Our changing church
February 11, 2020 by Minner Serovy
Editor’s note: We asked Minner Serovy, ministry relations officer for the Presbyterian Foundation, to reflect back on her career in ministry within the PC(USA). She retires at the end of February. She’s provided us with some terrific and hopeful observations.
As I approach retirement, I’ve been asked to reflect on some of the changes I’ve seen in the church over the decades of my ministry. It is a daunting task. Inevitably, it is my experience. Others may present other observations or facts that would show a different picture. (And yes. I’ve had “BOOMER” thrown at me, and I don’t mind it at all.)
We have competition for Sunday mornings. In my childhood, Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings were, if not sacred, set aside as sabbatical. As I travel my region, I spend a lot of Saturday nights in hotels. More often than not, I see parents gathered in the lobby on Saturday night for pizza and fellowship, and the breakfast room on Sunday morning is buzzing with kids dressed for soccer or softball or some team competition. In other words, these families are not in their churches on Sundays.
Related to this, I think, are changed attitudes about church membership and competition from other non-profits for financial support. We know that post-boomers are more suspicious of institutions, and there is also information to suggest that regular participants in worship and church activities consider themselves to BE members, even if they haven’t taken any formal action toward that. (I know of one church that elected such a person as Elder, and only later discovered that he had never joined the church.)
These do impact stewardship. Those who are with their children’s sports teams are not hearing our ministers’ compelling stewardship sermons, nor are they as able to participate in the mission and ministry of their congregation. As with all donors, they want to make a difference in other’s lives. The huge growth of organizations that are doing good works, and who both make a very persuasive “pitch” and whose messages are in our public media (with pictures), are reaching members in ways that we (the church) is perhaps not.
Our connectional structure is weakened. Apart from some deliberate efforts to undermine national and mid-council staffs, decline in membership and finances has forced changes there. Technology facilitates communication, both casual and required. Mid-Councils are experimenting with new ways to do things at meetings that match the collective personality of its members. This is good.
I’ve confessed to being pathetically Presbyterian. I love the way we do our work: prayerfully discerning the leading of the Spirit, together, to further Christ’s mission to the world. I love the fellowship and learning in Biblical and theological discussion. Almost as important, I cherish having colleagues in ministry.
Early in my ministry, when I left the national staff to work at one of our seminaries, a new colleague said to me, “If I’d known people like you worked in Louisville, I wouldn’t have said so many nasty things.” WE are the church: leaders in congregations, in mid-councils and national staff. None are sufficient in themselves to fully bear witness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in the world. (G-3.01).
Donors need to know about the hundreds of missions of our PC(USA), and they need to trust the leaders to be able to achieve their goals. If we are not mutually supportive (and informed!) in missions beyond the local church, we deny them the opportunity to invest time and treasure in those missions.
The denomination is exploding with creative new ministries. After years of membership losses and conflicts, my sense was that too many congregations suffered a serious loss of self-esteem. They could no longer do what they once did, and they didn’t have models to guide them to a new vision. I now see many of these same churches claiming their new self-image and confidence that they still have a role in the big picture of evidencing God’s love for the world. There are new styles of leadership, new ways to utilize buildings (or live without them), ecumenical cooperative ministries, and a whole host of other “experiments.” God’s church should not be frozen in time.
Each of the agencies of the denomination has a new focus on relationships with our congregations and members, being proactive rather than reactive in sharing their expertise, skills, and enthusiasm. (When I began ministry, a national staff member was expected to notify or ask the Presbytery Exec before meeting with a congregation.) Even with all the new media: websites, e-mails, social media, downloadable documents, etc., nothing beats a face-to-face conversation when building trust and mutual respect. National staff always has listened to congregations, but many members of those congregations never saw it.
The blessings I carry with me into retirement are the opportunities to visit and sit with so many congregations and organizations and church leaders. Sometimes that meant hearing your anger or disappointment, and that’s healthy in any relationship. Sometimes it was to lend an ear to a situation that I couldn’t change, but I was happy to hear it. Sometimes it was to connect people to the services or individual that could help.
Often – I hope often enough – it was to laugh with you and share the joy of the faith we have received and the ministry we share.
For this, I am always grateful.
Minner Serovy has served the Presbyterian Church (USA) in various roles beginning in 1988 as Associate for Specialized Personnel Services. She later served as Director of Admissions and Student Relations at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and most recently with the Board of Pensions, first as a Regional Representative and then as Director of Presbyterian CREDO (CREDO offers clergy the opportunity to examine their spiritual, vocational, health and financial lives and prayerfully discern God’s call to wellness.)
She is a graduate of Carroll College in Wisconsin, with a year in Tubingen, Germany, and completed her M.Div. at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. She also has graduate training in Family system.