Another New Year – a chance to take stock and consider where we’ve been and where we’re going. As staff, we are all too aware of the challenges that lay ahead for a congregation such as ours. McDougall has an aging population, and is situated in an older neighbourhood. Although Acadia and area is beginning to turn over, and younger families are moving in, church attendance is not a priority for many, as they value family time and activities on their weekends. Attracting younger members and families is not easy!
Even so, our staff are full of vision and energy for renewal and growth at McDougall. In the last two years we’ve been intentional about opening our space to our neighbourhood with the Fall Festival, participation in community suppers and resource fairs, family events sponsored by our Children’s Ministry, and invitations delivered door to door for our events and services. Through these endeavours, we trust that McDougall is a name that is recognized in the community, and that many who are not members nonetheless feel comfortable in our space.
In the next phase of our growth and renewal, we want to be a community that addresses the spiritual longings and needs of our contemporary world.
As such, we are expanding and adjusting our programming to create a community that will engage folks who aren’t yet part of our church! For example:
- This month our services include integration of the themes in movies from the last year with our faith in a series called “Reel Theology.”
- Starting next month, and continuing through Lent, we have a series called Modern Ethical Dilemmas, including a Wednesday evening exploration session, and a Sunday sermon series. This is a way to challenge our notions of right and wrong, and consider the values our faith expresses as we grapple with contemporary culture.
- Messy Church is expanding for families in the neighbourhood who are looking for a community to explore stories of faith, share a meal, and participate in fun events. Most of the roughly 50 people who attended our first Messy Church were not members.
- For the next months, we will be piloting a project called church(ish) an informal gathering for the spiritually curious that is based on church worship, but loosens up the language and strives to be more inclusive.
At the same time, we are continuing our commitment to outreach, community care, children’s ministry, music and worship and so much more. Our hope is that these new initiatives, coupled with our existing programs, will reach a different demographic, and will draw people to our community. If you look at all that’s going on at McDougall, we really are a place where things are happening. It’s exciting, and challenging and scary!
While these new initiatives are transforming McDougall, we have also lost many of our long time members. Some of you have been attending McDougall for 50 years or more. You have developed deep relationships with each other as you’ve raised your children together, progressed in your careers, became empty nesters, retired, helped build the extension, and then began to find it difficult to participate as fully as you used to. In my conversations with many of you, I’ve learned that it can seem like there is loss everywhere – everything is changing. A kind of grief can set in when you lose good friends or a spouse and your aging body makes daily life more difficult. So all this talk of change and future and new beginnings for McDougall is more than you can handle. For some of you, being part of this caring community is life-affirming and helps to ease the difficulties and loss of aging, but you don’t have the energy to dream anymore about what we could be.
As your minister, it is sometimes difficult to know what should take precedence – growth and renewal, or pastoral care. One the one hand, I feel a sense of urgency about the state of the church generally and about McDougall as well. It is no secret that many churches will not survive the coming decade as they lose long time members and fail to bring in new people. With all that McDougall has going for it – it’s wonderful building, and the caring community, it would be a tragedy if McDougall became another statistic and had to close. This is why we as staff spend so much time and energy dreaming about the future and planning programming for people who aren’t even here yet.
But at the same time, we are acutely aware of those who are experiencing loss and are grieving. And it is also our mission to care for each other – to provide comfort and healing for those who struggle. I take this call very seriously, and I too grieve the loss of long time members, and understand why change can be so difficult.
It is a balancing act that we continue to fiddle with – reaching out, but taking care of our own as well. I ask you to be patient with us on staff. We won’t always get it right. But through God’s grace and yours, we believe McDougall will continue to be a place you can call home and a caring community for decades to come.
Minister, McDougall United Church