Author Topic: Des Moines Register: Church Conflict Drives Away Parishoner  (Read 3077 times)

Michael_Rothaar

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Re: Des Moines Register: Church Conflict Drives Away Parishoner
« Reply #30 on: November 06, 2007, 02:59:02 PM »
First we sent a letter to the last known address of inactive members (I think we decided they had to have been inactive --not contributing or communing for several years) asking if they wanted to remain on the rolls of the church. 

Some responded that they did want to remain; they remain on the roll of members even if they live several states away, and they get the newsletter and the mailed requests for financial support that the congregation sends to all its members. 

Others said they did not want to remain on the roll for one reason or another; they were accordingly removed.

If the letter came back as undeliverable and we could not, through a variety of search methods, find a way to contact the person, they were removed.  Of course if they came back or contacted us at some point they could be added again.

Pretty much the practice I've recommended we follow here over the last three years -- based on lots of experience doing it other ways with poor outcomes.

Our constitution, and the ELCA model, defines causes for discontinuance of membership (with all the rights and obligations thereto pertaining):

 C8.05. Membership in this congregation shall be terminated by any of the following:

   1. death;
   2. resignation;
   3. transfer or release;
   4. disciplinary action by the Congregation Council; or
   5. removal from the roll due to inactivity as defined in the Bylaws.

Such persons who have been removed from the roll of members shall remain persons for whom the Church has a continuing pastoral concern.


This congregation seems never to have gotten around to writing such a bylaw, at least not since the ELCA was formed. But voting members are confirmed members who, during the current or preceding calendar year, shall have communed in this congregation and shall have made a contribution of record to this congregation. So that serves as a good working guideline for a definition of "inactive." It's not unusual to see that "commune and contribute" criterion used in bylaws, as it also appears in our annual congregation report to the ELCA.

I ask the council to review a list of "inactive" members annually, with the request that they identify any known special circumstances. (I recently got a nice letter from a career military officer expressing thanks for our willingness to continue considering their family as members, even though they've been posted far away for many years.) I point out that there's no advantage to the congregation to remove people -- unlike in the ALC, when our "district dues" were assessed on a per member basis -- but that we were seeking to minister and, hopefully, re-involve where possible.

Of the contacts with the remaining list, we treat "no longer interested" responses as a resignation. We maintain membership for anyone who asks. Of the ones who don't respond (or that we can't reach), we simply drop the name without further notification.

(The sequence of three letters which, hopefully, follow a personal contact, contain no element of threat. They focus on "we hope you're being nurtured by Word and Sacrament," "You're welcome back, even though it's been awhile," and "let us know your intentions.")

The danger -- through which I suffered in my first parish -- lies in not covering yourself regarding voting rights. At meetings of the congregation we have a list available of "current voting members" based on the confirmed/commune/contribute criterion, without mention of their membership status. Attendees sign in next to their name on the list.

(The problem in my first parish, which never dropped members or "cleaned the roll," was that at a congregational meeting regarding a controversial proposal, a proponent of one side lobbied people to attend who hadn't been involved in the congregation in years and years. The overwhelming majority of active members, who had worked hard to develop and consider the alternative proposal, simply lost -- and there was nothing we could do to use the inheritance according to the wishes of the current active members. Very, very messy.)
« Last Edit: November 06, 2007, 03:00:37 PM by Michael_Rothaar »
Mike Rothaar
Retired from roster of active ELCA pastors 01 Jul 2012.
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Michael_Rothaar

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Re: Des Moines Register: Church Conflict Drives Away Parishoner
« Reply #31 on: November 06, 2007, 03:06:29 PM »
But voting members are confirmed members who, during the current or preceding calendar year, shall have communed in this congregation and shall have made a contribution of record to this congregation. So that serves as a good working guideline for a definition of "inactive." It's not unusual to see that "commune and contribute" criterion used in bylaws, as it also appears in our annual congregation report to the ELCA.

Oh, yeah. I've long hated that "communed and contributed" bit. Hated it for 20 years, ever since a non-participating husband said we'd never be able to drop him from membership as long as he and his (participating) wife gave at least a dollar a year.

Following Luther's counsel in the Large Catechism, I'd prefer to use communion as the only criterion. (But, hey, I might be willing to sell such people an indulgence out the back door, so I'm not claiming any particular purity of motive.)
Mike Rothaar
Retired from roster of active ELCA pastors 01 Jul 2012.
Mind and Spirit still working.

Dave_Poedel

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Re: Des Moines Register: Church Conflict Drives Away Parishoner
« Reply #32 on: November 06, 2007, 03:14:30 PM »
Shouldn't the letter or first communication come from the elders or council, and not a pastor they have never heard of?

I have used the letter as the new Pastor.  I wrote that since I don't know everyone here, I won't know if you missed just the first few weeks I have been here or the past 3 years, so come on.  I have also written that if the non-participating member has been on a sabbatical, now is as good a time as any to return and, that failing at least check me out for yourself so you know why, first hand, you will continue not participating.

I have had the opportunity to do this twice in my years of service and the result of both was the same: less than 10 people even responded, a few showed up for a couple of weeks, none returned to active participation in the life of the congregation.

Folks who have left have left for a reason, and unless the reason no longer exists they are highly unlikely to return.  Both times I have done this attempt, I have done so totally aware of the research and both times I believed that perhaps the Holy Spirit would deign to use my arrival as a cause to work a miracle.  In His wisdom, He has declined to be manipulated by my ego.  Go figure...

LutherMan

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Re: Des Moines Register: Church Conflict Drives Away Parishoner
« Reply #33 on: November 06, 2007, 03:37:43 PM »
Fifteen years after I left the Midwest and was living in San Diego, I was back home for a visit and picked up my WELS sister's church directory (where I was catechized and confirmed) and was shocked to find myself listed in it.  When I asked her what that was about, she shrugged and said it must be because WELS probably didn't recognize my 'transfer' (affirmation of faith) to an LCMS parish.   I think the rolls in parishes need to be better maintained.

grabau14

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Re: Des Moines Register: Church Conflict Drives Away Parishoner
« Reply #34 on: November 06, 2007, 09:48:42 PM »
I previously served two small rural churches.  A member came to me with a news report of how people are abusing Church cemetary because they are cheaper than a private/state cemetary grounds.  I thought it was important because I would take the catechumens out to cemetary and teach on the Third Article.   Many of these kids had family in that little cemetary so it really rang home.  So they asked me to write a new by-law for the cemetary.   It went something like this:  All baptized and confirmed members in good standing of the parish are free to be buried in the Church plot.  In the case of a mixed marriage (Lutheran lady married to RC husband) both will be allowed to use church cemetary if they so choose.

That was the only exception I made (which the parish) thought was acceptable.

Rev'd. Matthew J. Uttenreither   SSP

Iowegian

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Re: Des Moines Register: Church Conflict Drives Away Parishoner
« Reply #35 on: November 06, 2007, 09:53:18 PM »
I notice the reporter had a "Lutheran" name,( By JOHN CARLSON
REGISTER COLUMNIST
) which makes me wonder if he may be a disgruntled former Lutheran with an axe of sorts to grind. 

I'll add a piece of information here - this was not a 'reporter' article, but a column from a regular news/commentary columnist.  The article appeared in the print edition with Mr. Carlson's picture attached.