By Teri C. Peterson, MDiv ‘05
In many congregations, summer was a slightly (or much) slower season, and as autumn approaches we gear up for an onslaught of new and returning programs. Sunday School returns from sabbatical, the worship schedule may expand to more services, youth groups and confirmation classes and adult education and fellowship opportunities and Presbyterian Women circles and mission projects and and and…
For many pastors and church staff, looking at the September calendar can feel daunting.
In my current congregation, that’s not what happens. During the summer we take advantage of nice weather and long evenings to do things on weeknights. During the rest of the year we tend to consolidate activities onto Sundays, with the only weeknight events being the shelter once a week and an occasional evening meeting, because we never know what the weather will be like. It can feel busy in all seasons, just differently scheduled busy.
As we’ve settled into the seasonal structure (8 seasons per year, each with its own leadership team who plans for worship, education, fellowship, mission, and stewardship) rather than the traditional committee and program structure, I’ve noticed that the transition from slow summer to hectic fall, and back again in the spring, is much less pronounced. Rather than feeling like everything grinds to a halt with June’s low attendance and lagging energy and then suddenly goes full steam ahead in September, I now feel like we have a rhythm that allows us to use our energy consistently and intelligently throughout the year. And as a result, we have steadier participation and growth (and giving, which is often a summer problem) than we used to.
In some ways, I think this is evidence that we are being careful not to overextend ourselves—we don’t end up needing to collapse for a couple of months in order to go all-out through the rest of the year. So while the homeless shelter and elementary school mentoring program are on summer sabbatical, the garden and collections-for-neighbors are in full swing. While choir is resting, coffee hour is bursting. While Sundays tend to be finished by lunchtime in summer, Monday night and Thursday night we have dozens of people coming out to learn and grow and fellowship. And when the weather cools, we’ll load up Sundays and Wednesdays and hibernate the rest of the week. It’s a fascinating rhythm that I think gives us permission to use our energy wisely, so when an opportunity suddenly presents itself we aren’t too burned out and too full to fit something else in.
I don’t know yet what opportunities may arise this fall. It could be a new mission possibility, or the chance to host an event, or a request to partner with one of the many community groups that use our building. Or it may be a need within the congregation that takes more than the deacons to meet. Or a new idea we’d like to try out when pledge-drive season arrives. I am grateful that the ways we shift our focus and emphasis throughout the year, without borrowing energy from one time to run another, will allow us to consider God’s call to us in any season.
The Rev. Teri C Peterson (MDiv 2005) is the pastor at the Presbyterian Church of Palatine, IL (www.palatinepres.com). She is the co-author of Who’s Got Time: Spirituality for a Busy Generation, and a contributor to the RevGalBlogPals book There’s a Woman In the Pulpit, as well as curator of LiturgyLink.net and author at CleverTitleHere.blogspot.com. She calls 2 cats her family, and her respite from work is reading historical fiction with women in pretty dresses on the cover. Read more of her writing here, here, or here.