Pilgriming Lab Report

Hey everybody…. This is the last of my blog posts on my church visits. I had this crazy idea to structure it in the proper format of a lab report. I thought it sounded like a cute idea, but I’m not sure it works when all is said and done. According to my research, a lab report is supposed to be in passive voice and the author should not use personal pronouns to refer to herself. I followed that rule in my first draft, but found it way too awkward and uncomfortable. I am apparently too obsessed with myself to avoid all references to my own role in this experiment. Anyway, I will let you decide for yourself if my “cute idea” works at all. I just wanted to explain what is going on in case you read this and think- “what the heck is this? It doesn’t sound like Terri!”

Pilgriming Lab Report

Introduction:

After a period of turbulence in my current church experience, an experiment to evaluate a sample of other congregations seemed appropriate. Previous life experience has provided me with the opportunity to worship in numerous Catholic churches, several Episcopal churches, two Baptist churches, one Missouri synod Lutheran church, and one non-denominational megachurch.  However, most experiences with these congregations did not intentionally purpose to evaluate their characteristics. They were simply episodic, casual experiences.  The current experiment purposed to methodically sample different ways other congregations formatted their worship services, presented their core beliefs, implemented inclusiveness, and engaged visitors. Upon gathering the sampling data, the plan was to evaluate whether or not a different faith tradition, denomination, or congregation would more effectively enhance my spiritual development and give me more impactful ways to serve than my current church.

Hypothesis:

If different church experiences suggest that another congregation aligns with my core theology, values, spiritual journey, and ideas on interpersonal relationships/congregational development, it is incumbent upon me to change churches.

Methodology:

Preparation for the experiment involved researching the internet about different denominations. The goal was to assess different denominations for some key factors in order to narrow down the number of churches to visit. The following items were considered in the internet search:

  • Theology
  • Policy statements on particular challenging or controversial issues in Christendom
  • Role of women in the church
  • View of Biblical truth
  • Degree of emphasis on social justice/liberation theology
  • Understanding on the nature of the Eucharist

After evaluating the information on the overall denominations, it was decided to limit the church samples to the following:

  • Lutheran- Evangelical Lutheran Church of America synod
  • Lutheran- Missouri synod
  • United Methodist Church

These denomination seemed to follow theology that is roughly in line with my views. They are well-known, mainstream Protestant religions. They provide three different experiences so that the sampling is not homogenous.

Next, the websites for churches of these denominations within 30 miles were reviewed. In this review, the following factors were considered:

  • Distance from home
  • Ease of use of the website
  • Faith formation opportunities
  • Ministries
  • Biographies of staff
  • Size of congregation
  • Recent newsletters and bulletins
  • Financial status of congregation

 Three churches were selected for further study- one Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (Sample A,) one Missouri Synod Lutheran Church (Sample B,) and one United Methodist Church (Sample C.) One traditional 10:00am Sunday morning (Sample A,) one contemporary 4:00pm Saturday evening service (Sample B,) and one traditional early 8:00am Sunday service (Sample C) were chosen to get a diverse mix of experiences.

Upon visiting the churches, it was determined that Sample B was actually another Evangelical Lutheran Church of America rather than a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church. However, the experiences were still quite different. Sample A was a traditional service. Sample B was a contemporary service. Sample A had a congregation of about 50 people. Sample B had a congregation of around 400 people. It was determined that Sample B was sufficiently different from Sample A to proceed with the methodology as planned.

Several factors were observed during the church visits. These included:

Data:

The three sample churches were visited in a three-week period.  The data is subjective, based on my criteria. Each church was rated on each criterium, on a scale of one to five, with five being the highest rating.

Criteria                                                           Sample A      Sample B          Sample C                                                                                                                                                                                         

Welcome                                                                  3                  3                  2

Size of congregation                                                  3                  4                  3

Format of the service                                                 4                  4                  3

Sermon                                                                    2                  4                  2

Faith development and service activities                     2                  3                  3

Music                                                                       2                  4                  3

Comfort level of environment                                      4                  4                  4

Connection with the people                                         3                  2                  3

Financial health/transparency                                     4                  3                  NA

Total                                                                         27                31                23

I also rated the church I am currently attending on the same criteria.

Welcome                                                                  5

Size of congregation                                            4

Format of the service                                           4

Sermon                                                                    5

Faith development and service activities     4

Music                                                                       3

Comfort level of environment                             3

Connection with the people                                   4

Financial health/transparency                              5

Total                                                                         37

Analysis:

Clearly, the ratings on these criteria are subjective, based on my own preferences. The reasons for the ratings varied. In the case of sample C, the lower rating does not arise from not being friendly enough; the rating arises because the people were too alarming friendly for my introverted soul. The ratings on the size criteria again demonstrate my own preference for a mid-size congregation of 100-200 people. Sample A and Sample C had very small congregations at the services and Sample B was a megachurch. I slightly preferred the larger congregation. Other people would likely have different preference. Since this was my experiment, it seems fair to weight my own preferences as the standard.

It was not always possible to tell everything about the church based on an internet search and one visit. It was especially difficult to assess financial health and transparency, although I was happy to note that Sample A did include some financial information on their website. Their finances were not rock solid, but they did have clear information about their economic status and philosophy towards stewardship.  For Sample B, I had to do some extrapolating about finances by considering the rapid growth in membership and campuses. I had no way of evaluating this criterium for Sample C.

Discussion:

While it is an interesting exercise to apply scientific method to evaluating a church home, choosing a church is largely a matter of intangibles. I learned many things during my individual church visits (which you can read in my previous blog posts on each individual visit) and most of them were not quantifiable. Also, church culture and congregational development are not necessarily painted with a wide brush. For instance, in evaluating the “connection with the people” criterium, I clearly realized that no one is going to have the same level of connection with everyone. In some cases, the connection vibe may be lukewarm across the board. In other cases, the connection vibe may be intensely strong and bonded in some percentage of people and  painfully shredded with others. Such is the nature of intimacy. In both situations, the net “connection” might rate a 3 but for different reasons.

Conclusion:

There is more to choosing a church than scientific data. That choice is more about how the Holy Spirit leads your heart. In visiting different churches, I was able to clear my mind of the pain that the recent congregational flashpoints in my current church caused me. I was able to look beyond the giant trees that seemed to be falling on me so that I could see how beautiful the forest really is. I learned things about the churches I visited and about myself that made me realize that being brave enough to dodge the falling trees might be worth the effort if it means I can live in that beautiful forest.

The statistical data and scientific analysis also suggest that my current church is the right choice for me.  Of course it did. It is God’s science!

I’d love to know what you think of my “scientific” spiritual experiment.  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a scientifically spiritual day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Church Lab- Sample C

More in the continuing saga of my Lenten pilgriming…

For my final church visit in Lent, I selected a United Methodist church in the next town north from me. I felt like I needed to change things up a little more dramatically. There is a United Methodist church right down the road from my Episcopal church, but I decided it would be better to go further afield in order to get a feel for a completely different culture. I think it was the wise decision, but, let me tell you… there is no growth in comfort and no comfort in growth!

I picked this particular church because their website seemed to feature many adult faith formation opportunities. Adult education is a passion of mine, so it was exciting to me to see a congregation so dialed in to congregational faith formation. Unfortunately, the website was somewhat vague and opaque about what these classes and events looked like and what they taught. I was interested to learn more, so decided to get up early one Sunday and attend their 8:00am service.

When I arrived at the church, I noticed a parking lot with about forty spaces in front of the church, with additional parking in the rear. There were plenty of spaces in the front. In fact, cars occupied only one or two of the spots. However, when I entered the lot, I noticed that every one of the forty spaces were designated as handicapped parking. Hmmm, I thought. This might tell me something about the congregation.

I parked in the back of the church and walked up to the front door. A gentleman standing there handed me a program. He looked at me and asked if I was new. When I replied that I was visiting, he perked up considerably. Straightening his whole body and projecting his voice vociferously across the twenty-five feet of narthex behind him, he called to someone standing at a little kiosk, “Marge! I have a newcomer!” Everyone standing in the narthex immediately turned to look. The man pointed to the lady at the kiosk, presumably Marge, placed his hand on my back, and propelled me to what turned out to be the greeter’s table. As I walked across the narthex towards Marge, the people parted to make a path for me. It all felt dramatic and almost ceremonial. One thing it was not was anonymous. If I had any hope of slinking in quietly and invisibly, it was dashed in that moment. Marge said hello and asked if I would like my free gift then or if I wanted her to keep it until after the service. When I said I would like to wait, she immediately pounced on the opportunity to commit me to meeting her after the service at her little kiosk.

Armed with the new understanding of my personal growth and bravery which I discovered during my first pilgriming trip, I pulled my psyche up by its bootstraps and entered the worship space. They had a slide show projecting announcements and upcoming events. I watched closely, hoping they would reveal a little more information about the mysterious faith formation opportunities. They did not.

When the minister stepped out onto the raised platform, he greeted everyone and asked any newcomers to stand up and introduce themselves. Heads all over the church swiveled in my direction. Since there were only about 40 or 50 people in the congregation and virtually all of them had been in the narthex to witness my very conspicuous entrance, everyone knew how to spot me. I wanted to climb under a pew, but I would not have fit. I hesitated a moment. I really did not want to be on public display. I know the intentions were good, but it felt extremely uncomfortable to me. As I took a nanosecond to process my discomfort, congregants started calling out- “Get up! It won’t hurt!,” “Here’s someone new!” and other exclamations meant to be welcoming. I did get up and quickly give my name and my town before sinking back into my seat like wet clay on a potter’s wheel. In that instance, I made a mental note- “Report back to the welcome committee at the church I currently attend- let’s NOT do this!”

When the service began, I noticed that this church was musically oriented as the Sample B church was. I enjoyed the singing, but I still missed the fellowship of communal spoken prayer. This was the least “liturgical” of my church samples- the service felt much less structured. It intrigued me that they read only 1.5 verses of Scripture as part of the service. I am accustomed to hearing an Old Testament or Acts of the Apostles reading, a Psalm, a New Testament reading, and a Gospel reading. The sermon didn’t align closely with my own spiritual biorhythm. It was not that I thought it unorthodox or unchristian or anything like that. It was simply a question of emphasis. The core of the message seemed to lean a little more towards humanism than felt right to me. It also enhanced my curiosity about what the various faith formation classes and groups actually teach.

During the passing of the peace, one lady came up to me to try to convince me to stay for Sunday School. She told me a little about her Sunday School group, but it did feel more “current event-y” and humanistic than the sort of faith formation for which my heart yearns. Besides, in that moment I realized I wanted to be at my church for the later service. The fact that my soul was again reflexively identifying the church I’ve attended for the past seven plus as my church seemed very telling.

I did reach out after the service to ask for more information about the faith formation opportunities. The minister responded quickly and warmly. If at some point, my current church again stops feeling like my church, I would be comfortable exploring their education opportunities further.

I felt a little bad for not continuing to engage with this United Methodist church because they were so obviously excited to have me. On the other hand, I have to say that one of the primary reasons I felt uncomfortable continuing to engage was… they were so obviously excited to have me. It was a good lesson in balance. It is important to be warm to visitors, but maybe it is even better to avoid boiling them alive!

Have you ever received a welcome somewhere that made you uncomfortable, even if the welcomers had the best of intentions? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a warm and welcoming day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Church Lab- Sample B

More in the continuing saga of my Lenten pilgriming…

I chose the second church I visited by accident. I thought I was choosing a Missouri Synod Lutheran church, but I got stuck in Google quicksand. In my zeal to learn as much as I could about the different denominations and churches, I got a little mixed up. I ended up choosing another Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. It was okay, though. I chose a Saturday evening contemporary service in The Villages. The service was a much different experience than the traditional Sunday morning service I experienced in my town the prior week.

To provide some context, I need to explain a little about The Villages. I have mentioned this place in past blogs. The Villages are a weird, almost supernatural phenomenon. It is the housing development that took over the world. It is a mammoth senior independent living facility of over thirty-two square miles. The population is over 80.000 people. The heart of The Villages is a system of residential neighborhoods for people over fifty-five, augmented by health care facilities, restaurants, bars (lots of bars), major shopping areas, entertainment venues, and every service a person could ever need. There are social and activity clubs to serve people of every interest- including being majorettes. Yes, I have seen them practicing in full regalia in the Target parking lot. You can access any place within The Villages by golf cart. Their road system involves a great many traffic circles. I have always thought that was an odd urban planning choice for a community intended for people who, by definition, have probably lost a lot of peripheral vision.

The Villages is the fastest growing city in the United States. They brand themselves as “America’s Hometown.” The way they are expanding, they might have to broaden the term beyond “America’s.”  We live about fifteen miles from the heart of The Villages, although that distance is shrinking as the town seeps ever southward. The Villages pretend they are a city unto themselves. In reality, their property spans across at least four different cities in three different counties.

This brings me to Sample B of my Church Lab experiment. I am not sure you would describe the church I attended in The Villages as a mega church, but it certainly seemed that way to me. I spent most of my church years in Roman Catholic churches, so I am familiar with large service attendance. However, after nearly eight years at my small Episcopal church, I am now more accustomed to moderate congregations of 100-150 people. The church I attended in The Villages pushed me out of that paradigm, for sure. This church has three separate campuses and a membership of over 4,000 people. They hold seven services each weekend. There had to be around four hundred people at the service I attended.

This service was much more casual. The minister wore a purple polo shirt and black pants. There was not a clerical collar or vestment to be seen. The hallmark of the service was singing. There was little spoken prayer, especially communal spoken prayer. When I entered the enveloping worship space, I asked an usher for a program or Order of Worship. He looked confused and said I should just follow along with the video screens. There were two MASSIVE screens hanging from the ceiling. As the service progressed, I saw why programs were not necessary. Mostly, the service involved just following the bouncing ball to sing worship songs along with the small, but powerful choir. The singing, for me, was rather restful, focusing, and meditative. I am not sure if that was the vibe they were going for, but it worked for me. I did miss the communal recitation of spoken prayer, though.

The minister preached a helpful sermon. The communion process was beautiful. Both the sermon and communion were similar to my church, with just a snippet more of a modern flair. I loved the communion distribution. Each communion station had a large one-piece ceramic vessel- a plate of hosts surrounding a cup of wine molded into the center. As I write about it, I can’t help thinking you will all visualize a chip and dip plate, which seems very irreverent. It did not strike me like that at the time. I guess there was a functional similarity between the communion vessel and a chip and dip plate, but the communion vessel was so much more elegant and transcendent. Don’t ask me how it was elegant and transcendent. It was just a vibe.

Because there were so many people, I had plenty of time to look around at the congregation. Something occurred to me that I would normally never notice. It still seems odd to me that it even registered to me. As a white, middle-class woman, I typically don’t have to notice stuff like this. People who look like me are usually in the majority. However, when I looked around the congregation at The Villages church, all I saw were people who all fit in one particular dynamic. Every single person was white. At the age of almost sixty-five, I was the youngest person there except for a couple of the singers. Knowing what I know of The Villages, I am pretty sure all the worshippers fell into an upper middle class economic status. I doubt there was anyone there who was very rich. I doubt there was anyone there who was poor or even lower middle class.

My own church is fairly homogenous. However, I have seen a shift in the eight years or so I have been attending. Younger people are popping in- at our recent Alpha program, we had 8 or 10 young men who showed up regularly. I see faces of color in the congregation. We have members with generational ties to my town and to my church. We have people who have only recently moved to the area. We have very wealthy people, and we have people who have to decide whether to pay the electric bill or the car insurance each month. Our congregation is becoming a blended family. It is a rich environment. It enriches me to be part of it.

As I was sitting in my car after the service… waiting for the parking lot to clear out… I was praying and meditating. Facebook recently decided that Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in God with all your heart, and don’t lean on your own understand. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths” is my very own Bible passage. If Facebook says it, it must be true, so I decided to contemplate that message. Considering that this Lent was a season of discovery for me… a season to look for where God wanted me to serve… Facebook did a pretty good job.

Something happened at that point. Now, I am not a mystical kind of person. I am intuitive, but I am also very, very practical. If I have a feeling or an impulse, I analyze it to shreds to figure out from whence it came. I tend to think that this “feeling” or “impulse” or “intuition” is the result of me observing and analyzing information so automatically that I don’t even realize I am doing it. That may be what happened in the parking lot at The Villages church. It may be that I simply wanted to see something to give me a direction. Or it may be that I had a bona fide vision. Whatever it was, it was powerful and compelling.

As I sat quietly in my car with my eyes closed thinking about Proverbs 3:5-6, I suddenly had an undeniable picture of what my church could be like. I know it was my church because I saw people I know sitting in the pews. I should say “sitting in the stands” because it was such a large space- almost an arena. They were people the people that I have noticed coming into our congregation in the past several years- the younger ones, the newly moved to the area, the non-Caucasian faces, those who struggle financially, brothers and sisters with varied backgrounds. I am close to these people. I can’t say they came to my church because I was there or because I invited them. I have come to know them since they started attending my church. God seemed to be telling me, though, that these people were there and thriving in their spiritual lives partly because of me… that I had behaved in a way towards them that reflected God’s love and acceptance. My initial takeaway was that God was showing me that I have had value in supporting His work in my current congregation.

The next takeaway might reflect the work that He still has for me to do where I am. I had such a sense that what I was seeing behind my eyelids was God’s vision for my church. God wants it to continue to grow in love and grace and fellowship. He wants it to be a haven for everyone who is searching for Him, in any way. He wants me to have a part in preserving the beauty I have seen grow in my congregation while also expanding to include some of the benefits of a large church. When you have a ton of people come to your church and contribute, it is easier and more efficient to use resources. You can usually offer more programs and ministries. You can hire more staff for pastoral care. You can reach out more to the community.

The “God’s vision” I saw was extraordinary. It was exciting. I don’t know if we will get there in my lifetime. That is up to God. I don’t know if we will ever get there at all. That is up to the people to strive for His vision. All I know is that God has something on the horizon for my church and for me. I guess I will stick around for a while.

Do you think I had a mystical vision? Or something more prosaic? Do you think it matters if it was a message directly from God or something I just made up out of my own little brain? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a visionary day!

Terri/Dorry😊

Church Ownership

In my last post, I wrote about personal agency- the notion of taking ownership of one’s  life. We have options and we make decisions to shape our lives. Life is not something that simply happens to us. God gives us the tools to change our own circumstances in many instances. He gives us the right to change our own circumstances in many instances. He also gives us mercy and grace to adapt when it is not possible to change a situation. He provides multiple ways forward after difficult experiences that can either build us up or destroy us, depending on how we exert the agency we have in our lives. I suspect that God even expects us to select the circumstances and experiences necessary to live a life that is rewarding to ourselves and pleasing to Him. That is agency. If God expects us to have agency in our own lives, surely we should expect the same from the world… and from ourselves.

 This concept of agency also has implications above the individual level.

I’ve mentioned that my church adopted a ministry called Invite, Welcome, Connect. The ministry’s founder, Mary Foster Parmer, spent a weekend with our congregation helping us strategize ways to grow our church in membership and vibrancy. Her message is that people usually only truly engage with a church on a deep, abiding level if the congregation meets the newcomers’ needs in several phases of their discerning and bonding process.

First of all, the church members must invite people in their secular lives to come to church. Most of the time, people who join churches begin coming to that church because someone they know invites them. Secondly, the church needs to make sure that the newcomers feel welcome. That means being friendly and genuinely interested in new people, but it also means considering more subliminal conditions. For instance, would someone who is on a lower economic level feel welcome in a church if the only fellowship activity of the year is a fund-raising auction, which tends to put a person’s financial status on public display? Finally, it is not enough to simply invite a person to church and smile at them kindly, authentically, and enthusiastically. People come back to a church and contribute their gifts (time, talent, connections, disposition, financial resources, etc.) when they connect with the church’s theology, mission, activities, and people. When we form longer term, genuine relationships with people who are considering joining our church, it is more likely that they will strengthen that bond by joining the family.

I think all of this is absolutely true. I love the ministry. I notice more engagement, more excitement, and more ownership in our congregation. I would add a  fourth element that we should consider, as well…. agency.

Newcomers in a church should not feel like they are couch-surfing in someone else’s domicile, living off the generosity of the owners of said couch. They need to believe that they have real agency in the life of the church if they are to embrace that church as a core piece of who they are. A congregation that wishes to grow and fill hearts cannot only accept and welcome people to serve in ways that they are inheriting from past generations of church membership. They need an opportunity to sow the unique gifts God has sent them to plant, especially if they are not planting in a field that is already growing some other crop. Remember, even if the crop they are growing does not appeal to your palette, it is likely- especially in an expanding church- that someone else will gladly feast on it. Providing an abundant smorgasbord for the people of God is a reason for the church to rejoice!

It is important that new people have a true sense of ownership. They must have a meaningful voice. They must have the power to not just inhabit the pews in the church, but to shape its future.

Allowing newcomers to shape the future of the church can be scary. Despite good intentions all around, people don’t always get it right. A church that is vibrant becomes fertile because of the rich spiritual, social, and emotional ground on which it stands. That legacy of knowledge, history, and traditions is trustworthy and good. Fertility does require more than just the ground, however. It also requires ever-renewing rain, sun, and nourishment. It also requires the continual inspiration and blessing of God. Finding a way to combine those very necessary elements is difficult and sometimes messy. However, if a church just turns over the existing soil and refuses to provide the other resources that need constant renewal, that church may wither. Also, to God, no offering is unacceptable. If we refuse offers to provide all the recurring resources needed for vibrancy, God’s blessing may also be in short supply. Maybe the organization becomes less God’s church and more the people’s church. Such a transformation does not suggest health or longevity.

So, if you are part of the foundational congregation of a church that wishes to thrive and grow in the future, engage your newcomers in leadership intentionally. When they volunteer to head up some program or project, support them by sharing your experience. However, don’t wield the past like a weapon. Support their vision. Elect them for your vestries and parish councils. Stay open-minded to their perspectives. Do not minimize what they say or feel because “nobody would feel that way”-  just because you would not feel that way. Accept that their perspective may reflect the perspective of other people coming into your church who do not have the same background and history that you do. You do not have to accept the position of the newcomer as to how to meet everyone’s interests, but you should validate that the interests they raise are legitimate.

I suggest that it might be worthwhile to sometimes accept a newcomer’s vision, even if you are skeptical about what the outcome might be. Yes, the end result might not be exactly what you would have envisioned. Sometimes, the end result might actually be objectively “better.” Even if the end result turns out objectively “worse” than if the congregation had taken the more traditional path, the church derives intrinsic benefit from granting true agency to all its members. Yes, there is risk. But there can also be great reward.

A church can always decide what they want in terms of vibrancy. Some churches would just as soon stay small and intimate, content with ministering to the congregational family that traditionally populates their pews. However, if a congregation genuinely wants to ignite an outpouring of the Holy Spirit beyond their traditional congregation, it will be necessary to build agency into the growth plan.

Are you a member of a church that has grown and thrived? How did your congregation accomplish this? On the other hand, if you have seen “dechurching” gut a congregation, what was that experience like? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a Spirit-filled Day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

Nice Matters

When I moved to Florida, it struck me that people seemed to be nicer here than in other places I lived. I thought maybe it was a Southern thing. People were more polite, friendlier, and pleasant.  The general attitude just seemed to be warmer than in California.  I have friends in California that are very, very close to my heart.  These people have shown me critical kindness, sincere love, and absolute warmth.  This is my experience of individuals and I would never say that specific individuals on one coast or another are nicer.  The acceptable standard operating procedure for relating to others in Florida, though, seems to be a smidge higher on the niceness scale. 

When I’ve stated this theory to friends, they tend to disagree.  They tell me that they think what I’ve observed about the niceness of people in Florida just has to do with living in a small town.  My town in Florida has a population of about 23,000 people.  While that is much smaller than the population of the sprawling metropolis in which I resided in the Golden State, it hardly strikes me as a tiny town.  Besides, I’ve visited small towns before.  I do think the people tend to be friendlier and more connected to each other, but I don’t know that I’ve ever felt that they were particularly kind to your average, garden variety interloper. 

I think I’ve figured out what it is.  I think it is community.

I’m not sure I’ve actually lived in community as an adult before moving to Florida.  I always lived in apartment or condo complexes when I lived in California.  Neighbors typically didn’t even know each other’s names.  Amazingly, you could live adjacent to someone, separated only be a wall, and never even speak to that person.  I didn’t have children, so I never developed a network of neighbors, school volunteers, or other parent-related groups.  I worshiped as a Roman Catholic, in huge congregations.  These congregations seemed to connect on Sunday mornings and then disengage back into the mainstream with no residual tie to each other.  The sign of peace usually meant nodding to your immediate pew neighbor and avoiding touch. The isolated structure of my environment did nothing to overcome my basic shyness.  It is a bit tortuous for me to interact with people I don’t know when they make the first move.  There is no way on God’s green earth that I would be the one breaking down the social barriers to create community.

If I did have a community, it was my workplace.  I made most of my friends at work and they were very important to me.  I have been retired almost five years and I am still close to many of these community members.  In some ways, my workplace did seem like community.  The people with whom I inhabited my career are like family.  I knew their struggles and their triumphs.  I knew who was good at what and what challenges I could expect when interacting with each person.  There was a sort of forgiveness of foibles that happens with people you know and love.

On the other hand, considering your workplace to be your community might not be the healthiest perspective.  I was lucky in my colleagues, but it would be naïve to think that everyone in the workplace community is free of personal agendas and defenses.  After all, there is much more at stake in the workplace community than in a neighborhood.  Getting along may not always serve a colleague’s purposes.  As I said, I was blessed with absolutely wonderful, supportive colleagues and superiors, but it can be dicey to perceive a coworker through the same lens as a neighbor.  Also, if one looks at the workplace as the community, it is sometimes harder to disengage from the work situation.  Burnout can be more of a factor.  If workplace is “community,” is it also “home?” If so, how do you “go home and leave the troubles of the day behind you?”

In Florida, I live in a subdivision, a distinct neighborhood.  I do know my close neighbors and I also know a fairly large circle of other folks who live in the community.  The subdivision has activities and I participate in some of them some of the time.  People seem to enjoy crocheting a cozy afghan of connections with those who share their neighborhood.  The afghan consists of different kinds of stitches, some looser than others, and some just barely hanging by a shredded piece of yarn, but those connections are there.  It doesn’t feel like too much, even to someone like me who is perhaps too easily spooked by too much interaction with too many people.  In addition to the warmth, there is respect so the afghan stitches don’t tend to knot and constrain.  The pattern is really rather beautiful.

My church in Florida is similar.  People talk about “church homes” and “church families,” but I don’t think I ever really understood.  Now I get it.  My church isn’t tiny, but it certainly seems small and manageable after a lifetime of going to services with 800 other people who changed week to week.  The other day, I was thanking a church friend for helping me with something.  I gave him a small gift and he seemed truly astonished that I would think his help was any big deal.  He said, “It was nothing.  You are my sister and I will always help you in any way I can.”  That moment was truly one of the most significant experiences of my spiritual life.  The passing of the peace in my current church is a “get out of your pew and greet everyone you come across” kind of affair.  After a couple of years of attending the Episcopal church, I know many of the other parishioners.  I can identify unfamiliar faces and “peace” the people who may be new to the congregation. I see the facets of community I saw in the workplace- everyone has different blessings and everyone has different broken, rough places in their personalities and competencies.  I love all of them with the gratitude, forgiveness and tolerance that comes from being family. 

This journey has taught me something about retirement.  If you, like me, had a workplace that was your community- maybe your only community- you may find it helpful to actively search for a way of connecting in a communal kind of way in your post-career life.  It is great to feel connected with the cozy “niceness” that is community. It is pretty freeing to feel that connection in a way that is not conditional upon the vagaries of the workplace.  I think finding that community may have been the best part of moving to Florida for me.  For me, nice matters.  It matters a lot.

Have you experienced “community” differently since you retired?  In what way?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com 

Have a NICE day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Heads Or Tails

I am a truly gifted worrier.  When I was working, people used to marvel at my seemingly endless capacity to fret.  I used to tell them that I believed God gave us all talents and He expected us to develop them.  My talent just happened to be worrying.  Colleagues, annoyed by my incessant hand-wringing and brow-furrowing, often suggested that it was time I got another talent.  Well, I think I may have finally found one. 

Recently, the women’s group at my church held their annual bazaar.  The bazaar is quite an undertaking.  I’d say it is the social event of the season in Episcopal circles.  Hours and hours go into planning and producing the bazaar.  Virtually everyone in the parish has some connection with some part of the event. 

The bazaar is also a significant rainmaker for the church.  Although we refer to it as the “bazaar,” it is really a three-part event.  There is the traditional bazaar facet of the project- selling crafts, homemade goodies, and used “stuff” that ultimately migrates from the donor’s garage to the purchaser’s garage.  It is a good thing that other people’s junk is much more appealing than our own junk.  Most churches would go broke if people didn’t donate their old stuff and other people didn’t buy it.  The second facet of the bazaar is the turkey-themed lunch.  That’s right, a week before Thanksgiving, we earn money for the church by selling turkey sandwiches.  As improbable as that sounds, it seems to work.  There was a lot of gobbling going on.   

The third facet of the bazaar is the grand auction.  People donate some higher end items- a week at a timeshare, a baseball signed by a famous player, an original watercolor painting of the church, a homemade dinner party, or something of that ilk. Volunteer auctioneers monitor the bidding and sell these items for, usually, much more than their intrinsic worth.  It is good clean FUN… and it raises a lot of FUNDS. 

This year, we had a 50-50 raffle at the grand auction intermission.  Now, most 50-50 drawings I’ve seen are pretty simple.  You buy a ticket for some amount of money, someone draws a ticket, and the lucky winner goes home with half the proceeds of the 50-50 pot.  We gilded the lily a bit with our 50-50 event.  Instead of buying a ticket, you bought a pair of plastic sunglasses.  When the time came for the “drawing,” there were no tickets and, in point of fact, no drawing at all.  Instead, the leader had us play a game of “Heads or Tails.”  He asked us to stand and then to choose to place our sunglasses either on our heads or on our behinds.  Then, he flipped a coin.  If you had made the wrong choice as to where to place your sunglasses, you sat down and were out of the running.   

We played several rounds of this game, with more and more people plopping their tails back into their seats each time a coin was flipped.  I did remarkably well and became the object of unwanted attention.  The attention was also unmerited since there was absolutely no skill whatsoever involved in making the correct choice as to where to anchor my sunglasses.  I was kind of uncomfortable standing there with everyone looking at me to see if I would choose heads or tails.  Given that I wasn’t that keen on anyone staring at my butt, I was tempted to always go with “heads.”  Luckily, I did not give in to temptation.  I just randomly chose heads or tails each time until only two people were left.  The other guy chose heads and I accepted tails.  I won. 

I tried to bid on some items during the sale to give back at least a portion of my winnings, but I was outbid each time.  There was something in the air- probably charity and goodwill- that was inducing people to pay over $30 a person for a spaghetti dinner.  Since I wasn’t as good a bidder as I was a “heads or tails” chooser, I walked out of the auction $162.50 richer. 

It looks like I have indeed discovered a new talent. I will have to work on developing it.  Who knew that knowing your head from your ass could be so much more lucrative than worrying?

What’s your hidden talent?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative,  you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Have a heady day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

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