In June I had a chance to have lunch with some pastors in Charleswood, a suburb of Winnipeg, to hear what pastoring is like today.
When I was in my early twenties, I thought I wanted to be a pastor.
To test that idea, I did two summer internships at a church in Vancouver. Through it, I learned about the highs of pastoring, but also about the lows. And I discovered how demanding the job can be.
I enjoyed my internships, but decided pastoring wasn’t the career for me.
That experience gave me a healthy respect and admiration for all who choose to become pastors. So when I received an invitation to join some long-time pastors for lunch in Charleswood, to see what pastoring is like these days, I jumped at the chance.
At the lunch were David Lowe of Gloria Dei Lutheran; Michael Wilson of Charlewood United Church; Maurice Comeault of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Roman Catholic); and Lenise Francis of St. Mary Anglican. Also there were Maureen Foster-Fernandes, who directs Religious Education at Our Lady, and Heather Ryczak, music coordinator at that church.
When I asked the group what changes they had seen over the years they had been in ministry, there were a number of responses—declining attendance, changing attendance patterns, aging memberships, busier families.
Loew has been a pastor for 25 years. “We’ve lost the middle generation,” he says of people from 45-60 who no longer attend church. “And their children as well.”
That’s also the experience for Francis, who has been pastoring for 22 years. “Our attendance is down, and it’s mostly older,” she says, adding that the change in congregational demographics means pastors need to pay more attention to the needs of seniors.
Charleswood United Church still has a pretty broad age range, and is retaining its members—with 300 to 400 attending over two services on a Sunday, it’s the largest United Church in western Canada says Wilson, who has been pastoring for 27 years.
The church has many empty-nesters, he adds, “and some people coming back to church after having been away for a couple of decades, along with more millennials.”
Our Lady is growing as more Filipino families join the church. The three services on the weekend “are well attended,” says Comeault, although he acknowledges that attendance patterns have changed.
“Families are definitely busier today,” he says. “Kids are involved in so many things.”
“There’s no doubt the busyness of Sunday is a change,” adds Wilson. “There are so many things going on.”
For clergy, one result of this change is to the sermon—they need to be shorter. “Attention spans today are shorter,” Wilson says. “We need to do more story-telling,” adds Lowe.
Another change is how churches today need to “create space for people to do what they want to do, not what church wants them to do,” says Wilson, not take direction only from the pastor.
His goal is to “give permission to people to do what they feel called to, with the church’s support.”
The reasons why people attend church have also changed. For some, it used to be a sense of duty, or even guilt.
Today “people come to church not out of obligation, but for what they can get out of it,” says Comeault. There is no worry about “punishment if they don’t come to services.”
For all at the lunch, serving the church is a great career and calling.
“I enjoy the diversity of the work, seeing young and old work together,” says Ryczack.
“It’s a real gift to work in the church, so nice to go to work and to be able to talk about God,” adds Foster-Fernandes.
For Comeault, it’s a privilege to have deep conversations with people “about the important things in their lives . . . it makes me feel alive to be engaged with people in this way.”
“I learn so much from the people in my parish,” adds Francis. “It’s a privilege to serve them.”
Wilson appreciates “the conversations I get to have with people about the important things in their lives.”
Adds Lowe: “I go to work every day knowing I have been invited by people to serve them. I get to walk with people in their deepest and most intimate times, like when they are dying, or at a funeral for a loved one. It is such a precious, sacred moment.”
From the July 9, 2016 Winnipeg Free Press.