Almost exactly a year ago we were confronted with the realization that the way we defined ourselves as a church was outdated and failing. Using every relevant measure we were an institution in decline. Membership, worship attendance, finances, all in a kind of free fall. We knew that if we held to the status quo, we were not going to make it.
And so, step by step, we have begun to abandon old categories that used to define what it means to be a church. Even the word “church” may not be adequate to what is happening to us. Step by step we are letting go of twentieth century notions of what a church is and does. Whatever those images are for you, let them go, because God’s is moving in our midst, challenging customs and expectations.
The first thing you did (for better or worse) was to let me and Laurie step in as volunteer coordinating pastors. Do you know that there is no such thing in the United Methodist Church? Together, we made that up. You may not realize it, but every week we are subverting the very notion of a twentieth century paid, professional, pastoral ministry. Nothing in the recent history of Methodism, at least in America, prepares us for this. This is just all new.
Next you did away with the formal committees and structures outlined by the Methodist rule books. We just made up new ways to organize ourselves. The Bishop looked over at what we are doing and said, well … go for it. See what you can accomplish as the people of God.
And so we are. But we are not and cannot be done.
In the days and weeks ahead your coordinating committee will present new ways to bring ministry into our neighborhood. For example, imagine a small group of recent college graduates, from across the region, living in our parsonage, funded by us to bring new kinds of worship and ministry to our neighborhood. Is that possible? We don’t know. How would it work? We don’t know. But then a year ago we did not know how any of this was going to work, and yet here we are.
On March 3rd we will get together as a whole church to talk together about these kinds of ideas for our future. Exciting ideas, because God is not done with us yet. The Holy Spirit reminds us over and over that we are not here to preserve an institutional heritage, or to maintain institutional inertia. We are of course grateful for the faithfulness of all those who have gone before us and who worked faithfully in their day. However, we are not here to do exactly what they did just because it worked then, or because others expect us to do it now.
What we are here to do is to join together as the Body of Christ. We are here to figure out what that means now in our little community. We are here to proclaim without embarrassment that the kingdom of God is at work here. That God is real, that the needs of the world (right here) are great, and that we have something to do and say about that.
Come and join us.