Pastor Matt responds to "What Other Questions Do you Have?" from the May 9th Congregational Survey · Heritage UMC

Pastor Matt responds to “What Other Questions Do you Have?” from the May 9th Congregational Survey

Sunday, May 10 2020 by Matt Horan

Who designed the questions? Why wasn’t “other” or “comments” an option such as you’ve asked a question that requires more thought than I can give to this survey. Some of your questions address “grow as you go” situations. Thus I left a lot blank.
  • The questions were written by the church staff, and they were carefully worded and designed to get data that would help measure where the congregation is at this particular moment in time on issues that will affect our return to in-person worship and other gatherings.  Survey questions that give helpful data are those that push respondents to pick the option that most closely represents them.  No two people are alike, so of course there could be other nuances to our response, but surveys are about collecting data rather than giving people the chance to talk through an issue like face mask use or socially distanced seating.  
Would HUMC consider educating people on homosexuality, common incorrect stereotypes?  So many people think homosexuals are child molesters, dirty, etc, and that’s just not true.
  • There are not many people at Heritage that I’ve met so far that have undecided views either way about LGBTQ persons, or who are open to changing their opinion based on input from someone else, whether they be a lay or staff leader of the church.  If there was interest in a gathering of people seeking to learn about the experience of LGBTQ persons, we would be glad to bring people in who could speak to that and offer helpful insights, though this is the first time I’ve had anyone raise this possibility.  If you wanted to facilitate a conversation about this, let us know and we can help you set up a video meeting, or reserve a space when in-person meetings resume.

Will you implement a mandatory mask policy? If no, why not? And if yes, what will you do if someone comes to service with no mask?
  • We are still at least six weeks away from holding in-person meetings on campus, so it’s hard to know what guidelines will be recommended by our regional and denominational leaders.  I doubt that there would be mandatory mask requirements, but I expect that the people of Heritage United Methodist Church would do whatever is in each other’s best interest without having to make it mandatory. 
Why was there no survey question about the pastor performing gay or lesbian marriages?
  • There’s not really much to ask, since clergy in the United Methodist Church are not permitted to perform same-sex weddings, regardless of the congregation’s opinion on it.
How we can remain a friendly church and make people feel welcome while abiding by the new regulations.
  • My expectation is that our Administrative Council, Executive Team, Lay Leadership Teams (SPR, Finance, and Trustees), and staff will step up and help each person who steps onto our campus understand the practices we have in place, the reason for them, and will help to navigate them every step of the way.  We’re all in this together!
Why was homosexuality brought into the corona virus survey (since conference won’t even be voting until next year)?
  • In the event a church closes temporarily or permanently, or if we open before other churches do, and someone calls and asks how at-home an LBGTQ person may feel at Heritage, we should be able to give them an honest answer about how the congregation will feel about their involvement.  Since we don’t have any data at all on where members of Heritage stand on some key questions that might come up, I included those questions in the survey in order to know how to advise people.  For example, according to the results so far:
    • 10% of respondents think gay or lesbian couples shouldn’t join the church, and 15% think we shouldn’t baptize the baby of a gay or lesbian couple.  This says to me that there’s a good chance that the gay or lesbian couple could see someone get up and walk out of the service during their joining or baptism, and I think it would be our responsibility to warn them about that possibility.
    • They would be sitting in a sanctuary in which two-thirds of the people sitting around them think their lifestyle is a sin.
    • When asked if LGBTQ persons would feel at home at Heritage, only 52.3% answered “Yes.”
  • No one would never tell someone that they couldn’t come to church at Heritage, but it would be really unfair to not prepare them for what they might experience.
Why were the questions written in a dichotomous form to force a split?
  • Survey questions that give helpful data are those that push respondents to pick the option that most closely represents them.  It’s rare that a “middle ground” response provides helpful data.  Even if someone finds themselves to not really fit in any of the responses, the most helpful data comes from them just picking the one closest to them at the moment.
Why are we focusing so much time on homosexual marriage when we can’t even get heterosexual marriage straight?
  • I answered the question about why a section about the experience that an LGBTQ person would have at Heritage above.  If you mean why the United Methodist Church is focusing on it, I’d say that since some people feel that sexual contact among married couples of the same gender is a sin, and some don’t, there’s been extensive conversation about how to address this difference of opinion, and how people who feel both ways can love each other and be in ministry together.  
We still have 40-50% divorce rate among Christians. Let’s focus on strengthening marriage as God designed it!  What about the moral characteristics of a deacon or church leader that are described in 1 Timothy?
  • The staff at Heritage are eager to support people in their marriage, and frequently meet with couples for both pre-marital and marriage counseling.  If needed, we are glad to refer couples for therapy if that would be helpful.  Seeking counseling and therapy is not a sign of weakness, but rather an expression of love and a desire to be our best for each other. 
  • I’ve preached two sermons about marriage so far in my first two years, and both times I received complaints about how it wasn’t relevant for many in our sanctuary services.  However, since marriage ministry is one of my favorite parts of pastoral ministry, I am hopeful to lead or facilitate events for couples in the future outside of our worship services.
  • As far as “how God designed it,” I guess that’s where the debate begins.  In Genesis 2 the author talks about a man leaving his father and mother and being joined together with his wife.  There’s also a great deal of polygamy endorsed in the Bible, and Paul says you shouldn’t get married at all unless you just can’t help yourself.  He then writes to Timothy and says that leaders in the church should be the husband of only one wife, which Heritage is violating right now with some very effective women leaders over our preschool, children’s ministry, youth ministry, Staff-Parish Relations Committee, and others.  As understandings of what was proper, permissible, or preferable went through multiple revisions in the Bible, there is still debate about it today. 
Are you planning on marrying gay couples?
  • Clergy in the United Methodist Church are not permitted to perform same-sex weddings.

I do not like the format used in the Virtual Service. I think it should be a formal service with the pastor in his robe and looking like he is talking to a church full of people. This ‘bantering’ back and forth between John and Matt leaves me “cold” and therefore I have not watched on Sunday morning. Instead I listen to our son-in-law in Ohio and also to a Presbyterian church in Denver (where our daughter and her husband attend).

  • It’s hard to hear that what we’ve done has left you “cold,” and that our services have not helped you connect to God and your fellow church members at Heritage.  I do regret that this has been your experience!
  • In our planning for online worship, our sense of what people would miss most was each other, and so we’ve tried to create an experience that feels like the church spending time together.  We’ve included video of church members reading Scripture, leading in prayer, as well as just saying hello to each other.  We even included a look in at a parade of church members who drove by Pat Richardson’s house to welcome her home from her bone marrow transplant procedure.  John and I have conversation for about 5-6 minutes of the service each week, and the rest of it is a sermon by John or I, and music led by our staff musicians.
  • We have also tried to offer a unified format to serve our whole congregation together, rather than separating into our usual style segments.  Since the virus has led to enough separation and social distancing already, it seemed like now was a time to come together.
  • In order to meet the preferences of members and friends who prefer traditional worship, I have been offering the sacrament of Holy Communion and the Lord’s Prayer online every Wednesday night, wearing a robe and even a clergy collar.  I then added a sermon, then the Apostles Creed.  Last Wednesday Rob Knabel provided hymns for the service.  This Wednesday we’ll be at the church to celebrate our graduating high school seniors, but starting the following Wednesday, this will become a full traditional worship service, available to be viewed online every Wednesday evening at 6:30pm.  It will also be stored as a recording on our website and Facebook page, so if you prefer to watch that on Sunday morning instead of the live worship service, that is an option as well.
  • I do understand and affirm that there are different learning styles and preferences represented across our congregation.  This is a positive, and allows a diverse cross-section of people to find ways to engage with the Scriptures and encounter Jesus Christ.  At the same time, the church is not an event for us to critique, but rather a group of people called together to answer God’s invitation to love Him, and his call to love each other and our neighbor as ourselves.  We do our best to create meaningful worship experiences for our congregation, but it will always be my responsibility to remind everyone that worship isn’t a show with the congregation as the audience.  In truth the whole sanctuary is the platform, and we’re all on it with one Person in the audience receiving our worship.  He is the only one we all should be trying to impress.
Has outdoor worship been considered?
  • We have considered outdoor worship.  We will learn a lot about what is possible for us this Wednesday during the Parade of Graduates in our parking lot at 6:00pm.  There are many logistical challenges for us to create a high quality broadcast the audio to car stereos or to people sitting outside.  It’s getting hotter and hotter, making outdoor worship a challenge as well, but it’s not been ruled out as a possibility.
Some questions did not allow for negative response and include a place for other comments.
  • Surveys questions are designed to generate specific sets of data that will help lay and staff leaders understand the general thinking of the whole congregation.  Sometimes the data needed was more specific than just a “yes” or “no,” so in those instances, a “positive” or “negative” response would not be as helpful.
  • A question that lets you check multiple boxes has an automatic negative response built into it.  For example, if we asked if the congregation was willing to wear a mask, checking the box would be a “yes,” and not checking it would be a “no.”  
  • Surveys are usually not effective as a way to foster conversation or deliberation.  A face to face event is a far better format for that.

I don’t agree with the idea of an RSVP to attend church. Too many people would RSVP and then be a no-show. And this does not allow for guests to arrive and be seated.

  • The RSVP system would be put in place to help your lay and staff leaders plan for the number of people expected.  We would not turn people away unless we hit a maximum allowable capacity.  We’re also working on creating overflow spaces if needed, as well as creating additional worship times to allow more space for social distancing. 

I also do not agree with no singing in church! Overkill!

  • Any steps we take will be endorsed by knowledgeable medical personnel.  Since singing expels germs into the air at the same rate uncovered coughs do, a room full of people all doing it at once has been deemed inadvisable in many different published recommendations. 
  • I would welcome hearing counterpoints that cite medical opinions as our plans are coming together. 

Let’s not make this harder or stricter than it has to be. Too many rules will turn people off to coming to church. People know how to be careful.

  • Your lay and staff leaders are charged with giving leadership in this process, which means doing the research and work to come up with a good plan to create safe and healthy opportunities for our congregation to begin to come back together.
  • None of your lay or staff leaders have any desire to make anything more difficult.  We will do our best to make the return to in-person worship as smooth and we possibly can.

Ushers can reprimand those who are obviously infringing on other people’s private space. 

  • No one attending worship at Heritage United Methodist Church will be reprimanded.

Do ushers need to be armed?

  • No.

Too many rules just sets us up for problems.

  • This is the wrong way to think about our response to the Coronavirus.  There is no villain at work trying to steal away anyone’s freedom.  We’re asking you to show each other kindness by taking steps to make sure we’re not contributing to the spread of the virus.  Please come to worship willing to be helpful and kind, and come expecting to be in prayer together, and consider the Scriptures together so that they might form them more and more into the image of Christ. 
  • If you are going to be arriving for in-person worship with a spirit full of energy to complain about what has changed because of the virus, please don’t come until you remember that you’re supposed to be coming to encounter the Lord in humility, realizing that the Spirit is at work on us to help us grow in our love of God and our neighbor. 
  • As I mentioned above, we do our best to create meaningful worship experiences for our congregation, but it will always be my responsibility to remind everyone that worship isn’t a show with the congregation as the audience.  In truth the whole sanctuary is the platform, and we’re all on it with one Person in the audience receiving our worship.  He is the only one we all should be trying to impress.
Matt Horan
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