s class at another church.  (I’m not entirely clear on whether she is changing churches or just sitting in – she’s the moderator-elect of her presbytery.)

The really interesting part of her experience is the Saturday “workday” that they did.  The new members were taken to one of the church’s outreach agencies to work for a 1/2 day.  They did the usual mission work – packing sack lunches, working in the Thrift Shop.  At the end of the day they heard about other mission opportunities (and learned even more in the regular Sunday session the next day).

The group even made sure that they were thanked and given pictures (electronically) of them working.

This is a great idea.  At Camp Johnsonburg, the campers do a small project to help out the camp every week (it could be as simple as looking for trash on the meadow).  The camp Leadership Training Program (formerly Counselor-in-Training) senior high’s do a big project for the camp – usually building or creating something (the camp’s labyrinth is a good example).

We got an overview of mission opportunities at the Lawrenceville church new member class.  We even got to see most of the internal ones just before the classes started at the annual stewardship fair (and the new class just got to see the external ones yesterday at the annual mission fair).  But we didn’t actually roll up our sleeves and do something.  The new member class was a nice way to get slightly acquainted with some of the other new members, but I would have really liked the chance to get to know people in the way that only happens when you work on something together.

Kudos to the Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church in Houston!

Getting Involved at church

November 7, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

This week I have a homework assignment from New Member Class.  I have to check off a list of activities that the church does that interest me.  I also need to answer two questions:  What do I expect to get out of Lawrenceville Presbyterian, and what do I expect to give to Lawrenceville Presbyterian?

I’m a rather strong introvert.  It’s not always easy to detect – I tend to speak of myself as a “loud introvert”, someone who can keep up a facade that makes me appear more outgoing.  As you may or may not know, introverts draw their energy from a different type of activity than extroverts (aside from eating and sleeping, of course).  Extroverts go into social situations and actually draw energy from the room.  Introverts on the other hand need solitude or a small group of close friends to create energy.  Introverts can actually feel the energy draining from them in a large social setting like a party.  Extroverts may go home charged up – introverts tend to go home exhausted.  This is a big generalization, but still true.

So how does this relate to new church members (and me in particular)?  I speak from my own experience.

I have to work hard to feel comfortable in a setting like the usual Fellowship Hour after church.  I’m fairly comfortable in church – I’m there as part of a mostly anonymous crowd and only interact personally with those sitting around me, and even then only for the passing of the peace.  But put me in a room and I’m lost.  I end up a single individual wandering around the room without talking to someone, or even standing on the side.  I will talk to those that I know, but I’m fairly unlikely to walk up to someone and introduce myself.

On the other hand, in a known group and particularly a small group, I’m fairly comfortable.  On a committee, in a small study group, as part of a team – I’m comfortable.  I know my place.  It’s even more comfortable when I’m part of a group working towards a goal – putting together a special service, running a youth activity, serving on a committee, or even just bean-counting.  In fact, that’s the best way for me to meet people – to work with them towards a common goal.

Once I feel comfortable in one small group, I feel that I have allies and I’m more comfortable branching out into something new.  I know that I had allies before or at least that people were giving me the benefit of the doubt, but this subtle shift from “that person over there” to “Bill, the guy I worked with on X” is huge for me.

So the hard part is getting that bootstrap job in an organization.  I feel like I need to be invited to participate in that first activity, and if it’s not joining an organized group but is more like an open activity I need to be dragged along.  Once I’ve done something with people, I will know them and be more open to fully voluntary participation in the next thing.  It’s just getting into that first thing that’s so hard.

The one exception to this rule is Camp Johnsonburg.  This camp is the one place on the planet (no hyperbole here) where I have felt totally accepted for being authentically ME outside of my marriage.  Camp Johnsonburg works hard to create that acceptance and even celebration of each of us – it’s probably the 2nd or 3rd core value of the camp.  I go there, smell the unique combination of plants in the air, and feel at home immediately.  The tension in my body drops dramatically nearly instantly.  I am ME, and people like me for being me.  There’s nothing more powerful than hearing “We’re glad that you came” and knowing that they really meant it.  That they didn’t mean “We’re glad that you brought your money” or “We’re glad that you brought your skills” or even “We’re glad that you added one to the headcount”.  We’re glad that you came – that you are who you are and that you are sharing it with us.  That’s powerful.  That’s a core of my theology – that all people are good to God to some degree or in some way unique to them.

As I re-read what I wrote above, I realize that camp isn’t really the only such time.  There have been a few more.  Serving as a YAD to Synod was like that.  More recently, meeting with Jill, Nolan and Rick about Lawrenceville Presbyterian was like that – I felt at ease in the first few minutes.  It might not have been on my checklist, but it was a huge factor in choosing a church.

So what does this mean when joining a church?  I need to be pulled in.  Please pull me in.  You won’t be disappointed.  I know that I have skills that can be put to good use, and I’ll give you a list on that piece of paper you asked me to fill out.  I just need a little tug to get out of my shell.

New Member Class – Day 3 (Last Day)

November 4, 2006 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

Today was the last day of new member class.

Carolyn and I just barely made it on time due to Carolyn’s mammogram (routine – as far as we know all is well).  She made it home, and after some bending of the speed limit laws we made it to class just on time.  We had expected Carolyn to join us late, so this was better than we thought.

This week, we had a few new faces.  One friend of a participant visiting from out of town, and a new person (another seminary student) who is being run through “remedial New Member Class” to catch up.  Most if not all of the missing folks from last week were there today.

We started with another sharing session – this time talking about why we believe that Lawrenceville Presbyterian is right for us.  This is one of the questions that the session will ask us in a week and a half, so I believe that this was planned to let us gather our thoughts.  This took about 1/2 hour (and we got started 10 minutes late – everybody was running late today).

Next, we did a Lectio Divina session on Genesis 2:4-9.  We did a breathing exercise to calm us, and then the passage was read twice by two different people.  We meditated on it for a few minutes, and then each of us gave our thoughts.  I concentrated on the trees.  I had two thoughts – one was that I liked the diversity of the trees, all different and yet all good for food.  I believe that God sees people like that – all good (to some degree) and good for each other (to some degree).  The passage also brought to mind the fact that I’m now old enough that I can see the growth of trees.  I’m thinking primarily of the trees around our house – which over the 10 years that we’ve been here have grown from saplings to substantial trees.

After that, Jill Cifelli talked about stewardship and did a quick rundown on the volunteer opportunities and missions of the church.  She also included adult education opportunites.  Joan Semenuk was also there and added to the list where Jill missed a few.  Then, Joan talked about financial stewardship and the church and we were given pledge cards (I didn’t take one – I filled one out and handed it in on Stewardship Sunday two weeks ago).  Then we were given a quick overview of the process of meeting with the session on the 15th.

At the end, Jill asked me to speak about the Reconnecting with Faith retreat coming up in January.  I spoke extemporaneously for a few minutes on the retreat and I hope that a few people found it intriguing.  This group isn’t really the target audience – they are already in a church – but perhaps they know of someone else.

After the formal class, a few deacons arrived and laid out a brunch for any of us who could stay.  They had bagels, fruit salad, and two casseroles (the ham and egg one was good!) and drinks and such.  We all sat around and talked and ate.  It was nice.

I have a homework assignment – I have to fill out a worksheet for Jill identifying the areas of church life that I would be interested in participating in and there are a few questions on the back about what we expect to get from the church and what we plan to give to the church (not just money, time and resources).

We meet with the session on November 15th.  They take us into membership formally at that time, and then we are introduced at church the following Sunday.

New Member Class – Day 2

October 28, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

Today, we all struggled out of bed into the driving rain and heavy winds to reach Lawrenceville Presbyterian and the 2nd day of new member class.  At one point on Route 206 the road was partially flooded due to leaves blocking the storm drain.

This time, we started with each person telling a story of their experience with church.  Most (if not all) were positive stories of their experiences in church during a previous life.  A few were non-church stories involving church camp or even a special Christian performance.  A surprising number of people indicated a fondness for the formal ritual of church, but this isn’t surprising as many of the group had experience in a Roman Catholic or Byzantine Rite church (Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, etc) church.

After that we took a tour of the church buildings.  Normally this would end the second session, but Temple Micah (a Jewish temple sharing the church building on Fridays and Saturdays) had a Bat Mitzvah  (congratulations, Rachel!) scheduled for the morning so we had to get our tour in early.  We heard about the history of the church and saw most of the church rooms.

After that, we were almost out of time.  Pastor Jeff pointed out some important points in the handouts on Presbyterian terms and the importance of membership and talked about the Book of Confessions and the Book of Order.  We were then exhorted to read up at home.

Next week will be on stewardship and we will do Lectio Divina.  Pastor Jeff will be in Israel and Palestine with a presbytery group, and won’t be able to attend.  Joan Semenuk will be joining us.

There were a few faces missing this week.  I’m hoping that they were unable to make the class rather than deciding not to join.  We were also blessed with whole families this week because the terrible weather cancelled soccer games.

New Member Class – Day 1

October 22, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

Yesterday was also the first day of New Member Classes at the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville, NJ.  Classes are 9am to 10:30am and will continue on October 28 and November 4.  These classes are run about 3 times a year.

The classes are actually intended to explore membership and prepare you should you choose to join.  It looks like most of the group is headed towards joining.

There are about 20 people in this group.  Yesterday, 14 of them were there (several spouses were off handling soccer duty).  This was a very diverse group in terms of age and some other factors, though not racially.

The format was remarkably similar to the Johnsonburg Reconnecting with Faith retreat.  We all sat in a bit circle (well, oval – it was a big group) with the pastor and the Interim Associate for Pastoral Ministry (in this case Jill Cifelli) mixed in the group.  Each of us were asked to introduce ourselves and talk about what we do during the day.  Jill started, and because her daytime work is church-related we ended up with each person describing briefly their church search as well as their day job.  Carolyn came with me and explained that she is a practicing Catholic (seems she’d get good at it at some point!) and was there to support me.

After that, we watched the video Who Are We Presbyterians?.  This is a 20-minute video that does a good job of presenting the high points of Presbyterian faith and organization, though it does tend to concentrate a little too hard on diversity.

Then we were asked to talk about what we saw in the video.  A few people who are new to Presbyterianism stated that they really liked Salvation by Grace as compared to their prior church.  A few group members brought up the liberal/conservative divide (it wasn’t me, honest!) and we batted that around for a while.  The jist of that discussion is that this church favors the open discussion of issues while staunchly defending freedom of conscience.  The phrase used was “generous orthodoxy”.  In short – we have people all over the spectrum and we LIKE that, and encourage people to speak their mind.  Rigid control of belief within narrow confines is not required.  Having said that, the church averages out to someplace between the middle and liberal end of the spectrum.  Not quite far enough to be a More Light church, but certainly not at the conservative end.

The one thing that people said over and over is that this church cares more for each person as a PERSON than they do about their particular ideology.  People are not representatives of a theological or political position – they are PEOPLE who happen to have a personal theology and political opinion.  At least 1/2 of the group said that this was an important factor in their choice of Lawrenceville as a church home (and I’m in that list).

One last similarity to the Johnsonburg retreat appeared.  Carolyn put it best on the way home – “There are some hurt and angry people here.”  This makes complete sense to me.  You come to a church as a new adult member for one or more of a short list of reasons:

  • You left the church at some point because you were not spiritually at home, unhappy or even hurt by the church.
  • You drifted away from the church because of disinterest.
  • You have children, and need to find a church home for baptism, sunday school, etc.  Or maybe you want to get married in a church.
  • You’ve recently moved and need to find a new church.
  • You’ve never been involved in a church, but you’ve found the redeeming power of Christ.

Based on the stories that were told, the latter reason may have been a part of one or two people’s reasons out of 14.  The rest of the reasons covered everybody.

I was amazed at the distances that people travel to join this church.  One new member is driving from upper Bucks County, PA.  A few others are coming from Princeton.  I’m coming from Hamilton.  We had one couple where one of the two people cited “it’s the closest church” as the reason for joining.  These folks either came back to the church that they grew up in or had a deliberate search path (not as regimented as mine, but just as comprehensive).  (Side note – just by listening I’ve learned a lot to incorporate in the next retreat.)

At the end of the session, we had a moment to fill out some paperwork.  We have to write a brief biography that will be published in the church bulletin and newsletter after we join – I’m still working on that.  We also had our pictures taken to be put in the bulletin and newsletter.

Next week we have a session on stewardship.  At some point, we’re going to participate in a session of Lectio Divina but I’m not sure which week.  In mid-November on a Wednesday we meet with the session, and then are introduced (and in some cases baptized?) on November 19.

I’ll write up the remaining classes as well.  Keep watching this blog!

Presbyopic Presbyterian

October 12, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Life 

As I mentioned last week, I have aged sufficiently that I now need reading glasses.  I picked them up last night.

I’m still adjusting.  They worked really well reading in bed last night.  Today I’m using them with the computer.  I’m getting minor headaches, but I suspect that’s just my brain adjusting.  I’m also still learning all of the “glasses” stuff like how not to forget them, how to keep them clean, when to use and when not to use them (these readers make anything beyond computer monitor distance blurry).  Any suggestions are appreciated.

This is gonna be a busy end of week and next week.

Tonight – NJ Devils home opener (which we are likely to skip – Carolyn is a bit sick)

Tomorrow evening – Trenton Titans season ticket pickup party

Saturday – Camp Johnsonburg fundraising golf tournament

Sunday – Carolyn and my 12th wedding anniversary

Tuesday – ASME Trenton Section (Carolyn is a member) dinner – “Great Engineering Disasters”

Thursday – open house for employee families at my office (with free food)

Saturday 10/21 – the first day of New Member Classes for church, plus a cross-country flight in the afternoon for my flight training

I need one of those double-wicked candles.

Exploring Membership classes

September 22, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion 

I got a letter from the church last night about Exploring Membership classes.

It was a form letter (minus 1/2 point) apparently sent to folks who are new and attending but not members yet.  It invites us to come to these 3 meetings (1.5 hours each on Saturday morning at 9am) to learn about the church’s beliefs, the meaning of membership and what’s going on at the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville.  (Or something like that – I’m writing from memory.)

There was one nice touch in the letter.  My wife is Catholic and planning to stay that way.  She has been a little nervous about my “new church” experience as it impacts her.  She’s worried that we scary Presbyterians will try to convert her, or look down on her because of her Catholicism.  She was worried about the camp retreat last January – and pleasantly surprised to find them completely accepting of her choice.  In this case, the pastor wrote a note on the bottom of the form letter asking me to convey his invitation to her to attend the Exploring Membership classes with me if she wanted to.  (Plus 1 whole point)

I’m pretty sure I’m already signed up, so I just have to let them know if Carolyn will attend.

I will be writing about these classes after they happen – check back in late October.