On Joys and Concerns

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Our mission is to be a caring community that encourages spiritual growth and actively works to improve our society and the environment.

One of the ways that we try to be a caring community is by offering our members and friends and even visitors an opportunity to share the important events in their lives at a time in our service called “Joys and Concerns.” If you have been attending our church for any time at all, you know that we reserve this time for sharing in the first third of the service, usually just after the children have been “sung to their classes.”

In 2009, when I first visited Bowling Green to meet with the church’s Ministerial Search Committee, I was asked what I thought about the fact that the church had such a time set aside in the service. I wasn’t surprised to hear that some members were dissatisfied with this element in the service. The concerns that I heard (“complaints” might be the right word) included:

  • “It takes too long”
  • “People use it to make announcements, even though we make it clear that that’s not its purpose”
  • “People use it to make political statements”
  • “It’s supposed to address important milestones in people’s lives, but sometimes people use it for the most ridiculous things”

and other complaints, as well.

I wasn’t surprised because virtually every church I know has expressed similar concerns. But, no one wants to address the situation too directly for fear of hurting feelings. So, those who are dissatisfied suffer in silence. Or ask the minister to do something about it. And the Sunday Services Committee addresses it every couple of months as regularly as the seasons change.

This year, the Sunday Services Committee (SSC) decided to do something about it by designing a survey (non-binding), which was passed out at the winter congregational meeting. A number of choices were given. Some people wanted to do away with the ritual entirely (8). Two persons wanted joys and concerns to be shared from the floor only; four preferred that the minister handle the service element by reading joys and concerns that had been submitted in writing in advance; nineteen folks wanted to allow both written submissions and joys and concerns shared directly from the floor. So, no changes are planned, but more than 40% of respondents prefer a different option to what we are doing.

Clearly, this is one of those situations where no solution will please everyone. One of our members says that this time of the service is the most “spiritual” part for him. Others, as we’ve seen, would prefer a service with no “joys and concerns.”

The best imperfect solution, I think, is to keep in mind a few guidelines: (1) share only personal concerns; the minister or moderator can address a larger social or cultural concern best if it’s submitted in writing in advance; (2) share only important milestones: these are the things nearest and dearest to your heart and the things that connect you best with your fellow church-goers; and (3) don’t share too frequently.

One of the jobs of the minister and the Sunday Services Committee is to create a service each week that flows smoothly from element to element, so that the congregation is left with a sense of balance and satisfaction when it comes time to hold hands and sing Let There Be Peace on Earth. “Joys and Concerns” is one of the times when the service is handed over to the congregation, so it’s a time to be used wisely and with discernment.

We really are a caring community. We want to help you celebrate those milestones that are joyous and to bear with you those that bring pain and suffering. Feel free to share what’s deepest in your heart. And be ready to be patient with those who may have only this place to share more mundane concerns.

A joy shared is multiplied; a burden shared is lightened. Hold us all in your heart.

See you in church,
Peter

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