Summertime signals opening of swimming pools, buzz cuts for boys, weekday outings to museums and zoos, homemade ice cream, watermelon season, an upswing in agricultural enterprises, and the beginning of summer vacations. We also start the summer slump in churches across America, with a decline in attendance and anxious messages from church treasurers about cash flow because offerings go down when the people are not there.
Our culture has declared how things are supposed to work between Memorial Day and Labor Day and that’s that. The Church tends to conform to the culture. Whatever happens during the rest of the year, in the summer, we are both in and of the world.
On several occasions, I have tried to counteract the summer slump and had little success. Call me a die hard, but I’m going to try again. Any success at all is better than none when it comes to reminding God’s Holy People what our relationship with the world is supposed to be.
St. Paul put it this way, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Jesus called his followers to be light and salt and leaven in the world (Matthew 5 and 13). Light, salt, and leaven are agents of transformation – light dispels darkness, salt adds flavor, and leaven causes the dough to rise. When the agents of transformation are present, things are no longer the same. Through our prayers and our lifestyle, we are God’s change agents.
With that in mind, I have a few suggestions for how to enjoy summertime while still fulfilling our sacred purpose.
Maintain the spiritual discipline of worship. If you are in town on Sunday morning, your presence in worship with your community of faith helps keep the emphasis on God, both for you and for your fellow worshipers. When you are there, you are making a statement – a witness – that God’s reign in your life is not suspended just because it is summertime. Vacationers may be visiting your church while you are out of town. You may also use the time in worship to contemplate the different things you are doing/seeing/experiencing during the summer. What about those mountain majesties where you hiked? What might God have had in mind when creating the orangutan you saw when you took the children to the zoo? What kind of divine purpose is being worked out in the harvesting of hay, which kept you working from sunrise to sunset yesterday?
Find a church in which to worship while traveling. In addition to maintaining the discipline of worship while you are in a different place, you may discover new friends, new ideas, and elements of diversity you have not known before. Maybe you can bring something back that will enrich the life of your own community of faith. The churches you visit will have an opportunity to extend their hospitality to you and hear about the church you love back home. If you have children or youth who will be traveling with you, ask them to get on the internet and find a church where your family can worship “wherever you may be.
Don’t send your pledge on vacation. The operational costs of your church continue even when you are not there. In warmer locations, the costs increase significantly because of the need for air conditioning and watering. There is no legitimate reason why church leaders should have to experience anxiety over cash shortfalls in the summer (or anytime of year for that matter). Make it a matter of faithful stewardship to bring or send your contribution before you leave on vacation. Or, if you forget, you may still mail a check or use online banking to get your gift to the altar while you are away.
Get involved in ministries you don’t normally have time for. If summertime affords you a little extra free time or a slower pace, use some of that time to serve Christ and the Church. Maybe there’s a need for Sunday School leaders, workers for a home repair ministry, or someone to do some maintenance around the church. Is there a mission trip, retreat, summertime conference, or bible study you would otherwise decline due to the busyness of your life? Does your summer schedule allow you to attend a weekday service that you can’t attend at other times of the year? God would like to spend more time with us and have more of our attention. Summertime may open up some possibilities for that to happen and blessings will flow into our lives.
Whatever you do, think God! Be intentional about your spiritual journey. Begin and end your days with prayer, so that, in all the cares and occupations of our life, we may not forget God, but remember that we are ever walking in God’s sight. Look for signs of God’s hand at work in the world around you. Habits that affect the rest of your life can be formed during a three-month period. Don’t let a hiatus become a habit!
I’ll see you in Church!
The Very Reverend Ron Pogue
Saint John’s Cathedral