Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tips and insight

As I mentioned in my last post, we've adopted 3 extra families this Christmas (in addition to the three families and 25 homeless the church bought gifts for). And in case buying presents for families in need isn't something you do regularly, you should know it's a fair amount of work. For us, it includes food, clothes, toys, and sometimes stockings. It includes buying, sorting, wrapping, sorting some more, and delivering. It can be quite consuming and very costly.

To cut costs, I asked friends in the area who also do outreach ministries if they had "extras" and a couple did. We went to CAYA ("Come As You Are" ministries and sorted through the donations they received from the girl scouts. We found about 10 items in the bags she showed us and then thanked her and prepared to leave. She was disappointed we hadn't found more and I told her we needed clothes for "itty bitty" kids (toddlers and young elementary) so she took us to a different room with more bags and invited us to look some more!

As we sorted, there were a couple of things that struck me and I thought I would share.

1) Some people separated clothes by size and gender (4 year old boy in one bag and 9 year old girl in another). This was SUPER helpful. When you are looking for clothes (for 20 people) you keep track of people by gender and size...so knowing that a whole bag was for 4 year old boy and I didn't have a 4 year old boy to look for meant I could skip the whole bag. Also, knowing that I did have a 9 year old girl meant the other bag was one to really examine. So if you are donating, or even just organizing...keep it simple! Designate by size and gender!!

2) Different people have different standards. Some clothes were in awesome shape...hardly worn and good hand-me-downs. Other clothes were stained and worn and looked as though they had made it through 10 generations...these are not the items to donate. If it's too ratty for you to wear...it's probably too ratty for someone else to wear. So, save folks time and energy and just ditch it!

3) Though the woman who invited us to look through the bags knew who I was and what I do, the others in the office didn't. So, at one point the senior minister told "Joe" to take a picture and said, "that'd make a good shot Joe." In some ways it wasn't a big deal, but in other ways it was alienating. I knew we'd end up on some wall or in some photo book as the "poor people in need finding clothes at Christmas" or some such thing. The truth (or lack thereof) didn't matter. We were being type cast, as I am sure many are. All too often church groups want to take pictures (which seems reasonable enough) but all too often the pictures have the attitude of "look who needed us" or "Look who we helped" or "Look what we gave them, they'd have nothing without us". All of those notions can be degrading and even humiliating. Be cautious in taking pictures, ask first, and be very careful how you label the people and the pictures.

4) This is a side note to the picture thing, but in some cases (probably more than most of us would like to admit) Domestic violence is a factor in creating a need and victims of violence often have to hide from their abuser and taking pictures (and posting them on your website) can make them an easy target and easily found. So be doubly cautious in taking pictures if you do not know the circumstances of those you serve...

5) Where possible, give options. Not being able to buy your kids the things they need is a tough experience. Empowering parents, where possible is a way to help restore pride and dignity. the local shelters, instead of just giving presents already wrapped, gave target and walmart cards and had volunteers take parents shopping so they could pick out their own gifts. Others ask specific questions about preferences...colors...logos...etc... Another way to empower is to allow parents to wrap gifts for themselves...you may need to buy the paper/tape/ribbons, but many parents can wrap and would enjoy doing it...other don't want/need to, but giving the option is helpful and can help parents feel more a part. Where possible, give people an option.

6) In shopping for pants (in particular) I learned years ago to try and find pants that could hold a dual function...buying sweatpants allows kids to wear them to school or to bed. Fun is good. Functional is better!

I'm sure I still have a lot to learn and that we could do a better job of empowering parents, but those are just a few of this year's learnings. If you have other insights and tips, please feel free to post them in the comments!


Growing up, we always had presents under the tree. We had presents before Christmas, and more on Christmas, and sometimes, if there were stragglers, even after Christmas. Not having presents has never been a reality for me. And so, as a pastor, when I hear of families who won't "have Christmas" (meaning presents) it kills me and I do everything I can to make sure the kids have something to open to help them celebrate.

I know, full well, that the presents aren't the meaning of Christmas, instead they are (or at least should be) an outpouring of thanks for all the gifts we have received through Christ. So, in some ways, even though they aren't the focus, it's even more important that there are gifts...in the sense that they reflect how grateful we are...no gifts would then mean no gratitude.

I realize that part of me is caving to cultural norms, but part of me also knows that giving gifts is a way of blessing others, and we bless others because we have already been blessed.

As such, I have been buying and wrapping and sorting and counting to be sure I can deliver gifts to three families in need who came to me at the last minute. I want them to celebrate on Christmas. I want them to be blessed as I have been blessed.

That's the fun part...not the blunder.

The blunder came on Sunday morning during the Children's moment. I was trying to talk about anticipation and patience and wanted to talk about having to wait to open the presents under the tree. So, I asked, "Do you have presents under the tree?" And I got, "No." and then another "no" and another and another. I know not everyone puts the presents out early. I also know that not everyone has enough for presents this year and I could have kicked myself for not realizing or thinking about it ahead of time.

From my background, it's an easy mistake to make. But, knowing the families I do and working with so many in need, I should know that gifts under the tree aren't a given. (heck, this year, I don't have any under my own tree...namely because the dog thinks they are chew toys, but still, even I couldn't have said "yes".)

This may or may not be a relevant message for you, but if you do work in ministry, know that there are probably families in your parish who do not have presents under the tree and who may not be able to get presents. And to ask such a "simple" question can invoke sadness for the kids and shame for the parents and all of that could easily be avoided.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Moments of inspiration

Lately there have been lots of inspiring moments happening at the church, here are just two:

* Having a young adult plan her college class schedule around upcoming Bible studies so she can be sure to attend.

*The Sunday morning breakfast cooks decided they wanted to make breakfast Christmas morning and throw a Christmas party for the homeless.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Administrative Fatigue

Sometimes, the life of a senior pastor is a mixed bag. Generally, I enjoy it. I like having freedom to be creative, to try new things, and working to coordinate the programs and ministries of staff and volunteers. But sometimes, the administrative/organizational side of things is draining.

Lately, it's been the latter.

I have been working with various people of the church to do more long-term planning. We are trying to have a plan for each area of ministry for 4-6 months out. For folks who have this as a regular practice at their church, you might say to yourself, "Yeah...and?!" But for folks who don't, you might say to yourself, "Lord, I hope I don't have to do that!"

Planning ahead is both a blessing and a curse, at the outset anyway. It's a blessing because it encourages greater collaboration, delegation and creativity. It's a curse because it means double work as you do both this week's sermon prep and the sermon prep for Easter. It's overwhelming to try and hold the balance.

I know the work is worth it. Not only does it help me to be more organized, but it also frees me to delegate more aspects of ministry so that others are empowered to serve. For example, if I'm working week to week, then I probably won't know the true heart of a sermon until Saturday night or even Sunday morning. That doesn't lend itself to sharing that with someone so they can plan a children's moment that addresses the heart of the sermon. On the other hand, if I already know what I will preach about on January 24th, then I can give that information to the children's moment person and they have over a month to plan. Planning ahead = shared ministry. And that's a good thing.

But it's also a daunting thing when you are working on such a plan for worship and education and mission as well as planning a mission trip for 25 and summer camp for 100. Right now my church seems to be in a "training phase" where a lot of people are embarking on new ministries...which is GREAT! It still involves a lot of extra time walking people through the basics so they feel comfortable and confident with the task at hand.

And all of that extra time and energy seems to drain me of my creative juices. I suppose I'm not without creativity, it's just being aimed at planning and organizing (which rarely feels creative) rather than focusing on worship or new programs...something that looks more creative as an end product. I like creating new ways of doing worship and bringing in tactile examples and experiential components to preaching, but it's been hard to do lately with all my energy being focused elsewhere.

I'm still hoping that in the end it will all pan out and be worth it, but for now I am tired and wishing for some creative juices for the next few weeks of worship.