A reflection on multiple Sunday morning offerings
Richard Goldhor, Co-Chair, Adult Christian Formation Committee
I’ve been thinking about the fact that more and more frequently, Epiphany Parishioners have a choice between multiple attractive offerings after church on Sunday. In addition to the usual Adult Forums, interesting and attractive presentations are frequently being sponsored by other groups within the Parish: the Welcoming Committee sponsors Fellowship Sundays; the Family Formation team presents activities for families with young children; and so forth.
I’ve heard quite a range of comments from Parishioners about the existence of “competing” events. Many rejoice, because the choices are rich and varied. But sometimes the existence of another enticing event can feel like “unfair competition” to a group that has, say, worked hard to prepare a presentation around an important topic at the Adult Forum. There are some patterns in the comments and reactions that indicate “the law of unintended consequences” might be in play. For instance, it’s clear that people notice which event the Rector attends (and which one he doesn’t) and draw conclusions from that choice. Also, because of the physical layout and limitations of the Epiphany facility, we have been using the Upper Parish Hall more and more frequently. This comes with an important set of accessibility issues: people with limited mobility find it difficult or impossible to get to the UPH. We have a number of attractive small meeting rooms, but meetings in those rooms often present difficulties for Parishioners with hearing deficits.
Some twenty or thirty years ago (which is as far as my memory stretches), “after church everyone came to Hadley Hall.” Of course, this one-sentence summary needs some unpacking. For much of that time, Sunday School for children was offered after church, and a wide cross-section of the Parish adult population gathered in Hadley Hall for “Adult Ed,” as it was called, while the children were in Sunday school. The Rector often attended Adult Ed, and not infrequently led the presentation.
The Upper Parish Hall was very rarely used on Sunday morning for Parish gatherings, and, indeed, it was quite unusual for any existing “competition” for the Adult Ed presentation—with one very interesting and prominent exception. During the season of Epiphany we have “always” had Epiphany Mini Courses which consist of four or five alternative offerings lasting through the weeks of the Epiphany season, all meeting simultaneously after church. To my knowledge, nobody thought this was odd. The common understanding was that different courses were offered because people had varying interests, and the opportunity to pick and choose was regarded as a good thing.
These days, the Adult Forum regularly attracts a much more limited demographic. Attendees are mostly older, long-term members of the Parish. Young adults and parents of young children are particularly noticeable by their absence. The Sunday School program is now offered during church, not after church, so parents of Sunday Schoolers are not waiting around for their children.
At the same time, Epiphany is now offering a wider range of events after church, such as Fellowship Sundays. Many of these events attract participants who would not, or do not, attend the Adult Forum. The Family Formation Program, formally referred to as Children’s Ministry, has expanded. Under Carolyn Hughes’ exceptional leadership, a much wider range of events is offered. Many of these are intentionally designed for both parents and children, and hence are scheduled for after the Sunday service.
Many attendees of the Adult Forum are “regulars.” They attend every week no matter what the topic.
Accessibility of the Upper Parish Hall is a pressing concern. The much-discussed elevator has failed to materialize. Although A/V support is available in the UPH, that fact is not commonly known, and setting up the support requires advance planning and a special effort.
Currently, we have multiple events on some Sundays, and only a single offering on other Sundays. This variation itself has been the source of problems. Some people have indicated that they believe that anything that is presented on a Sunday with multiple events is inherently less important than an event that is the only offering on a particular Sunday.
I would suggest that we are moving into a moment in Parish life in which we are regularly offering different opportunities for people with different interests, family situations, etc. In many ways this is a blessing and a cause for thanksgiving.
But there is a price to be paid. I have heard many people lament, “We’re not all together!” This is a valid expression of a genuine cost. But this objection is less compelling than it might have been twenty years ago because “we all” aren’t as “all” as we used to be, even when only one event (the Adult Forum) is being offered.
In my opinion, there are some adjustments that need to be made in how people think about what’s going on after church on Sunday. I call these adjustments my “Just Because” list:
- Just Because multiple events are happening simultaneously doesn’t mean that any of them are unimportant;
- Just Because only one event may be scheduled for a particular Sunday morning doesn’t mean that event is extra important;
- Just Because Thomas attends an event doesn’t mean that event is extra important.
We need to continue our work to improve accessibility, although in fact much more progress has been made to improve audio and visual accessibility. For instance, we can provide assisted listening support to any location on the Epiphany campus, and even to events taking place at other locations, such as Parishioners’ homes. However, additional work and investment is needed. Better education and training around accessibility and what we can offer is also needed.
I offer these thoughts in the hope that readers will feel invited to join the conversation:
- As a participant, how do you feel about having to choose between multiple offerings?
- As someone organizing an event, or planning to do so, how do you feel about the possibility of “competing” offerings?
- What do you think the rules should be that control how many and what kinds of opportunities are offered on a Sunday morning?
- How can we maximize access and participation in our events?
Please do raise your voice, and let the Staff and Vestry know what you think!