When we started the Daily Cup blog, one of the ideas was that the writers would write about aspects of their work at St. Alban’s. Some of mine have, but most have not. This one does.
For the past few months, ever since the 2016 stewardship campaign, I’ve been processing pledge packets that we decided not to mail. The stewardship committee perused the full set that I had prepared for labeling, stuffing and mailing and decided not to mail to people that no one on the committee recognized. The clergy and staff then looked through them and found a few, a precious few, that they recognized, and we mailed those. I’ve been going through the remainder, which probably number in the hundreds, changing their status in our membership records to Inactive.
But I want to share with you some of my reactions to making the changes, not the mechanics, which involves changing each individuals Record Status from Active to Inactive. This isn’t a rote exercise, but each one is a judgment call. My main criterion is their pledge status and other indications in their record of involvement in the parish. I’ve been rushing so that the changes are reflected in the count of members and others active in the parish which we report annually around this time of year in the Parochial Report.
People tend to fall into three groups. The largest was people for whom we had no information other than their name and address. Usually there was an indication of when they first came, but sometimes not even that. About these I sometimes wondered how they came to be in the database in the first place. Were they here more than just the one time that they left their name on a Welcome Card? Most are single, and I had mental images of them being like leaves floating on a stream, just floating through us, searching for something and not staying long enough to even know if they had found it.
The second group are those that showed a little involvement, such as baptism of their children, but not much more. About these I wondered what happened to what brought them to St. Alban’s. I wondered how long they stayed before they moved on, and why. What did we do or fail to do that their initial connection didn’t hold? Only a few attained Member status. Some of the names I recognized, for I had set up their record myself. Every time I do, I feel like I too am welcoming them into our community and I feel high hopes for each of them becoming a fully active and participating part of our parish family. The fate of the different seeds in the parable of the sower comes to mind as I mark them Inactive.
It is the third group that makes me both puzzled and sad. These are people whose record shows, for example, substantial pledges for three, four or more successive years – that is, real commitment – and then, suddenly, somewhere in the past three to ten years, nothing. It’s like a curtain falling or a light being switched off. These were invariably also Members, with all of their baptism and confirmation information of record and with many indications of involvement in parish activities. What happened that they left? And why didn’t they say goodbye? Some of these I recognized and, where I had contact information, I reached out to them by email or phone call or even mailing them the pledge packet with a note on the envelope apologizing for the “oversight” of not mailing it in November. From a few of these I received a reply and retained them in Active status on the strength of the hope that it might become a reality but realizing that they are on the edge and that it could go either way.
I close with this prayer for the Parish. Dear Lord, keep us always a place that attracts those who wander by to stop for a while, perhaps for a day, perhaps for a month, and perhaps for a lifetime, and make us flexible and sensitive enough to discern and offer each person what he or she needs from us at that time in their life. Amen.
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 16-February 2016.