By Rev. Curtis Ehrgott
A football team has eleven players, but having a home-field advantage is like having a twelfth man. The stadium gives support to the home team and loudly shouts at critical moments to throw off the opponents. In ministry, we tend to our community by supporting the homeless, the hungry, and the lost. And we can use our church building to do ministry as well.
Concord-St. Andrews in Bethesda has perhaps one of the greatest utilization of church property in the denomination -- at 95 percent of hours times square footage. While our average weekly attendance has been relatively low for the past three years, many hundreds use our facility to meet, worship, learn, and grow. We are truly a community-based church with long-term relationships with Twin Springs (Orrtanna, PA) farmers market, Boy Scout Troop 233 and Pack 435, ROCK Presbyterian Church, and a Christian Pre-K program Bethesda Preparatory School.
COVID took a heavy toll, with us losing our YMCA exercise program, ACBY yoga program, Ballet, Dutch Language School, and Parkinson’s Exercise program. Additionally, two professionals, one in speech pathology and another in psychology, have not returned.
Since COVID, we were able to rebuild our ministry and usage by adding St. Mary Coptic Church, Walt Whitman High School Crew team for off-season training, and now three different chefs to use our relatively small but county-approved kitchen. ProFish, a Washington-based provider of fresh fish joined our Wednesday farmer’s market.
What was most satisfying was bringing in a large AA group of mostly younger adults to complement our other AA group of somewhat older adults. We also added BSA Troop 4, an all-female troop that became the largest in the Capital District region. Some of the earliest female Eagle Scouts in America came from Troop 4. Troop 4 took first place in Klondike, a competition with 83 other Scouting units. Troop 233, founded in 1965, took first place in Klondike last year. The two troops and Cub Scout Pack 435 are all Gold level programs in the Journey to Excellence.
One of the obvious benefits of opening your building to the community is financial, with over $200,000 a year of extra income to cover operating expenses. Another benefit is to connect with the community in a meaningful way. It is encouraging to witness youth Scouts become mature leaders and a blessing for the minister to deliver the invocation at their Eagle Scout ceremonies. It is affirming to hear stories of lives saved through well-attended AA meetings. But perhaps the most relevant affirmations are the dozens of baptisms and new Christians formed by our hosted churches. Baptism in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit knows no denomination.
There are pitfalls and problems with intense building use – scheduling conflicts, wear and tear, and internal conflict with some church folks who pine for the day when we were large enough not to need “renters.” I avoid terms like renters and prefer “building users” to encapsulate paid, sponsored, and other users. The church must also have supportive Trustees with a mentality of “Open Minds, Open doors, Open Hearts.” I encourage you all to look with open eyes to your empty weekday rooms and ask, “How can we be better stewards and ministers to the community?”