It’s now Saturday, roughly half way into the collegium.  It’s been a busy and good time.  Wonderful (and varied) worship daily beginning the night of our arrival (Wednesday).  Breakfast buffet at the hotel and a shuttle to the seminary about 8:15 AM.  Today the spouses/partners do an evaluation of their time here.  Clergy are free until worship at 10 AM, which will be followed by the arts festival (Anne’s participating, showing some stuff she does, and all of us are expected to be there). That’s why I have time to do this now.   Then we have free time until church Sunday morning (and moving from the hotel to rooms at the seminary).

We had morning sessions Thursday and Friday were with Anthony Pappas on the small church.  He reminded us that until mass transit (about 1895) really large churches did not exist (and small churches were very much the norm).  Even today the median size of churches in the US and Canada is around 75 (total attendance on a Sunday).  He also reminded us that church membership in the US has been shrinking since 1962 (and that any congregation that is holding membership is doing better than average).  Small churches can grow.  But small churches function differently (and typically have different values) than large churches.  And people choose small churches because they value what they find in small churches (which typically includes a sense of intimacy and connection and community that they do not experience in larger churches).  And about 125 relationships is about as many as can be sustained by a single community (which would be the point at which the way the community functions would have to change).  And he reminded us that numerical growth is only one kind of growth.  It is possible to grow in individual faith, in community love, and in service to our God.  This is, of course, my hearing of what he said (and he is not responsible for what I heard).  Much more than this was said.

Clergy spent Thursday afternoon looking at a model for dealing with conflict within a congregation.  We spent Friday afternoon (along with our spouses/partners) in looking at the whole area of stewardship (and receiving some pointers in dealing with our own family finances).  One evening I participated in some yoga.  Anne was with a group singing Taize music.  Last night we were teated to a Noel Coward play (“Design for Living”) in a small theater in DC.  What a treat!  I also had an opportunity (in my free time) to talk with others interested in (what is and) what’s happening in the “emergent” church (and what if anything might it have to do with our work in small churches).

If I were to try to summarize what we’re doing, I’d say the Collegium is about being healthy and effective in small churches.  And it’s being expressed as a thank you and appreciation for our work, as well as preparation for how we continue in the work ahead of us.  Let me be frank.  Mainline judicatory bodies and mainline small churches are under pressure, financially, these days.  It doesn’t look like old models of doing things can be maintained as they are.  And most church growth (of a numerical kind) these days seems to come from large churches.  So small churches are likely to be seen as a problem (and large churches are likely to be seen as, at least potentially, part of the solution).  It is nice to be someplace where the work I do is so clearly valued and appreciated.

It’s also nice to have this time with Anne.  Clergy schedules do not, typically, support time with our partners.  Although, as a real introvert, I’m starting to want some time completely by myself, I really do value this time with Anne.  More will follow …

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