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Letter to My Grandma Grace

Dear Grandma Grace, what a Blessed Memory you are, how I still well up with tears when I sing your favorite hymns:


(And hi to all my Valley Methodist friends!  As I’ve told you many times, I wouldn’t be in the ministry if it weren’t for my Grandmother Grace Bullock, my mom Carol’s mom.  I was thinking about Grandma this week, wondering if she would understand what we’re doing at the 9AM Traditional and 11AM Contemporary services – why churches are needing to change so many things these days.  I wonder if she would understand what it’s like today – to seek to discover if the United Methodist Church can be an essential part of people’s lives in the future, the way it was for her life – and has been for my life.  She would definitely understand that her pastor Grandson cares about being faithful – that he has come to love the UM church that she brought us all into.  Please listen in as I speak to my Grandma from my heart about what pastors and churches feel we’re asked to do today.  And thank YOU for caring that our congregation, Spokane Valley UMC, have a future.) 


So Grandma, what we’re trying to do in our Sunday worship services may seem like a strange and unreasonable goal to you.  But here it is: we’re trying to make sure that ALL of the moments of a worship hour are understandable and invite participation even to someone who is visiting for the very first time.  In other words, we’re trying to include ALL of the people who come to a worship service ALL of the time – both the 50 year member, and the 1st time visitor: every minute, every song or hymn, every prayer, every announcement, every sermon, every offering, every fellowship moment.  


So Grandma, you can see the logic here . . . if we’re going to include everyone in every minute of the worship service, that means we’re going to have to stop doing the things that a first time visitor cannot connect with.  To include everyone, we’re going to have to exclude some things. 


I’m sure you remember, Grandma, all of the announcements in worship services.  Some Sundays they were short and to the point.  Some Sundays they went on and on.  Sometimes a person would walk up to the lectern and give a special announcement.  Many times these announcements were for the church family, for the regular worshipper or member.  Many many times, these announcements were not understandable to a first time visitor – and nobody worried about that.  If a visitor had to tune out for a few minutes, it was just expected that they would forgive us, love us anyway, and hopefully come back and become an insider – so they could eventually understand all the announcements.   So here’s the shocker Grandma, we’ve learned that in today’s United Methodist Church, virtually all of the churches that treat the first time visitor that way are declining – getting smaller, not growing.


Same thing with the way the congregation’s prayers are being lifted up to God in a worship service.  Grandma you remember there were many ways of doing this.  There was the sharing of “Joys and Concerns” – people lifting their hand and the minister calling on each one.   There was also the reading of “prayer cards” in the service.  Long time members and worshippers loved hearing what was going on in people’s lives – who was in the hospital, who had a new grandbaby.  The care and joy of being aware of these things was very genuine.  People loved feeling close to one another.  You remember also that there was no way to tell how long this all would take.  Some Sundays hardly anybody shared, and the prayer time was short.  Sometimes many, many hands shot up, or many cards were written, and the prayer time could go on for 10 even 15 minutes. 


If the Pastoral Prayer had to be cut short, no one worried.  If the time the minister had to preach was cut short, no one was bothered.  Some thought pastor’s sermons were too long anyway.

If we had to skip a hymn or song to accommodate the time, no one worried too much about that either.  If the first time visitor did not know the names of the people, no one was bothered.  Again, we expected that if they loved us, they’d come back again and again, and eventually they’d know all the names like we do.


But Grandma, another shocker: TODAY virtually all of the churches who use worship service time in this way are declining, getting smaller.


We’ve found what we think is an answer to this problem:  “Best Practices.”  You remember what “best practices” are.  Just like when you went to the doctor or dentist – you expected that your dental or medical needs would be met by professional people who knew the very “best practices” of keeping you healthy.  You wouldn’t’ have gone to a doctor who was not up on the latest.  When you used a tax preparer, you trusted that your tax preparer would be up on all the 1973 changes.  If they weren’t you could pay too much tax, or too little and be in trouble. 


Grandma, our church just spent nearly a million dollars to remodel our sanctuary.  It was a decision for “Best Practices”.  It was a decision of hope and faith – to LIVE for God, to grow in Christ, to reach out with Jesus’ love, to discover by the Holy Spirit if our congregation can become a vital resource for the faith of young adults, young families – and have a future 20-30- even 50 years from now. The Coordinating Council is trying something with the “prayer cards” too.  We’re trying lifting them up in silent prayer in worship, and then carrying prayers with 40 Prayer Warriors all through the week.  It’s giving us more time to sing, and it’s giving me more time to preach.  It is a “best practice”.  But will it work?  Will the members and regular worshippers accept it?  Will they accept the challenge that every minute, every song or hymn, every prayer, every announcement, every sermon, every offering, every fellowship moment, include EVERYONE?   Grandma, now that you’ve been up there in heaven for awhile, what do you think?  Does it seem like a worthy goal? 


And to Valley Methodist Friends, a question: ALL of the moments of a worship hour being understandable and inviting participation even to someone who is visiting for the very first time? Think we can do this?  Think it will work?  I love each Sunday.  It’s sure fun to be part of a congregation that is trying with all their might, and with the Spirit’s help – and the best of all – as John Wesley said, “God is with us!”    


Your Pastor, Mike