I’ve had the opportunity to attend two congregations recently. They share the same name. One is in Pasadena. It is recognized nationally for its dynamism, wonderful liturgy, out reach, excellent preaching, wonderful speakers during it’s “Rector’s Forums,” and so much more. It is a joy to worship there. The rector “gets it” in terms of the potential that Trinity Cathedral has by being the Episcopal Cathedral in Sacramento. (Trinity has done little to tap that potential for the past decade.) The members of this parish reach out to visitors and strangers and welcomes them into the community’s midst. Trinity Cathedral has long looked at this parish as a model of what we could be.
The other parish is in Sacramento. It is small (probably no more than 100 active members) but has so much potential. It has a beautifully simple building and is next to an active community college. The congregation is elderly. I saw one family and three other people less than 30 years of age. I experienced the common lack of greeting as I entered. I know the deacon. She greeted me as she came to the narthex to get a program for the visiting family.
There were no ushers to greet people or hand out programs. I signed the guest book. We’ll see if anything comes of that. No one wore a nametag. During the sign of peace a woman came into the pew in which I was sitting. She greeted and talked with a couple in the pew behind me but did not acknowledge me at all. I know the rector, the deacon, the music director and the lay assistant. I know about a half dozen other parishioners from my travels and work throughout the diocese.
I thought of Mary Parmer’s description of what we need to do if we are going to live, grow, make a difference. (See my blog on Invite. Welcome. Connect.) The Pasadena parish does it. The Sacramento parish does not. The Pasadena parish continues to thrive (even though they have budget problems as most parishes do). The Sacramento parish is struggling to stay alive.
Mary Parmer speaks of the need to overcome our reservations and fears about reaching out to friends and acquaintances to invite them to church, whether for worship or an event. (I am guilty of not doing so.) . She talks about using our imagination to find ways to welcome and connect with those who do answer God’s or our invitations. Both church buildings are beautiful, each in its own way. The Pasadena one is gothic and grand. The Sacramento one is simple but, potentially, a refuge for harried college students. Both have fantastic organs and good organists/music directors.
I think the Sacramento parish could remain alive. What do they need to do? The most obvious is reach out across the street to the college in all sorts of ways. They can offer talks, a prayer and reflection space, a safe place for discussions, a counseling center, classes that might explore issues college students are dealing with, and so much more.
They do offer really good organ concerts. They can easily be welcoming to the stranger just by acknowledging that person’s presence. This is truly a place that can use Mary Parmer’s guidance on evangelism. They need it now!