In my first parish, soon after ordination, the local funeral director – Joe Page from Joseph C. Page Funeral Home* – and I developed a unique relationship. When a parishioner died, he phoned me with the news in this way:
JP: Good Morning Pastor Jan. Guess who died.
JP: You’re not going to believe who died. Guess.
Me: I don’t want to guess.
JP: No, really. Guess. You won’t believe it.
This went on for the length of my tenure as the young pastor in town. In addition to these unexpected phone conversations, Joe Page of Joseph C. Page Funeral Home would also meet me for breakfast in January of every new year because he’d want my feedback on who I thought might die in the new year.
JP: ___ doesn’t look so good. I give him until March.
Me: Let’s not do this.
JP: I wouldn’t be surprised if ____ drank himself to death this year.
Me: Seriously, let’s not do this.
So now I find myself – like some of you perhaps – wondering the future of many of our congregations. To be perfectly honest, I wonder which congregations will close this year. I won’t say that they are going to “die” because their legacy will surely enrich the growth of other congregations. But some of our churches will most certainly close in 2015.
I have a doctor friend who taught me about M&M meetings in hospitals. This is the weekly meeting during which the medical staff reviews the recent deaths, infections, etc. in that particular hospital. The CDC also publishes The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report which covers national outbreaks and other public health information. They’ve probably been spending a chunk of time discussing Ebola this fall.
What would it look like to do an M&M meeting in The Church? What are the outbreaks, the toxic trends, the serious and not-so-serious infections that are impacting our congregations? Is there an sudden outbreak of denominational distrust? Is there a contagious fever going around that saps spiritual energy and clouds vision? Is the level of gossip toxic? Is there chronic dementia regarding church history?
Anxiety kills vision. And when we are anxious about depressed numbers or ongoing conflict, we cannot look at the big picture. I occasionally talk with congregational leaders who will spend an hour discussing how to spend $500 but they haven’t noticed that their congregation is spiritually incapacitated. A virus has been traveling through the community and the impact is rather deadly.
Christmastide – just around the corner and after Advent – is an excellent time to meet for a Morbidity and Mortality report. What will probably die in 2015 – and it’s not a bad thing? (The annual chicken dinner? The craft fair?) What needs particular pastoral attention in the new year? (The deacons? The support staff?) What viruses might be spreading? (Exclusivity? Volunteer shaming?) What healthy trends are picking up? (More interest in weekly prayer group?) Heading these trends off at the pass might be a good way to prepare for another busy year.
Serving M&Ms at this meeting is optional, but recommended.