Words from the Pastor of St. John’s Blymire’s UCC
FROM THE PASTOR’S DESK
I continue to be amazed at the vibrant ministries here at St. John’s Blymire’s UCC and of the commitment of you folks to Christian faith, hospitality, and service. And I continue to be honored and humbled to serve as your part-time interim pastor. Among the things that have warmed my heart are the ways that you folks have used the “reverse offering money” that I handed out a few weeks ago. I challenged you to invest it, add it to other monies, or donate it directly to ministries or missions for which you have a passion and which you think are examples of Jesus’ caring and compassion. Several of you have asked that I keep your giving anonymous and confidential, which I will certainly do. The recipients of your donations ranged from agencies in the area that minister to grieving families and the hungry and those needing homes and jobs, to Christian counseling, to our own Helping Hands fund and ASAPH and “pig farm” assistance. Thank you for your stewardship of that “reverse offering” and of all your generous giving.
At the same time, I hear from several of you here at Blymire’s Church what Rev. Dr. Anna Hall, who is with Convergence and works extensively with small churches, recently wrote: “I hear, ‘Our church needs more young families,’ ‘We need younger folks to serve in leadership roles,’ and ‘We are declining because of a lack of young families, children, and youth.’ I know that this challenge is top of mind for so many of you out there trying to live into God’s calling in a time of national church decline. It can be hard when you believe a healthy church is generationally diverse and you look out on Sunday mornings and see only gray hair. While I believe that God has a calling for every church, no matter what color your hair or what your age bracket, I completely understand the anxiety caused by seeing your beloved congregation age.”
Rev. Dr. Hall goes on to say: “However, when I read these statements by members of churches that are already struggling to minister to their existing members, much less their community, I have to wonder if they actually know any young families. You see, the young families I know in my networks of friends and relations are struggling. They are stretched so thin they are near the breaking point.
“A recent study by researchers at Ohio State University shows that parental burnout may be at an all-time high these days. Some of this increase is due to the pandemic, but studies as far back as 2017 cite rising burnout rates, simply because of the ever-increasing demands of modern parenting. As many as 66% of parents experienced symptoms of parental burnout during 2021. Mothers were particularly affected along with parents of children who have special needs. Burnout like this is strongly associated with parental depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Parents are more isolated than ever from community and family support, feeling like they have to do everything on their own. They feel torn between doing a good job at work and being a good parent. Simply put, these parents need help.
“Yet the churches I hear saying the most about young families are also saying that they are tired and wanting to pass the baton of work and leadership to a new generation. They see young families as a source of help to them as they age, without considering the great needs of any family with school-age children right now. Trust me when I say, these young families that I know do not have the capacity to take on one new thing. Some of my friends and acquaintances with young children are or have been involved with churches, and too often I hear stories of them being offered no help and support at all, while being asked to serve in leadership year after year without a break. Can you blame them for taking church off the “to-do” list?
“If there was one question I would ask any church that wants more young families, it would be this: Why do you want them? I might go on to ask: Do you want them simply to help you do your work? Or are you called to minister to them? If the answer is the latter (and I truly hope it is), I invite you to first consider what the families in your neighborhood actually need. And the best way to do that is to ask them. When was the last time you reached out to your neighbors to simply ask: What do you need? And how can we help?
“Of course, this doesn’t only apply to young families. These are great questions to ask all of our neighbors if we seek to love them as ourselves. The key here is seeing your neighbors as more than fodder for the survival of your church. It means seeing each and every one of them as beloved children of God. It means loving your neighbors, even when their needs far outweigh anything they can offer in time or service.
“This is the great commandment. How will you live into it today?”
These words of Rev. Dr. Hall have resonated with me the last few weeks as I have listened to many of you in our cottage meetings, and as I have prayed about what you folks have shared with me about what you see as the joys and challenges we have here at Blymire’s Church. You folks have pinpointed needs that we have, including (as I shared with you last month) plans for a hybrid of in-person and online worship and meeting/fellowship times, and befriending young people and their families in our area and build on those friendships to help us discern how we as a church can help meet their needs (perhaps by partnering with other churches and organizations to accomplish that).
As I have also shared with you before, we are in the process of answering the all-important questions: Who are we as St. John’s Blymire’s United Church of Christ? Who are our neighbors? Who is God calling us to become as we journey into God’s future? What is our unique niche here in Dallastown?
I will see you around this month of November. God’s continued blessings on you, Pastor Rick