The bishop stepped out of her office in Alexandria and greeted Harley Camden. She was nothing if not perfectly punctual and looked as handsome as ever in a light-blue blouse with clerical collar, black skirt, and black heels. Harley stood, shook her hand, noted that her heels gave her a height advantage, and followed her into her fifth-floor office.
The bishop sat in the tall executive chair, which made Harley feel as though he were a bank customer asking for a loan. It was his first meeting with the bishop since being assigned to a new church.
“So, you’ve been in Occoquan for how long,” asked the bishop, “about six weeks?”
“Yes, started in mid-June. I’m still unpacking but am pretty well set up in the church and the house.”
“How do you like the town?”
“So far, so good. It is small enough to have a Mayberry feel, but so close to DC that it doesn’t feel isolated.”
The bishop smiled. “Let’s talk about the church. Did you bring your data sheets?”
Measuring progress as a pastor
Harley pulled out two sets of papers and gave one of them to the bishop. He knew how important metrics were to her. The first page contained numbers for worship attendance, the second was a summary of the church budget, and the third contained information on infant baptisms, adult baptisms, Sunday School attendance, home visits, hospital visits, funerals and weddings. Each page was divided into actuals for the current year and goals for the next year, and at the end was a line for her to sign and date the packet, indicating satisfactory progress by the pastor.
“Okay,” she said, looking at the sheets, “walk me through it.”
“As you can see,” Harley began, “the best worship attendance so far was on my first Sunday—one hundred and five. The church was packed, since everyone wanted to check out the new guy. Since then, we’ve been fluctuating between sixty and eighty-five. I think a reach-goal for next year would be an average of ninety.”
“How about your budget?” asked the bishop. They flipped to the second page of their packets. “Your total budget is one hundred and ninety-eight thousand per year, with sixty-seven pledging units. Average pledge of a little under three thousand per year. Not bad for Northern Virginia.”
“I think we are tracking pretty well for contributions,” noted Harley. “The summer is often a slow period, but we are receiving about what we expected.”
“Things will pick up in the fall,” said the bishop. “And you’ll do your annual stewardship campaign. What will your goal be for 2018?”
“I’d like to have us shoot to surpass two hundred thousand. I think that will be an important barrier to break. I’d like to do an interfaith speakers series in the new year, and put some money in the budget for that.”
“Will that inspire giving?” asked the bishop, with skepticism in her voice.
“It is certainly important,” Harley replied, “and I think the people of Occoquan feel it very personally. We had the murder of a Muslim woman this summer, and—”
“Yes, I heard about that,” interrupted the bishop.
“Still unsolved,” added Harley. “Really weighing heavily on the community. So, we have Muslims in the community, Jews as well. I’ve gotten to know some Copts, who are Christian, of course, but from the Orthodox tradition.”
Clean bathrooms and nurseries
“I can sense your passion,” said the bishop, “but I’m not sure you want to base a budget expansion on interfaith relations. People want to get their personal needs met. How about expanding the youth program or doing a series on parenting?”
Harley’s heart sank. The bishop was trying to cram Riverside Methodist into a prepackaged program for church growth. Next thing you know, she’s going to ask me about the cleanliness of the bathrooms and the nursery.
“So, how are your bathrooms?” she asked. “Updated recently? And your nursery? Clean and modern?”
“Not really,” Harley admitted. “But I’ll take your recommendations back to our church property committee.”
Harley had been in a growing church in Sterling, so he knew all about the importance of making a positive impression on families with children and youths. But how can this be my highest priority with Norah’s killer on the loose and a terrorist group preparing to unleash a biological weapon? Sprucing up the nursery seemed like repainting the Pentagon right before the 9/11 attack.
“Let’s look at your last page,” suggested the bishop. “One infant baptism, zero adult baptisms, Sunday School off for the summer, eight home visits, five hospital visits, one funeral and zero weddings. You’ve only been there for six weeks, so those numbers seem about right. What would you say your most significant visit has been since you arrived?”
Here’s my chance, thought Harley. “Muhammad Bayati, a prisoner in the Prince William County Jail.” The bishop’s eyebrows raised. “He is the father of the young woman who was murdered. I was called by a corrections officer to visit him and see if I could convince him to end a hunger strike. The good news is that he is eating again, and since then I have developed a relationship with his teenage son. It started when I saved his life on Gunston Cove—his powerboat caught on fire and I was able to pluck him off before it exploded. So anyway, I have stayed in touch with him and we both hope that the killer of his sister will be arrested soon, so that his father will be released. Although this visit with Muhammad has not led to an adult baptism for my data sheet, I think it fits the category of visiting people in prison and maybe even encountering Jesus.”
The bishop sat quietly for a few seconds, then picked up a pen, tapped it on her desk, and signed his packet. “Good work, Harley,” she said with a smile. “I think I did the right thing by sending you to Occoquan.”
Read chapters 17 and 18 of City of Peace as well as Matthew 25:37-40: “Then the righteous will answer [Jesus the king], ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”
- How should progress be measured in Christian ministry? What does success look like?
- Clean bathrooms and nurseries are often cited as requirements for church growth. What do you look for in a church?
- Why do you think Jesus promises to appear to us in the “least” of his brothers and sisters? Where, if ever, have you seen him?