The request on the community Facebook page said: “Good evening neighbors!!! I was gifted with a Cannon Rebel T7 for my birthday and have been trying to get good celestial pictures. I have no photography experience at all, so they’re not great. There is an event that I would like to capture in the wee hours of Sunday night. Would anyone have an extra tall (I’m 5’ so anything close to that) tripod that I could just BORROW this weekend? Thanks in advance.” I looked to see how many people responded with offers. No one did. I happen to own a very good camera tripod that goes taller than five foot. What do we do in situations like this?

After offering my tripod, I had a time of panic. I wasn’t sure how her camera would mount onto my tripod’s quick release system. I’ve only used my tripod with my big lens (100-400), which has a mounting ring on it. The ring wouldn’t work with her camera and would need another solution. It took me some time to figure out I could take the quick release plate off the bottom of the mounting ring and put it on her camera. It was more than worth the effort when I saw her enthusiasm for photography when she picked up the tripod!

The same day she picked up the tripod, we had our Conference transitions webinar for pastors and churches having an appointment change this summer. My part focused on pastors who are leaving an appointment. I felt like I was in a Hair Club commercial when I said: “I’m not only a webinar leader, but I’m a participant”. In the section about pastors arriving to a new church appointment, there was strong emphasis on building relationships. This has a lot of new twists during a pandemic! Creativity was encouraged. It’s critical that a pastor builds positive relationships with their congregations.

If it’s so important for pastors to have relationships with their church members; is it just as critical for church members (along with the pastor) to build strong positive relationships with community members? I’ve been thinking this needs to be a much higher priority than what I’m usually seeing in our United Methodist churches. In relatively normal times, we focus a lot of our time and effort on programs, services, and activities happening within our church walls. Maybe while we can’t use our church buildings, this is a good time to reflect on what we are going to do when we move back within the walls. Do we need to redistribute our time and efforts?

Not many of our United Methodist churches are growing. Pretty much all of the churches I talk to say they want to grow, but don’t know what else they can do. I honestly don’t know if the churches really want to grow. Yes, I know the numerical size of a church is not the only way we look at the health and effectiveness of a church. I also know, though, numerical growth is one indicator a church is thriving.

What could happen if a church family makes it a high priority to start as many new relationships as possible with members of their community? I’m not thinking with the sole purpose of inviting them to church. My thought is to really want to know the people in our communities, even if they never come to our churches. If they ever start looking for a church home, though, it would not be a surprise for them to go to a church where they know people.

Creativity is definitely encouraged with building community relationships! One possibility is for church members to belong to community groups on places like Facebook. As a church family, can we help when we see someone has a need? Let’s say they want to borrow a camera tripod. What are the odds someone in our church family has one? As a church, we should intentionally be looking for opportunities to help other people. Even if it doesn’t result in new church members (though I believe it will), think about all of the new friends we will make! How many opportunities can we find each week—even during a pandemic? With each of these potential friends we for sure get to share the love of Christ!

Your brother on the journey, Mark

Further thoughts: For those keeping count, there are only six “Mark’s Musings” left while I’m the South District Superintendent. The last one will be published on my very last day before retirement.

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