Ministry and Facilities - Comments and Issues Raised by Some of Our Readers.

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 Before continuing with the last three questions related to “Ministry and Facilities,” I’d like to take a moment to share and respond to several comments that people have made in response to some of the previous entries in this series.

Nate Boles and Wayne Hemmerich both raised a needed balance: beautiful, well designed facilities can lift our hearts to God.  I’ve had the opportunity to visit some of the most famous cathedrals in Europe.  Often they have small congregations worshiping in them now, but I am amazed at the way these spaces draw my attention toward God and help put me in, as our Celtic friends might call it, a thin place where the Spirit feels near.  Our discussion about facilities can take on a too functional tone as if we are overlooking the role aesthetics play in preparing people’s hearts for worship.  I certainly did not intend this.  How can our facilities suggest the majesty and mystery as well as gracious presence of Christ, our Lord?

Several persons wondered if I was advocating that congregations have not facilities.  The short answer is, “No.”  Even the earliest church made use of facilities in which to gather.  When they outgrew homes, they would rent space.  So, I’m not suggesting we go facility-less, by any means.  I am, however, wondering if we have to give into the stereotypical understandings of church facilities which most of us have – and which some congregations find financially beyond their reach.  Are there ways of thinking outside the box about renting, sharing or multi-use?  Are there different ways of utilizing homes or public facilities that would enable congregations to gather more affordably?  My goal is not to push particular conclusions, but to stir up creative conversations through which the Spirit might whisper less typical and more practical options for certain congregations in certain areas.

I was struck by Nate Steury’s comments about creating a “third place.”  The first two essential places are home and work.  The “third place” is where people can congregate to be with and make new friends.  Starbucks markets itself as a “third place,” essentially a ‘home away from home,’ a comfortable environment where people feel welcomed to hang out together.  Nate wonders how our church facilities could be for the community a “third place” or a “community center” that becomes a natural place where people gather, good things can happen and faith can be caught.  This seems to me to be a powerful metaphor for radical hospitality.  How might our congregation minister to the community through our facilities in ways that make it a “third place” where people experience the hospitality of God’s grace? 

Finally, AC Meyers and others raised concerns about the Conference’s Ministry Protection department encouraging outside groups to have $1,000,000 of liability insurance.  I spoke with Mark Thomas about this and he wrote the following statement to be shared with the CT Blog audience:

“In reading the blog post about facility usage there seems to be a number of comments about groups using church facilities and Certificates of Insurance.  First, I would like to express that the liability insurance coverage secured thru the Conference insurance program is intended to provide comprehensive, broad based insurance coverage for all the activities and ministries of the local church. The insurance coverage and recommendations by the Ministry Protection Department are certainly not intended to limit the wonderful ministries and outreach efforts of local churches, but rather protect the church, it’s employees and volunteers as they do these important ministries.
There are many third-party or “outside” users that use our church facilities.    By “outside” I mean groups that are not officially a part of the ministry of the local church, but simply using the facility to meet or have activities.  When these groups use your facility, we recommend that the local church obtain a Certificate of Insurance from the group that names the local church as an “additional insured” and evidences that the group has a minimum of $1,000,000 in liability coverage. 
 These are the same recommendations for contractors working at your facility.
The local church could be held liable or have to defend a claim or lawsuit for negligent acts of an “outside” user or contractor at your facility, even though the church had no participation in the activity or negligent act.  While the Conference insurance program would defend and protect the church, the proper insurance company to respond should be the insurer for the “outside” user group.  A Certificate of Insurance is a mechanism to transfer the liability and responsibility for the loss to the insurer for the party that caused it.
There are many gray areas related to these sometimes difficult matters.   We suggest that you contact the Ministry Protection Department with any specific questions and we can assist you in protecting your ministries.

Mark B.Thomas
Director of Ministry Protection
Florida Conference UMC
1-800-282-8011 Ext. 137

As you can see from his statement, Mark’s first concern is protecting, not prohibiting ministry!  Any church sponsored ministry event is automatically covered.  Outside organizations like Boy Scouts have no trouble providing an insurance certificate and will not be offended by church Trustees asking for it.  On the other hand, outside organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous have no resources to carry liability insurance.  In these cases, the congregation’s Board of Trustees has to be their own risk managers.  AA is a pretty safe group to gather in your church facility.  However, if the local motorcycle riders group wants to sponsor a motorcycle jumping exhibition on your grounds, you probably need to think twice . . . and say, “Let’s not.”  If you have any questions, you will find Mark a great person to help you think things through. 


Dr. Jeff Stiggins
Congregational Transformation

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