Changing Patterns in Church Life

As I write this article, the snow outside my window is approaching 10 inches, and yet it is the middle of April. We might say this is the most snow of the season -but it would be more accurate to make that plural, seasons, as it’s surely more snow than we had all winter, and yet here we are in the middle of spring. The weather is always a little mixed up in Colorado, though maybe this year more than others.

Whether we’re talking about the weather, or the patterns of church life, the flow of the calendar just doesn’t work the way it used to. Not too long ago, Unitarian Universalist congregations would effectively “shut down” during the summer months, following the practices of the academic cousins we often mimicked in our ministry. Over the past decade, however, behavior patterns have changed.

Retiring baby boomers travel in the winter months, and come seeking their “home” church life in the summer time. New-to-the-area families come “church shopping” over the summer as they get ready to set their family practices for the school year. The pace of life today -regardless of someone’s age or stage -simply does not slow down in the summer in the ways it might have in years past, and people’s needs for ministry and church community do not ebb and flow in predictable patterns.

In response to these changing needs, Unitarian Universalist congregations all across the country have begun to move to year-round church calendars. Along the way, we’ve realized this change means lay leaders, staff, and ministers must take our breaks more regularly throughout the year, rather than in one big chunk in the summer. It also has meant, for many congregations, that a clearer and more pressing need for additional staff and/or professional ministry arises.

When I was hired last summer, one of the earliest articulated goals from the Board was to meet the needs for a professional ministry presence during the summer months, when Marc takes his much-needed earned vacation and study leave. As we inch closer to the summer (despite the indications of the weather), we will be discovering together these new patterns of church life. We will listen for the changing rhythms of our community members’ lives. We will learn together the ministry needs, the opportunities, and the particular challenges of moving towards a fuller year-round church pattern.

Sometimes, moving towards these new rhythms might feel a little like 10 inches of snow in the middle of spring, crushing down those just-blooming bulbs. Change -even when we think it’s a good change -is uncomfortable. And still sometimes, these changes will feel like much-needed moisture arriving to sooth the dry hot earth. It’s all a learning process, as we keep on responding to these changing, mixed-up times, seeking to bring more love into this world. It is my great joy to be on this journey with you.

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About Rev. Gretchen Haley

Gretchen Haley serves as the Senior Minister of the Foothills Unitarian Church in Fort Collins, CO. She's relentlessly curious about most things, especially the big stuff of theology, the beauty of creation and poetry, the magic of collaboration, and the great joy and often-great-depth of popular (and less popular) television and music. She and her partner of 17 years, Carri, have 2 children, Gracie (10) and Josef (8).
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