Have Faith: Not-so-leading questions

Island clergy weigh in on church attendance.

A new electronic donation system is in place at St. Elizabeth Church in Edgartown, which takes credit cards. —Caroline Brehman

I asked Island clergy a few weeks ago these questions: What do you think impacts attendance most at places of worship? What keeps people coming, and what might hold them back from attending?

But what I didn’t think through is that if they knew the answer to those questions, they’d all be rolling in parishioners and all would be good. I only received a couple of responses, and hopefully I’ve learned a lesson about asking obvious questions! I’ll share part of their answers here, but know that I’ve asked a more practical question for the next Have Faith column!

Here’s what Rev. Chip Seadale from St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church had to say:

“I think every person has a deep spiritual side, and we are hungry to express it and nourish it.  When it comes to attending worship, it seems to me the ‘people are voting with their feet.’ They might be getting a lot of information about God, but what they are really looking for, is an experience of God. I think communities of faith that choose to work together to make sure they are getting one heck of a bang for their buck, and bring about a transformative experience of God, will be doing good and faithful work to ensure there remains a worthwhile place for everyone to go to express and nourish their spiritual sides. Church leaders, both ordained and laypersons, need to invite the younger generations (and their ideas) in, and be prepared to let God do his or her work among us. In my congregation, we’ve set out upon that specific goal, are ready to undertake that hard work, and I firmly believe “the best is yet to come.” Our faith communities, on this Island and here in our country, can be and should remain oases of caring, love, support and encouragement, especially in these times when the world seems to be changing so fast, and too many of us can simply get caught under the current of nastiness and inhumanity. Together, we hold so much promise!”

And interfaith minister Rev. Susan Waldrop had this to say:

“Not being a pastor of a church, I have less direct experience of attendance issues. But from what I’ve read and discussed with people, what touches the heart is at the center of what draws people to religious services.

“Transformation, the experience of change as a result of being touched by words, yes, but more often as an experience of community and prayer driven by some unanswered need is at the center, I believe, of what holds people to God and keeps them coming back to services or any spiritual path.

“We all know (or think we know) some basic tenants of most faith to be good, to make value-driven decisions, to call upon a higher power, to love ourselves and one another, to forgive and pray for one another. But sometimes deciding to do the right thing just doesn’t make the issue dissolve. Possibly, we get stuck on not being able to do what is asked, or trying to look good, or else finding the world driving us to discouragement and/or cynicism.”

I’m hoping to gather more insight from the next question asked, and will share that information with you here.


The Island’s Methodist churches got together with the Campmeeting Association to offer an event for young people, called Catch the Spirit. It took place at the Tabernacle and a couple of other Oak Bluffs sites late last week. I checked in last Thursday afternoon and found some art projects and live music going on. There weren’t many in attendance when I arrived, but those who were there were enthusiastic and were enjoying the event.

Claire Ganz led an exercise in “prayer through art,” and she had some young talented artists working with her. Twins Anaya and Devin Mitchell, 9 years old, were at the Tabernacle with their grandfather, Carlton, an Oak Bluffs summer resident. Amaya had completely filled a page with flowers and colorful petals, a really beautiful work of art. They come every year, Mr. Mitchell said, and they had their first fishing adventure at the OB pier this trip. I asked if they had caught anything and Devin gave me a lively nod. Mr. Mitchell told me they ate the fish for dinner.

I understand Rev. Steven Chambers from Houston, Texas, was a terrific speaker later that afternoon. He’s a cousin of Dr. Lorna Andrade, a former president of the Methodist Society of Martha’s Vineyard.


Times photographer Caroline Brehman and I visited St. Elizabeth’s in Edgartown a couple of Sundays ago to check out their new credit/ATM card offering service. Father Mike Nagle told me about this nifty new way parishioners and visitors can donate. They just walk up to the small device that sits at the back of the church behind the pews, slide their card through and then the prompts lead them through how to make a donation or the week’s offering. You even get a receipt emailed directly to you so you can keep a record of your charitable gifts. These conveniences are likely the way of the future but at least for now, they make it an easy method for supporting the church.

I even tried it out to see how tricky it was, and believe me, if I can do it you can. It was a cinch.


The Summer Institute series continues at the Hebrew Center; please to try to attend some of these events. They are extraordinarily varied, incredibly well-planned, and truly community-enhancing. The speakers’ events take place at the Hebrew Center on Thursdays at 7:30 pm. The films in the series are screened on Sundays at 7:30 pm.

Tonight bioethicist Dr. Ruth Faden, founder of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, will talk about “The Ethics of Eating: Can We Eat Our Way to a Better World?” According to the website for the Summer Institute, her current research focuses on structural justice theory and on ethical challenges in food and agriculture, health systems design, pandemic preparedness, and advances in biomedical science, often with a particular focus on the interests of women.”

Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), takes on the timely topic “Hate and Extremism in America: Trump and Beyond” next Thursday, July 26. The website says that under Cohen’s guidance, the SPLC won a series of landmark lawsuits against some of the nation’s most violent white supremacist organizations. He also successfully litigated a wide variety of important civil rights actions — defending the rights of prisoners to be treated humanely, working for equal educational opportunities for all children, and bringing down the Confederate battle flag from the Alabama State Capitol.

Upcoming films in the Summer Institute include “The Oslo Diaries” on July 22, and “Foxtrot” on August 5. Be sure to visit their website at mvsummerinstitute.org for the whole schedule.