The church of the future should look much like the church of the past in my opinion. Let’s take it back to basics. The church was not about a building, it was not about how many programs were offered or even how many people were in the seats during worship. The church was about relationships, nurturing one another through both the good times and the bad.
This is actually something that Appomattox Court House Presbyterian Church does very well; and so, I lift up our model to you, not as the ultimate way of doing things, but as an example of being authentic in a way that works for us. I cannot take credit for many of the ways that this congregation cares for one another, as many of their methods were in place long before I arrived.
Our congregation has what we call a family ministry. Each month a different person or family is responsible for it. If anyone falls ill, is recovering from a recent surgery, is grieving a loss, or in the best of circumstances celebrating a joy; the family ministry reaches out to them through personal contact. This contact may be a card, phone call, or visit. They might send flowers or organize meals on behalf of the congregation. Any care that is given is documented and passed on each month. In this way the caregivers can see who has been cared for and if any follow up is needed.
We also have a member who sends everyone birthday cards on behalf of the church. I am sure many churches do this. It seems so simple but I think that the theology behind it speaks volumes. The gesture says, “Beloved Child of God, we are so thankful that you were born!”
In the past few years our Nurture Committee has really stepped it up a notch. The committee seeks to care for the wellness of our members in body, mind, and spirit. We meet regularly and identify the folks who need extra love. We then make efforts to call or visit with them. The committee may organize meal delivery or provide rides for people who are unable to drive. Currently, our chair and his wife take goody baskets to our shut-ins about twice a year, and their visits are highly anticipated among the members!
One of my favorite projects has been sending care packages to our college students. The first time we did this we had so many gifts to send to the students we had to purchase bigger boxes to mail them! We had such a positive response from our college students who were reassured that they are not forgotten.
We have joined with the local hospital system to facilitate a Congregational Health Program. The congregation took surveys to discern what health concerns we may have and discussed ways we might combat these issues. We have formed walking programs such as a Walk to Jerusalem and the ACHPC World Tour. We tally our mileage as a congregation to promote exercise. Every so often, we go on walking field trips together. Rather than having a Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper last year, we had a Non-Fat Tuesday fellowship dinner. We shared healthy dishes and were invited to exchange recipes. Not only did we eat well, but we spent quality time together around the table.
We rally around growing families as well! We don’t have many children in our congregation so it is a joy to have little ones being born! We host showers for expecting parents, and this is not just for the women. Everyone is invited. The most thoughtful gifts we give however, are delivering meals to the family for several weeks after the baby comes home.
For many members here, it is the loving relationships expressed through acts of care that define our congregation. It is not that we have a lot of people in attendance, or that we have an activity every night of the week; rather the knowledge that, if you have a need for prayer, for assistance, or for people with whom you can celebrate, these are the people who will rally around you. Such nurture for the whole person is a beautiful aspect of a holy community.
Loren Tate Mitchell serves as teaching elder at Appomattox Presbyterian Church in Appomattox, Virginia. She blogs at http://preachingthumbelina.blogspot.com