Our Core Mission

The demise of traditional retail stores continues to grow. The BonTon group, which had bought up several regional retailers, ended in the last year and took with it the Bergners stores in Peoria at which I had shopped all of my life, along with the Younkers stores which we had frequented in Iowa, and the Carson’s stores that were always the more glamorous sibling of these other two.
The first mall built in Peoria was completed in 1973 and decimated the downtown shopping area. Its anchor stores were Carson’s, Penney’s and Sears. Now the huge space that was Carson’s and then Lord & Taylor and then Macy’s now has two tenants. One is an inexpensive furniture store where one is, apparently, expected to buy a whole room at once. The other is a video arcade and bowling alley—another national chain—to which the police had to be called several times within the first few weeks it was open. It seems to have calmed down now.
As I still have to explain to my grandchildren from time to time, shopping and buying are not the same thing. One can spend a whole afternoon at a retail mall and come away with nothing; well, nothing that is except the memory of a really good pretzel or a scrumptious ice cream cone.
One can shop in the same way one goes to the zoo. I like looking at the giraffes in the  zoo, but I am not going home with one in the backseat of my car. Just so, I can look at the $500 shoes, or the sparkly prom dresses, or the latest electronic gadgets without having the salesperson wrap them up. I am doing cultural inquiry at the mall, seeing what is interesting, discovering things that I never knew existed. That was never the store’s primary focus, unless such inquiry led to my making a purchase. The music and the aroma of expensive perfume and the beautiful displays of merchandise were not there to entertain me. They were there to entice me to spend money. But entertain me they did.
Where will I find a place to spend a little time looking but not touching, as I was taught to do as a child, once the brick and mortar retailers are gone? Sitting on my couch with my tablet does not create the same atmosphere. Retailers had to make money or close; that was their core mission. My entertainment was not part of that business model.
What are the collateral ways in which our congregations provide value for our communities? What would they miss if we all disappeared? For most of us, we are not reaching the same numbers of people we once did. Many congregations worry about whether those who still attend and contribute will be able to financially sustain the building and the ministry.
If we close, our communities will not, apparently, miss actually being with us on Sunday morning for worship since they are not there now. But they will miss the idea of our churches. They will miss the sound of the carillon. Or they will miss the stability that the church family and its building have provided in the community. Or they will miss the luminaries on Christmas Eve. Or, we hope, they would miss that little hint at the back of their minds that if they really, really, really needed spiritual or even temporal help, our churches would be a place to which they could turn.
Have you found a way to build on those warm (or at least neutral) feelings your neighbors have about your church before it’s too late? Do you build on their sense that they could find welcome there? Do you fulfill their idea that you do bring stability and peace to your neighborhood? For surely our core mission is not the maintenance of our buildings and the programs that sustain a smaller number of people every year. Surely our core mission is bringing hope in the name of Jesus Christ in any way we can.
Susan D. Krummel (Sue)
Executive Presbyter
Presbytery of Chicago