The Samaritan Connection Newsletter - Fall 2023 - 8
They are commonly called " Low Sundays. " The Sundays after
Easter, Christmas and New Year's, and Labor Day weekend. These
are Sundays when attendance dips even lower than normal.
In one church I served in New Jersey, a choir member
introduced me to a different moniker for these Sunday services.
" Happy Cannonball Sunday " , she said as we prepared to process
into the sanctuary.
Thinking I may have misheard her or be unaware of some
nuance of the liturgical calendar, I replied, " Excuse me? "
She explained, " It's Cannonball Sunday. The Sunday where
we could shoot a cannon into the congregation and not worry
about hitting anyone! "
By Mark W. Hanna - Pastor, Roland Park Presbyterian Church
* Do you have a favorite toy? (A: A Reverend Lovejoy
character from The Simpsons in my office!)
More than a few people told me they thought I was brave for
undertaking such a task, which supposes I was setting myself up
as the " theological expert " who would provide correct answers for
all these queries. That was not my intent. Rather, my objective
was to promote the engagement of the congregation in a
dialogue; to affirm and encourage their questions. I didn't answer
every question, though I always responded. I believe one of the
most important phrases a pastor can utter from in front of the
congregation is, " I don't know. "
In the past few years, I have changed my approach to these
Cannonball or Low Sundays. Instead of focusing on the negative,
I try to look for the opportunity. Namely, these Sundays present a
great chance to try something new and creative.
In recent years, we have tried Pajamas and Hot Chocolate
the Sunday after Christmas, Holy Humor (this actually goes way
back: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bright_Week) on the Sunday
after Easter, and just a few weeks ago, on the Sunday of Labor Day
Weekend, we tried " Ask the Pastor Sunday. " In lieu of a prepared
sermon, I took questions from the congregation. Questions could
be submitted beforehand by email, written on cards provided
in the sanctuary the day of service, or typed in the chat for our
online participants. They included:
* Why do bad things happen to good people?
* If God exists, why is there not more explicit proof?
* How did things work on Noah's Ark? (This question was
asked by children and reinterpreted by parents: What do
we do with ancient stories that no longer fit our modern
* What's up with Paul? He has such incredible insights, but
I disagree with him on things like the role of women in
leadership. Can I just take what I agree with and ignore the
* What do we mean when we say, " God loves justice? "
* Did Jesus have to die for our sins?
* What do we mean when we declare " We are forgiven " every
Sunday after the Prayer of Confession?
I also got a few from our youth including:
* Do you have a favorite color? (A: Orange)
* When you were in school, did you prefer Math or English?
(A: Definitely English)
Think about it; we are dealing with life's biggest mysteries
here. This is no time for certainty. Humility, curiosity, and trust
are the postures of faith. Eastern Orthodox Bishop Kallistos
Ware puts it well: " We see that it is not the task of Christianity
to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us
progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much the object of
our knowledge as the cause of our wonder. "
I cannot report that these Cannonball Sundays are now as
well attended as Easter or Christmas. They are not. But that is
hardly the point. The point, as far as I can see it, is like that of
a TV commercial I recall from the 1980s. It was for a toy store
and the jingle that accompanied the commercial invited us
to " turn our frown upside down. " (https://www.youtube.com/
watch?v=kCmqhqo8wYE). In other words, instead of focusing on
what is not working, look for the opportunity to try something
new and creative. Not everything will work, but even if it fails, at
least it fails in pursuit of a positive goal.
This is not just true for pastors and churches. Too often we
feel trapped; stuck in life. The same old pattern just isn't working
anymore. It can be hard to break routines that are familiar and
have worked in the past. Sometimes without even noticing
it, we focus all our attention on the negative, on what is not
working. What if instead, we decide to seize the opportunity to try
something new and creative?
Not everything we try will succeed. But failure is not our
enemy. Fear is. Hopelessness is. Inertia is. God is too big to allow
our failures to impede God's grace. As Barbara Brown Taylor
writes in her wonderful book When God is Silent, " But oh, what
gorgeous sounds our failures make: words flung against the silence
like wine glasses pitched against a hearth. As lovely as they are,
they were meant for smashing. For when they do, it is as if a little
of God's own music breaks through. "
Keep the Conversation Flowing
Dr. Scott Snyder, Director of Consulting
As you reflect on the idea presented by Rev. Mark Hanna, keeping in mind weekly services are a way to teach and lead, consider the
ways to teach through conversation. In schools, teachers call on students to ensure they are listening and to make them a part of the
lesson plan. While students pay better attention to ensure they get the answer right, this verbal exchange helps the information stick.
Church leaders can take the same approach when preaching about the power of Hope. Let congregation members raise their hands
and share their stories of hope, or even ask about Hope. Or come up with various scenarios that are relevant to the sermon on Hope
and ask various members how they would react in that situation.
This gets everyone listening, talking, and engaging. It also makes things more interactive by
going from a sermon to a conversation about faith.
The Samaritan Connection Newsletter - Fall 2023
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Samaritan Connection Newsletter - Fall 2023
The Samaritan Connection Newsletter - Fall 2023 - Contents
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