|This Article is from the Spring 1999 edition of good idea!, also available here in a fully formatted PDF file.|
Numbers are not everything, but when they change dramatically, it is worth asking what is going on. In the past three and a half years, Christ Church, Cataraqui, has grown from 100 family units on the parish list and an average age in the 70s, to 260 and an average age in the 40s and 50s. good idea! spoke recently with the rector, Ed Dallow.
JB: Ed, how did all this begin?
ED: Before I began at Christ Church in 1995, I asked my bishop for three months leave, and took that time to research congregational development. I read widely, and attended Harold Percy’s “Beyond Survival” conference at Wycliffe. The most helpful book I read was Andrew Weeks= Welcome! published by the Alban Institute.
JB: And when you began in the parish?
ED: In the first couple of months at Christ Church, we developed a simple Mission Statement for the parish: “The Anglican Parish of Christ Church, Cataraqui is a welcoming, nurturing community seeking to celebrate and share God’s love for all creation.” I also encouraged parishioners to perform an “audit” of parish resources, covering everything from the state and size of the parking lot to the condition of the church photocopier, and asking such questions as “Is there a suitable place for socializing after the service?” and “Would a non-Anglican newcomer be able to find their way through the service?”
JB: So what happened?
ED: One of the first things that happened was that a new couple came to our church, and I wrote them a letter of welcome. They responded straight away, saying they had never received a letter of welcome like that before. They came back to the church, and have been involved ever since.
I had made a habit of taking a bunch of carnations whenever I visited a new family. One day, I had less flowers than I had visits to make, so I called in at the bakery in Odessa and bought a loaf of fresh bread. The elderly lady I was visiting was overwhelmed by the gift. When I told the story later, one of the congregation, Jacqui, said, “Oh, I was just given a breadmaker for Christmas. I would love to make loaves for you to take on your visits.”
Soon a system had developed. Whenever a visitor showed up on a Sunday, I would write a letter of welcome on the Monday, and then, on the Thursday or Friday of that week, two parishioners would make a Adoorstep visit@ to the newcomer–taking a homemade loaf of bread.
We have become very systematic in tracking visitors. One of the first things I did was to design a new database to meet our congregation’s needs. With that, I can keep track of old members, new members, visitors, pastoral visits needed, and so on.
JB: You must be doing more than following up visitors to the church?
ED: Well, we have a Ways and Means Committee whose job is to “enhance the social life of the parish.” They plan one social event each month. Incidentally, 15 of the 21 members on that committee are themselves new members of the congregation. (Please mention that we appreciated the last issue of good idea! with its theme of parties. That was very relevant to our situation.)
It’s a matter of attitude as much as anything. We work on the next-door neighbour principle. If a neighbour came over to your house for a meal, how would you treat them? One new person said she was very struck by the fact that the greeeter offered to take her husband’s coat and hang it up. Well, that’s the sort of thing you would do if a neighbour came to your home.
JB: What else are you doing?
ED: Rites of passage are very important in our outreach. For instance, I offer three preparation classes for parents who want their babies baptised. To the third of those sessions I invite a couple from the parish, similar to the newcomers in age and interests, and introduce them as the parish sponsors. Together we walk through the BAS baptism service. Then, at the baptismal service, the parish sponsors meet the family, sit with them, and host them through the service, helping them whenever necessary. During the vows, the parish sponsors are asked and answer the question, “Will you who witness these vows do everything in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?” before I turn and ask it of the congregation as a whole. These parish sponsors host the family during coffee time, and are then responsible to keep in touch with the family over the next few months.
We also make a video of the baptism, which we offer as a gift to the family. We have a potter in the congregation who makes candle holders for the baptismal candle, and a lady who embroiders crosses which we give to each member of the baptismal party. A group in the church also makes a banner with the child’s name embroidered on it.
As a result, the majority of families whose children have been baptised in the past three years are still attending Christ Church.
JB: Ed, I hope this doesn’t sound critical, but in a sense you’re not doing anything new.
ED: You’re right. We’re not doing anything new. It’s all motherhood stuff. If there’s anything we’re doing that is distinctive, it’s that we are being very intentional in what we are doing. We have worked out the cost of what we want to do, we have a plan, and we’re following the plan. All I know is that people are coming, and, on the whole, they’re staying. And it’s certainly not to hear the rector’s preaching!
JB: Ed, thank you for your time.
The Rev. Ed Dallow is an Associate of the Institute of Evangelism, and is available for training seminars on welcoming. He may be contacted through the Institute.