Preacher FAQ: Why do you park so far away?

Last Sunday, a member of the congregation asked me why I park so far away from the church building. So, in this edition of frequently asked questions for the preacher, here goes: I park far away from the entrance for two reasons – the mission field and my health.

The mission field is the community to which I have been appointed. There are just over 18,000 people that live within five miles of Berryton United Methodist Church. Over 10,000 of these people are not involved in a religious congregation or community. This is the mission field.

Parking away from the entrance to the building makes sure that there are spaces that are closer for people who may show up for the first time that day. I want to do everything that I can to help welcome people who come to the congregation and a little closer parking spot may help. Also, as I am walking toward the building I am mindful of the cars that will fill the lot and pray for all those that will gather for worship. The walk also offers time to consider those in our community who are not yet connected with a congregation. I am able to reflect on these persons and consider how the choices that I make as a leader in this congregation is helping share God’s love with those who have not yet heard.

Also, I want to stay as healthy as I am able. One healthy habit that I track is parking at the far end of the parking lot each day. This small step adds activity to my day and health to my life.

So, why do I park far away? For a healthy congregation and body.

Eero: My Church WiFi Hero

Last month, I undertook the task of upgrading the wireless network at Berryton United Church. I am a bit of a tech geek at heart and enjoy things working well. I am grateful that there was an existing wireless network, though one of the challenges was that it was a different network in the sanctuary than it was in the office. Devices would be able to hold on to the signal along enough to make it almost, but not quite, usable when I walked back and forth on Sunday morning. So, I was looking for the opportunity for a mesh network that could cover the entire building.

A solution from Ruckus Wireless, while it would have been excellent, was beyond my ability to install. So, I was started looking for other solutions and found a great one in the Eero Pro WiFi System. You can purchase it from Amazon.com here and find more information about Eero and their technology here. After a Memorials request was approved, I placed the order. It wasn’t too long until these sweet looking pieces of technology arrived:

Eero at Berryton UMC - 1

The next step was to get them installed and going. The main network equipment is on a shelf above the door of a closet. Here is the before picture:

Eero at Berryton UMC - 2

You may notice that there isn’t a wireless router of any kind in this picture. That is because I had already taken it down and didn’t want to plug all the things back together just to get this picture. It was sitting on the shelf in just about the middle. Here is the shelf after installation:

Eero at Berryton UMC - 3

There is the Eero on the right hand side, connected to the cable modem on the right and a network switch to the left. A handful of 2 foot patch cables came in handy to help cut down on the cable clutter.

The next step was to initiate the network. Installation was through the Eero app which I had downloaded as per the instructions with the Eero. It was fantastically simple. You created a name for your network, password and I created a guest network with a single swipe. Amazing!

The next step was to add the other two Eero devices to the network to extend better coverage throughout the building. One in the office, which allows wireless connections to the printer:

Eero at Berryton UMC - 2 (1)

And one just outside the sanctuary in the library / treasurer’s office:

Eero at Berryton UMC - 1 (1)

I have experienced rock-solid performance throughout the building and even extending into the parking lot much further than previously possible. This has been particularly helpful in our location with cell service that can be spotty, at times.

I am glad to have made the upgrade and it has been a benefit for the congregation, as evidenced by the connections on Sunday morning:

Eero at Berryton UMC - 1 (2)

Would you like to add WiFi in your local church? I would be glad to answer more questions, be a consultant, or do the install – if you are in the Topeka area. You can contact me by email at aconard@greatplainsumc.org

Happy Small Church IT Adventures to you!

Pilgrimage to Resurrection

I have attended Leadership Institute at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection every year that I have served under appointment as a United Methodist preacher. I was only able to be present for one day this year, but it was still worth it. Here is what made it good:

  • Connection – It is great to reconnect with both congregants and staff at the church, as well as colleagues from across the conference and around the connection.
  • Remembering – Nicole and I began our life as a married couple serving as associate pastors. They were formative years in discovering how to be a couple and how to be a pastor.
  • Time Away – I am able to rest in the reality that, even for just a few moments, someone else is tending to all the details at church.
  • Inspiration – The speakers and workshops are excellent. They help stretch my mind beyond what is to what might be.
  • Being Present – It is good to be around a big group of people that are committed to making progress in their local church – wherever that may be. There is a tangible sense that we are all about God’s work in the mission field.

I realized this year that it has become a bit of a pilgrimage for me and I am glad for the opportunity to return.

Disney’s Approach to Employee Engagement

I am spending my day in Wichita at a professional development experience – Disney’s Approach to Employee Engagement. It provided by the Disney Institute and hosted by the Wichita Independent Business Association.

The concepts planned for the day, include:

  • Fostering a Workplace Culture
  • Selecting the Right-Fit Talent
  • Training the Culture
  • Communicating to Inform & Inspire
  • Creating a Caring Environment

I am interested to see how these concepts apply to Berryton United Methodist Church and the Great Plains Annual Conference. The engagement level of the current congregation today is evident to people who may visit the congregation for the first time. Engagement also makes a difference in how readily someone is to share with others about their experience with God and the local church. I am looking forward to more today and will be paying attention to how we can make progress in congregational engagement.

National Congregations Study Participation

Early this week, I received a letter informing me that Berryton UMC was a participant int he 3rd wave of the National Congregations Study (NCS) and that I was “one of a small number of religious leaders from across the U.S. chosen randomly to again represent [my] religious community in the 4th wave of the NCS.”

The National Congregations Study (NCS) is an ongoing national survey effort to gather information about the basic characteristics of America’s congregations. It is an effort of the University of Chicago and Duke University.

This is pretty great! I have looked at the key findings of the previous waves of NCS research and have appreciated the research. I participated in the phone interview this week and it was fun to be part of the ongoing research on religious congregations in the United States.

I was asked a number of questions about Berryton United Methodist Church, including around the history of the congregation, staffing, worship services, groups and activities, financials, and my background. I am looking forward to seeing the results of the work when they are published and glad to have been part of the process.

You can find out more about the National Congregations Study here.

 

Annual Review for Clergy – District Superintendent Version

As a United Methodist clergy person, part of my annual routine is a conversation with my District Superintendent about life and ministry. My conversation with the Topeka District Superintendent, Rev. Kay Scarbrough, is next week and thought you might be interested in the written responses which I provided in advance. I would love to hear your thoughts, feelings, or opinions about what you read here.

How is it with your soul – personal celebrations and concerns?

My soul is better today than it has been in some months. Our family has navigated our transition to the Topeka area relatively successfully. I have been intentional about creating space in my weekly routine for work, family, and recreation. I have maintained a commitment to a practice of meditation, reading the Bible in a year, and spending time in prayer each day. I have also recommitted to my practice of running, including registering for four half marathons in the appointive year ahead.

Review your ministry during the past year – accomplishments? frustrations? areas for improvement? (If you are in first year of setting, you can either share about previous setting or skip this question.)

One of the key accomplishments in my ministry during the past year was leaving First UMC El Dorado as well as possible. I was able to create space for the congregation and our family grieve what was ending and to be intentional in preparing for what was ahead. An area for improvement is engaging a wide variety of stakeholders when making significant changes in the life and ministry of the congregation.

Describe the opportunities in your current mission field / community – needs to meet? affinity groups to reach?

One of the key opportunities in my current mission field is to connect families with elementary-age children into meaningful community to grow in their faith. There are a number of these families who are present in worship, though are not yet connected with either Sunday school or other small group opportunities.

There is also an opportunity to share a balanced approach to faith with the community which includes the evangelical and social gospel and sees good in both sides in many theological and social issues. This could be most effective when offered in ways that comes alongside the day to day life of families and does not demand that they adapt to the logistics of practicing faith that have been effective in previous generations.

I believe that there is also an opportunity to coordinate the outreach and discipleship efforts of congregations in the Shawnee Heights school district to more effectively connect with the community. I am hopeful that the work of our network will be able to catalyze connections for youth and adults across the community.

Share your plans / priorities for the coming year in leading your congregation(s) to greater vitality (or to the next phase in its life cycle). (If you are in first year of setting, the 100-day plan will suffice for this part.)

One of my priorities for the coming year is to strengthen lay leadership and equip current leaders to raise up the next generation of leaders. I hope to make progress in the communication tools to reach both the current congregation and surrounding community. I plan to help the congregation improve financial practices for annual giving and to develop a plan for long-term vitality of the congregation.

What specific assistance do you need from the DS or the conference to realize your goals? to be effective/fruitful in ministry?

The DS and conference can assist by providing as much clarity as possible about future organizational changes and shared initiatives for Great Plains United Methodists. Also, encouragement, institutional backing, and, perhaps, financial support to experiment with new ways of organizing to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the wold.

Friends and Colleagues

One of the ongoing growing edges for me in life and ministry is spending time with friends and colleagues. As a pastor in the local church, good relationships are essential to my role. I feel good about my ability to build connections within the congregation. However, there are times when I know that I miss the connections of friendships outside the local church and with clergy colleagues. While there are a handful of people with whom I have stayed in connection for a number of years, I know that I need to make progress in this area for my own well-being.

In recent months, I have reconnected with some old friends, met with new colleagues, and been more intentional about the relationships of which I am a part – both in the local church, community, and across the connection. I am glad for this. I am hopeful to continue to build on these relationships and others as I continue to seek to be fruitful in ministry and whole across all areas of my life.