oGmlilg (2)This week’s question is about civic involvement as part of the pastoral role.

Dear Matriarchs~~

I have some questions about taking part in civic or community activities as part of one’s ministry. 
Do you consider it part of your call to work at the local apple festival (or whatever)? 
Do you get involved in local service groups, or serve on the park board, or whatever is comparable in your community? 
Does your council/session/board expect you to be involved in the community? 
Do they resent the time you give to those things? 
Do you think of that involvement as public ministry, a benefit to the church, or is it just what you would do anyway?

Thank you for your responses!

Pastor in the Public Square

Our Matriarchs take their wisdom to the streets!

I think — especially if one resides in the community where the activities take place — that it is a very effective kind of ministry to take part in them, apple-festivals, fairs, heavy horse pulling contests, because at the very least we represent a non-threatening opportunity for people outside the congregation to see a potential connection to the congregation and its ministry…it’s public ministry, certainly, it shouldn’t hurt the church, I wouldn’t think… and it’s just “part of being REAL.” — don’t know how else to put it!

blessings, P in the PS… and let us know how it goes…
Crimson Rambler, now utterly retired, crimsonrambler.blogspot.com

Dear Pastor in the Public Square,

I think it’s a very good thing to get involved in your wider community. We’re living in an era in which the forces of xenophobia and isolation are powerful, and I see it as part of our ministry to oppose the demonic impulse to make life all about Me/Us.

It’s been my practice to serve on one (secular) community board, one wider church conference board/committee/task force, volunteer at one camp (glad to have a week of outdoor ministry baked into my contract!), and attend the local Interfaith Council meetings as often as possible. In addition to these foundational commitments, I have greatly enjoyed volunteering on the advisory board of a nearby seminary, and this year have been facilitating a clergy small group.

While these commitments consume time, they often add joy/energy/variety to life, which makes me a happier pastor over the long haul. I think it’s a good trade off for the church, because it all adds up to building a sense of collegiality in the town and adds to the community’s sense of confidence in the church as a positive team player. Every time I show up in public I am weaving strands of community as a representative of my church. The social capital I have built up may be expended on occasions when regional leaders can be influenced on a cause that is in tune with the church’s mission–like being a sanctuary or welcoming city for refugees.

If your leadership team is resistant, have a conversation about how they want the church to be seen in the community, and what you can contribute to the overall health of your town or city, as well as your denomination.

Blessings on your ministry, both inside and outside your church walls!
Rev. Dee Eisenhauer, Eagle Harbor Congregational UCC, Bainbridge Island, Washington

Dear Pastor in the Public Square,
I very much consider it part of my call to be involved in my local community beyond what I do in, at, and through my church. Practically speaking, this kind of involvement helps our church be visible in the community, helps me get to know people beyond my congregation, and helps me gain a deeper understanding of what’s going on in the wider community. Theologically speaking, I see it as part of our shared call to love our neighbors, which includes not only the things we call ministry but also public engagement and advocacy as well as simply getting to know our neighborhood on a deep level. I understand my own involvement in my community to be a crucial part of my leadership of my congregation.

My congregation is a university church, situated just around the corner from a large public university, and members expect our church to be involved in university life as well as in the community at-large. Given these expectations, I have felt nothing but support for my community involvement, even when it has taken me out of the office during regular work hours (for years, I spent hours every January teaching dances to all the classes at my children’s elementary school during the school day), and even when it has taken me out of town beyond my continuing education allotment (I sit on the board of our neighborhood business association and have attended downtown development conferences as part of that involvement). I would consider a congregation’s resentment of the pastor’s civic involvement to be an opportunity for the pastor to help the congregation learn more about what it means to be the church in the world. Perhaps it is also an opportunity for the pastor to assess whether or not s/he is tending to the other essential pastoral duties adequately – which could also spark reflection (by both pastor and congregation) on what really is essential. My understanding of my role as pastor includes helping my church stay externally-focused in our mission. If there are things on my plate that hinder that, then perhaps they aren’t as essential as habit would lead me to believe.

Clearly, I do consider my involvement as public ministry and as a benefit to the church. But is also what I would do anyway. 🙂

Stacey (aka earthchick at earthchicknits.com)

How about you, dear Reader? What is your experience of expanding local church ministry to embrace a public ministry? How does that ministry include your parishioners? Please share your wisdom in the comments below.

Do you want to expand your ministry to include new things?
Do you have dreams for your congregation that need a jump start?
Send us your scenario and questions — AskTheMatriarch (at) gmail (dot) com — and let our Matriarchs convene a helpful conversation for you!


Rev. Sharon M. Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor serving in Nashville TN.  She is a contributor to the RevGals book, “There’s a Woman in the Pulpit” and blogs erratically at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.


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3 thoughts on “Ask the Matriarch: The Pastor in a Civic Role

  1. I would add to these wonderful answers that the rising reality of part-time ministry makes community presence and outside commitments more complicated. Some contracts or covenants for less than full-time positions, as presented by the congregations, specify that engagement beyond the local church basically needs to come out of the pastor’s own time. That’s hard to manage if the part-time call means the pastor is engaged in other part-time work.

    Sign me,
    Someone Who Never Realized How Relatively Luxurious a Full-Time Call Really Was

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  2. To the extent that one has the energy, time and schedule, YES! Too often the “religious” voices in the Public Square lean to the conservative side of public discourse. As a progressive Baptist I consider it important to speak to issues where the marginalized would not be supported.

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  3. Yes, in ways that make sense to you. It’s your call how and to what degree you’re involved.

    My church folks expect my involvement in the community. Since many of them are quite involved, it’s not out of line–in other words, they aren’t expecting me to do it so they don’t have to–but I get to decide what to be involved with. Many of the “movers and shakers” in town belong to Kiwanis. Because of my family experience (my great-grandma was able to go to the school for the blind, and received a Braille Bible, courtesy of her local Lions club), I chose to be a Lion, have served as club president and district chaplain, and will be a zone chair this upcoming year. I serve on the Human Rights Committee for a local agency serving people with disabilities. I cook once a week in the summer lunch program, and this year I was a volunteer tax preparer at our local VITA site. That was, surprisingly, fun.

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