"There's No Place Like Home" - Second Small Church Gathering
by Dr. Christine Moseley, parishioner of St. Paul's, Brady
When I walked into the parish hall at All Saints Episcopal Church in San Benito, I knew that I was not in Kansas anymore, or at least not in the Hill County of Texas!
Hanging over the registration table was a seven-point star piñata, and on each table were cards printed with the image below. I love piñatas! My kids had one at all of their birthday parties, but why was there a piñata at the registration table for the Small Church Gathering? Little did I know, and a lot that I soon learned!
On Saturday, September 16, after a seven-hour drive from the second northernmost church in the diocese (St. Paul’s, Brady) to the almost southernmost church, my husband and I arrived at All Saints Episcopal Church in San Benito for the second Diocesan Small Church Gathering. Thirty eight onsite and two online participants were in attendance, representing 15 small churches from six convocations in the diocese.
The first lesson I learned was that the Diocese of West Texas is big … really BIG. My appreciation of the time and effort the Bishop and other diocesan staff contribute to traveling to churches throughout the diocese has increased. I also learned that All Saints Episcopal Church is the second oldest Episcopal Church in the Rio Grande Valley and one of the eight congregations out of the ten in the Valley Convocation (80%) considered to be a small congregation*. Also, five of those ten churches (50%) have an ASA less than 25, including All Saints', San Benito. I do believe that every member of All Saints was at the Gathering! They were wonderful hosts who were proud of their small church and were anxious to share with others all they had accomplished in spite of their small numbers!
The Rt. Rev. David M. Reed, the Rt. Rev. Rayford High, and the diocesan Small Church Steering Committee facilitated the workshop. Participants shared with each other a) what their parishes are doing that successfully brings people together for teaching, fellowship, meals, and prayers; b) how their churches are connecting with their communities to do God’s work; and c) ways their churches are engaging their onsite and online communities of faith and others in outreach beyond borders and across barriers.
I learned from the table discussions that all of the small churches in the diocese, whether from the hill country or the valley, share many commonalities and challenges. Each congregation is passionate and dedicated about reaching out to their fellow parishioners and neighbors, recognizing that there are people everywhere in society who need the church’s assistance and hospitality. Congregations at the Small Church Gatherings in Brady and San Benito reported similar outreach endeavors such as food pantries, monthly or weekly potluck luncheons, coffee hours and breakfasts each Sunday, rummage sales, and Bible and book studies. I also learned that each church in the Diocese is unique, based upon its location and the diversity of its parishioners. The workshop attendees, most from the valley region, shared some examples of outreach that are unique and indicative of who they are and the people they serve such as Bingo and Chalupa dinners, Piñatas and Fiestas, and Loteria card games. How exciting to see the common passion and dedication that all churches across the diocese share in serving those less privileged and the diversity of the methods used in doing God’s work!
By the end of the day, I had learned that a piñata is more than just a game to play at a child’s birthday party. It represents the joy and happiness of churches overcoming challenges and celebrating life’s rewards together. It is a symbol of Mexican culture, religious traditions, and joyous celebrations. Perhaps the piñata could serve as a symbol for all the small churches in the Diocese, a symbol of humility and hospitality, festivity and tradition, and the resilience of the human spirit.
Click here to download the responses to the San Benito Gathering Survey and table discussions.
*A "small congregation" is defined here as one with an Average Sunday Attendance of less than 100.
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