A project undertaken by the St. Augustine Presbytery was designed to discover if the churches might benefit by working together. The program itself they called Holy Listening. One visiting elder and one pastor from different churches in the Presbytery were assigned to visit a third church’s Session in this project. Presumably the first 30 minutes of each meeting would be devoted to answering three questions: 1) what is going well within the church, 2) is it important to connect with other churches in the Presbytery, and 3) what do they understand to be the mission of the Presbytery?
As part of a one-hour training program for the proposed visitors, the Presbytery prepared and distributed a spreadsheet listing each church, its pastor, scheduled session meeting times, and the names and contact information for the elder and pastor who would attend one regular session meeting, and report back their findings to the Presbytery. Our targeted church was the Presbyterian Church in San Mateo, Florida.
Following this orientation meeting, the first opportunity to meet with San Mateo’s session was the first Sunday of March, 2015. We appeared in time for this session meeting to discover it has been cancelled. What had not been cancelled was San Mateo’s first Sunday of the month gathering immediately after their regular worship service. My wife and I arrived in time to discover a few surprises in San Mateo.
San Mateo’s congregation is still meeting in its original building, a vintage 1880 frame sanctuary. It was designated 201-1, and was well kept. The parking lot and surrounding area was over-flowing with cars. Behind the old structure was a second building about the same size, but clearly was a much newer version designated 201-2. It was connected to the original building with a covered walkway. A third much larger building appeared to be quite new, was aligned with the parking lot and was designated 201-3. While we had no indication of a mission other than the small wooden sign in front, something appeared to be happening in this small community church. Within a small church in a small town, a full parking lot and new buildings, we suspected that a powerful message was nearby. This may be what is meant by holy listening.
As the service was ending an elderly gentleman in a choir robe came out and walked toward us. While he knew we were not in the worship service, he asked us to join him for lunch in their “first Sunday” gathering. We explained our presence, and the conversation progressed from there. He added that we should have coffee or tea and join the congregation which would be gathering shortly in the new building. He said the church provides lunch for members and friends of the church on the first Sunday of each month.
The newest building, he added, was required to provide space for their third Thursday dinner each month. From 4:30 – 7:00pm dinner is served for $8.00 per plate for those who come to be fed. The menu alternates from month to month between fish and chicken. For those who are too busy to eat inside, carry-out is available. They suggest that one should come early, as they only prepare food for 300 guests on this third Thursday. Unlike the loaves and fishes story, when the food is gone the late comers may be out of luck.
By a stroke of luck, we met, mingled with, and experienced a congregational family at lunch, rather than the session. Experiencing the church first-hand may be the best way to engage in holy listening. Beyond meeting with the congregation first hand, an equally pleasant surprise was hearing about their third Thursday dinners when they serve the community. March of 2015 will feature fish. Chicken follows in April. San Mateo Presbyterian Church is a surprising beacon of Christian service in this small, river-side community.
Click on the following link for more information about the Presbyterian Church in San Mateo, Florida. I have yet to hear anything about the Presbytery project on Holy Listening, but it is easy to report that the Presbyterian Church in San Mateo, Florida is alive and well, and their chicken on October 15, 2015 was delicious. It was reported that their fish, on alternate months, is preferred by many folks in the community. During the summer months the congregation may put their Third Thursday Dinners on vacation.