My Sunday morning routine, for the past nine years, has been to get up, laze around reading the newspapers, go out for breakfast and maybe a leisurely grocery shopping trip, do a chore or two around the house, and, about 2 p.m., start getting ready for a church service. Except for the weekends I spent serving the Vashon Island fellowship, which met at 9:30 a.m., all of my parish service has been with congregations which rented space in other churches and had to meet in the afternoon.
That's about to change. Today and next Sunday are the last times we will meet at 4 p.m. We will meet for worship outdoors on the lawn of our new building in August and, as soon as we can get the occupancy permit, we will move into our new home and begin holding year-round services at 10 a.m. or thereabouts. (This congregation goes on hiatus in July.)
I wonder what kinds of changes this will mean. Most of our folks are eager to begin meeting in the mornings, though a few confess to liking 4 p.m. as a meeting time because they can begin work in their gardens early in the day, at least during the warmer months. Some are just accustomed to the later time and not eager to shift their routines.
So we may lose a few people when we begin meeting at a more traditional time, but overall I think we'll gain many more. Meeting at a non-traditional time sounds cool, sounds radical, sounds like it will attract just the kind of unique folks we're looking for, but the truth is, it doesn't. It's hard to attract families with children to a 4 p.m. service. It's hard to attract any but the most determined to an afternoon service, even though it sounds feasible.
Changing our meeting time is a no-brainer, because of the new building. We have to grow beyond our 75 current adult members, in order to grow our programming and reach out into the community more effectively. But I've seen it become a real point of conflict in a congregation.
In a former church I served, it was a bone of contention that could hardly be discussed. In fact, one woman, a relative newcomer to the congregation, stood up in the annual meeting and cried because changing times meant that her family could not attend all together, since her husband was a member of a local sangha which met at 10 a.m. So the issue went back under the table and didn't come up again until a subsequent minister discovered a rental place that could be used in the mornings. I wonder how it will turn out!
Anyhow, though we UUs often diverge strongly and proudly from tradition, this is one area where tradition serves us well. People expect to go to church on Sunday mornings, not on Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Churches that meet at those times do not tend to grow very rapidly; they quickly reach a point where they've exhausted the pool of people who like a non-traditional time and they are unable to retain families with small children because that's not a good time of day for small ones.
So how will my routine change when we have morning services? Well, I'll have less time in the morning for breakfast at a restaurant or to do my grocery shopping or laundry. I'll have just enough time to give the sermon a final polish, to spend a little centering time before going over to the church, to get out of the jeans and into the pantyhose. And instead of coming home after the service and social hour and collapsing in front of America's Funniest Home Videos and Tom Bergeron's attempts at humor, I'll have an afternoon of rest and recuperation ahead of me, with an evening in which I could even go to a movie or a concert. I have not had this opportunity for nine years!
I sympathize with folks for whom a change in routine is difficult, but I've never been too fazed by changes. I tend to look at a situation, say to myself, "well, that's how it is; how shall I approach it?" and then move on. I'm pretty pragmatic about change, even the scariest ones. But lots of folks aren't that way and I understand that. I'm looking forward to whatever the new meeting time brings. I'm especially looking forward to meeting all those new UUs out there on the island who haven't made it to a service yet because they are already busy at 4 p.m.!