It was a hard meeting on Sunday. Your church leaders knew it was going to be.
We have not had a difficult budget for many years, and for circumstances ganged up to compress our leaders’ decision-making into the last few weeks before the Annual Meeting.
So not only was our tight budget unwelcome news; it was the kind of surprise no one wants. People outside of Admin and Elders only got the info days before the meeting, which made it harder to grasp. And – realistically, with the imperfect “coverage” church communications offer – some people were just hearing it on Sunday afternoon.
If there had been more time, leadership probably could have explained more the situation and how their solution was developed. Of course, there still might have been disagreement about how to balance the budget.
The times that we at Old First end up WITHOUT consensus-decisions are notable because they are rare. On Sunday, there were statements of opposition and nay votes. Talking afterwards with our new Co-moderators, Joanne and Kathy, we worry that even those who voted to approve the budget might have done so alongside some uncomfortable feelings.
I want to thank everyone for getting through the business of the Annual Meeting as well as we did, particularly Holly. That had to be a very difficult time for her.
One of you, in your wisdom, said to me a day or so later, “I am thinking that perhaps it is possible for a community / family that you love to do things that really alienate you, and yet you stick with them because they are your community / family.” Amen!
Tough or contested decisions are not only awkward in a caring community. They can leave people feeling unwelcome or put out, a threat to the wholeness of our community. But it’s important to remember that some negative experiences or feelings do not take away all the positive you know at Old First and the good you have received here.
I often wish that we – individually and collectively – could dare and bear more discomfort in our church life. It would open before us possibilities we don’t even imagine now for fear they would be divisive.
Prospective members hear from me when joining the church, membership is also “for better or worse.” The brokenness we know in the other parts of our lives is also a part of church. Getting through the rough spots is about being honest, thankful and mature in our faith. In fact, I think it’s often how our faith grows.
When I was installed as Pastor at my second congregation, an extremely fractious, even troubled community, there arrived a note from an older colleague. Arthur couldn’t attend the installation, but having grown up in that congregation, he knew better than I what I was getting into.
He wrote: “It won’t be easy. Misunderstandings too often multiply into factions. Tempers flare. Voices get raised or squelched. Unkind words will be all too common. But how glorious when you all make it to the other side…” He was talking about forgiveness lived out in the life of the church.
We have it awfully good at Old First in so many ways. But Joanna and Kathy hope that the new Elders can help us as a congregation grasp and grapple with the new dynamics of our budget, as we move into construction and the reorganization of our property and programs that entails. These next years could include some “growing pains” as we need to figure out how to stretch and / or redistribute our dollars to meet our mission.
Through it all, may I ask as pastor, that we try our best to be kind to ourselves and one another. I think that’s what Jesus wants for us. In fact, he is and will be present with us to help us do just that.