The pastor of two Davenport churches has a unique way of meeting with church members who want to speak with her in a setting that is less formal than her church office.
The Rev. Linda Hunsaker, pastor of both First Christian Church and Cedar Memorial Christian Church for the last three years, is keeping some office hours at a coffee shop and a restaurant.
Hunsaker is at Starbucks on Middle Road in Bettendorf from 1 to 3 p.m. most Mondays and at the Village Inn on Harrison Street in Davenport from 9 to 11 a.m. most Wednesdays.
She also is holding a Bible study every other Thursday night from 6 to 7:30 in the cafe at the Hy-Vee on West Locust Street in Davenport.
She said the idea to get out of the office and into the community came from a book, “Real Good Church: How Our Church Came Back From the Dead, and Yours Can, Too” (The Pilgrim Press), by United Church of Christ pastor Molly Phinney Baskette.
According to advertising for the book, it “offers a look at everything First Church Somerville UCC, a progressive Christian church in the shadow of Harvard, MIT and Tufts Universities, did to reverse their death spiral and become the healthy, stable, spirited and robust community it is today.”
Said Hunsaker: When Baskette was called to minister the aging congregation, church finances were nearly gone and “they literally were a couple of years away closing the doors. She went to them and said, ‘The church can’t be the way it used to be.’
“Not that it isn’t wonderful, and we don’t love church the way it has been,” Hunsaker said, “but we live in a time when folks don’t engage and go to church like they used to because we now live in a seven-day-per-week, 24-hour-per-day society.”
Hunsaker said the question the book poses is, “how can you be more accessible to people and also be more non-threatening? Not that the church is threatening, but I think a lot of people have been harmed by the church,” Hunsaker adds.
“I had never thought about it this way because I love my job, I love being a pastor and I love that God has called me,” she said.
Hunsaker, who grew up in the Des Moines area and came to the Quad-Cities from Ursa, Ill., said she never thought that visiting a pastor in his or her office was a bad thing, and when growing up was very close to the pastor of her congregation. “I never thought somebody might not be comfortable coming in to the church office and talking to me. (But for some) it’s almost like going to the principal’s office.”
Hunsaker said telling someone they can have a cup of coffee with her or breakfast with her or just sit and talk is must less threatening to people.
“It’s more of a friendship,” Hunsaker said. “That’s what I want people to know — that I enjoy sitting and talking and hearing their stories. Where do you do that? You don’t do that in the formal front room. You do that in the kitchen.”
Ministering to two churches leaves little time for visiting on Sundays.
“I have time during the week so people come and do this,” she said recently while seated at a Village Inn booth. “Sunday morning is not the time to sit down and get to know people in the congregation. Often the most time I get to spend with people is when I’m sitting with families in the hospital or at a funeral home. I want to know them before I get to that point.”
She’d also like to better know members of her flock before they’re in their 80s and 90s and perhaps in a nursing home. “People have useful lives that are like a back story.”
Hunsaker began her out-of-office office hours last fall and said the experience “has been wonderful!”
Pastors used to visit people by going to their houses and knocking on their doors. But Hunsaker said, “These days they often are not home or they are home but their house is a mess because they have kids running through it, and they are embarrassed.”
Hunsaker, the married mother of two young, active daughters, understands that.
There is another benefit to getting out of the office and into the community. Hunsaker has experienced some of the “Cheers” mentality. That was the TV show where “everybody knows your name.” She has, for example, become familiar and friendly with the employees at the Village Inn.
A waitress insisted on donating money toward a Thanksgiving meal for the needy she heard Hunsaker was involved in. Another employee asked her to speak with a regular restaurant customer whom he knew was going through tough times.
“You don’t do that if you’re sitting in your office,” Hunsaker said.
Copyright 2016 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This piece ran as a column in The North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa.