Growing a church today requires 'front-porch' mentality, Pittsburgh-based bishop advises Lake Villa parishioners
With many Americans overscheduled, saturated with entertainment options and "too busy" for church, the best way for a parish to grow is to build emotional "front-porches," or creative efforts to encounter busy people where they are. These symbolic porches can range from hosting a neighborhood game night to reaching out individually to those suffering a loss or experiencing a major transition in their lives.
That's the word from Bishop Jim Hobby of the Pittsburgh Diocese within the Anglican Church of North America. He made his annual visit April 2 to Holy Cross Anglican Church in Lake Villa, a member of the diocese.
A native of Atlanta, he recalled how his grandparents' house in Sylvester, Ga. resembled others in that it had a large front porch. It was a place for spending evenings, greeting neighbors and others who passed by on their evening walk. Establishing a comfort level with others sometimes led--eventually--to conversations about deeper subjects, such as loss of a loved one or spiritual journeys. Such opportunities led to an invitation for a neighbor to attend church. "A lot of life happened around the front porch," said the 61 year-old bishop. "Today, most houses don't have front porches, and most people spend evenings on the back patio or deck--or they stay inside. The challenge for a parish today is to open your imagination and build 'front porches,' or areas where people are already gathering, to start conversation and get to know others' needs."
Parishioners would do well to become active participants in local activities, from the local Parent Teacher Organization and civic groups to continuing education courses, he added. Bishop Hobby's previous ministry experiences, as an Episcopal and Anglican priest, has included small and large churches in the Dioceses of Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Florida and Gulf-Atlantic. A 1979 graduate of Wheaton College, with a B.A. in Christian education, he also attended Gordon-Conwell Seminary in Massachusetts and later earned an M.Div. from the Pennsylvania-based Trinity School for Ministry in 1985.
Besides joining local groups, parishioners also need to be observant of community needs. "Find points of transition and pains in peoples' lives," said the Rev. Ron McGowan, interim rector and consultant at Holy Cross. "Where the residents in the Lake Villa area are lonely, in transition or in pain, that is a potential 'front porch' for Holy Cross parishioners to reach out," said Father McGowan, who has planted a parish in suburban Denver.
Bishop Hobby added, "As you walk and drive around, what do you see? If you personally have experienced the loss of a loved one, maybe joining a grief recovery group is a way to work through your own initial stages of grief, but also share with others how your faith in the Resurrection has made a difference in your life, giving you joyful hope."
Creating relational front porches is an area where Holy Cross can build on existing efforts, said Betsy Crist, senior warden. "People checking out our parish have been welcome to join us as we've gone to downtown Chicago to hand out toiletries, snacks and water to homeless people on the street and pray with them," she said. "This outreach is a great way to care for the less fortunate and connect with a faith community if you want to make new friends or find a spiritual home. While the Anglican tradition is officially Protestant, it's also known as "via media," the Middle Way, combining the best of Roman Catholicism (liturgy and tradition) and Protestantism (authority of Scripture and justification). Interfaith couples will find a friendly home at Holy Cross. What's more, the Easter season and warmer days of spring are a great time for visitors to check us out."
Holy Cross Anglican Church is located in the brown, one-story brick office park in Lake Villa, on the west side of Illinois Rt. 83 and about two blocks south of Illinois Rt. 132 (Grand Ave.). Following the 9:30 a.m. Sunday Eucharist is a coffee and social hour. Visitors are welcome. To learn more, visit www.holycross-anglican.org or www.facebook.com/HolyCrossAnglican/ or call (847) 356-1901. For more information on the Anglican Church in North America, visit www.anglicanchurch.net.