What are you looking for in a church?
This question is not so often asked of clergy. As it happens, it was asked of me because I'm in the process of searching for a new call. The reasons for this are myriad. Some are surface reality-- financial issues, and small, isolated communities, and differences in approach to mission. Others are unbloggable, as issues of ministry often are (and I tend to err on the side of caution in this regard-- one reason for the long stretches of silence recently). In this day and age of almost daily salacious news reports about priests and pastors, I will say that it is in no way due to any sort of misconduct, thank you.
But the end result is the same: I have dusted off my Church Deployment Office (CDO) profile and started looking around.
"What are you looking for in a church?"
The ideal will never be there, of course. No such thing as a perfect parish-- and if there were, they certainly wouldn't call me!
That said... what sort of congregation might I aspire to serve?
- One who attempts to be the church as the Body of Christ, and not simply as a form of respectable civic religion. By this I mean folks who participate in the life and work of the congregation in a way that moves beyond showing up on a Sunday morning because "that's what one does," and who do not resent the suggestion that church membership, let alone outreach or social justice, might be about more than good citizenship.
- Corollary: one who sees the spiritual life as integral to our work together, and not simply a veneer that I'm hired to apply.
- One with an eagerness for offering the best we have in worship. I don't necessarily mean fancy vestments or expensive appointments, but more that we bring all that we are and offer it to God. Sing and respond and pray and listen and move like our collective efforts matter. Because they do.
- One that cares for the church property as more than afterthought or repository for second-hand items that aren't good enough for one's house anymore.
- One with a certain willingness to risk. I know this is asking a lot of Episcopalians! I'm not talking about flinging aside the Prayer Book, honest. But in a thriving church, as with any living organism, changes inevitably occur, and new things will occasionally be tried-- in worship, in outreach, in study, whatever. This prospect does not need to be met with fear and anger and the constant digging in of heels.
- One that expects its leadership to spend time in intentional reading and study, the better to preach and teach the Gospel effectively. Of course, this presumes a congregation interested in solid, Christ-centered preaching and teaching. Most say they are, but that's kind of like a church saying it wants to grow-- some mean that differently than others.
- One that exhibits a charitable approach to relationships. No, there won't always be unanimity; no two people agree all the time, let alone a larger group like a church. But God is honored and the church remains healthy, even in conflict, if we can try to listen and speak with charity toward one another. Even situations of necessary correction or dealing with wrongdoing can be handled with compassion and goodwill.