Chapel Hill News

Faith communities could use a little Business 101 – Flo Johnston

Flo Johnston
Flo Johnston

Last week I attended a program on how to start and run a business, such things as identifying what you are “selling,” to whom and how. This set me to thinking.

Some Christians and other worshiping communities might get offended if I suggest that their congregations are a “business,” but in some sense, successful faith groups and successful businesses have things in common.

Certainly not the product, but in strategies they might use to “sell” it.

My observation is that churches, synagogues, temples and other places of worship generally do a lousy job of letting the world know what they’re doing and in keeping an open-door policy, not only figuratively, but for real.

A church member told me recently that his congregation had decided to keep all doors and windows locked to keep out rabble from the street. While there are concerns about security, especially in inner-city settings, such a statement reflects an attitude that is not compatible with the notion of radical hospitality, the kind Jesus modeled for the world.

A few years back after Durham’s First Presbyterian in downtown did a massive renovation of its sanctuary and beefed up its accessibility, an ice storm hit the area leaving folks with no power, in some cases for weeks. On those cold nights folks without heat began sleeping on the pews in the church sanctuary.

The senior pastor at the time was the Rev. Joe Harvard who answered concerns about messing up the new pew cushions with a reminder that when the church gets “too good” to take in cold people, it’s just plain “too good.”

One way a faith community might promote (sell) what it believes is to speak up when justice issues are on the agenda at meetings of the city council or the board of county commissioners. This doesn’t have to be an all-out protest, but simply individuals or a small group to remind elected officials of a better way.

I have also noted that successful faith groups encourage their leadership to be active in other community events, to show up at street festivals, at a high school football game, in the stands at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park or among the crowd at the annual CROP Walk for Hunger.

Again, it’s good to recall that the wedding Jesus and his mother attended when the wine jugs were running low and he arranged for more of the really good stuff was surely a social event, not a religious one.

I had a preacher once who was always showing up in unexpected places, shaking hands and chatting, just like the late N.C. Commissioner of Agriculture Jim Graham, known to us who loved his style as the “Sod Father.”

Once he came into the formal inauguration ceremony of a new governor shaking hands all the way down the aisle as he made his way to the podium to sit with state officials.

Not a bad idea on Graham’s part. Probably translated into votes!

Ferguson speaker

The Rev. Traci Blackmon, acting executive Minister of Justice and Witness Ministries for the United Church of Christ, who became a nationally recognized voice for social change when Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, Missouri, just miles from her church, will preach Sunday, March 5, at United Church of Chapel Hill, 1321 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Services are at 8:45 and 11 a.m.

Blackmon was an organizer of the Black Lives Matter movement, assisting and collaborating with the people in the community who were working for justice.

Vespers service

Saint Barbara Greek Orthodox Church, 8306 N.C. 751 in Durham, will host the Sunday of Orthodoxy vespers service, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, March 5, for all Orthodox Christians in the Triangle.

The combined voices and prayers of several Orthodox priests and parishioners will add a special dimension to this ecumenical Pan-Orthodox service that marks the beginning of the 2017 Lenten season in the church calendar that continues until Holy Easter on April 16.

Lou Zagami, development officer at International Orthodox Christian Charities, will offer the homily and speak about the work the IOCC is doing in Syria, Greece, Africa and here in the United States.

Jewish food

The Carolina Center for Jewish Studies at UNC will hold a two-day symposium Saturday and Sunday, March 4-5, on Jewish food in the global south.

Among more than 20 speakers are James Beard award-winning chefs, academic scholars, journalists and documentarians.

The weekend begins at 11 a.m. Saturday with a Jewish foods cooking class at Southern Season with journalist Joan Nathan, author of a new book “King Solomon’s Table,” an exploration of Jewish cooking around the world. The class costs $50.

A free film festival will be held 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday at The Varsity.

Contact Flo Johnston at or call 910-361-4135.