No One Freaked Out: Old First E-pistle 01.31.14

No One Freaked Out: Old First E-pistle 01.31.14

People have remarked to me — from a number of different angles– how impressive last week’s annual meeting turned out. Examples of comments have included:

~ “How nice to see new people signing up and getting involved in church leadership.”

~ “Finally, we’re getting to the Capital Campaign… and then to the deferred maintenance.”

~ “A whole bunch of people listened to Michael’s invitation at the end, stayed after the meeting, and helped clean up. And we were done completely and well in a very short time.”

~ “We’ve successfully gotten ourselves more organized and focused, in both how we prepare for the meeting and how we conduct our business.”

~ “It’s so nice to see so many talented young adults in church leadership positions. Where do we find them all?”

~ “All of church feels easier, better when our finances aren’t frightening. What good news on the 2014 stewardship pledges and budget, and last year’s performance too.”

Amen. And amen. And amen.

For me, know what was the most impressive? That we dared share an image of how the chancel could look reconfigured. No, that was a risk and took a bit of courage. But what impressed me what the response we got.

It wasn’t a specific design, so much as one possibility of how it could be redesigned to become more flexibly usable. No specific plans or final decisions, but an idea to help people imagine and dream.

I want to stress— the drawing isn’t our plan for how we are going to change anything. Rather, the image is an aid, a prompt to get us thinking.

Further into the Capital Campaign, there will be a process wherein a small group of people from our community will research the various needs and the possibilities for redesigning the chancel, and bring us back some options that offer the whole church involvement in that sort of very important decision-making.

So, I wasn’t impressed that we shared an image. But with how people were able to receive the suggestion of our changing one of the most sacred precincts of our church life. And remain calm. And thoughtful. And open.

Of course, the history of Old First has been tearing down buildings, rebuilding, selling property and moving, and moving again, and coming back to where we started — all for the purpose of making our ministry effective in a city constantly changing around us. Considering the radical changes our forebears undertook and completed, a redesign of 240 square feet of the chancel really is fairly tame.

But considering the question this puts before us, I’m reminded of an insight one of my colleagues wrote, also a pastor of an historical church:

“The very nature of church was once embodied in buildings, but we now live in a disembodied digital world where buildings themselves hold less relevance. Our church, now 280 years strong, is on its third building. It is beyond ready for its fourth, but does not have the adaptive capacity of its ancestors who built and tore down buildings to meet the evolving needs of the community, a community which now sees church as happening in many times and places beyond Sunday’s one hour sanctuary service.”

There’s a real challenge for us. But, relax, no one’s talking about replacing the sanctuary building! Or removing the pews!!!

We’re talking about how we can make the chancel a more flexible and usable area of our sanctuary.

Another colleague keeps asking me, “No one freaked out?”

I laugh and respond, “I’m pretty realistic about change in the church. One doesn’t talk about changing anything around church without ruffling someone. And we’re talking about the sanctuary, our most sacred space! So maybe the upset is biding its time and organizing its opposition.”

That said, it’s Old First, and we get through our disagreements with a great degree of grace and success. We’ll move into the discussions and find again that God’s with us. We’ll figure out — either directly or by some roundabout way — where we are headed, and we’ll come out where the Spirit leads us. In between beginning this process and completing it, we will need and trust in a lot of love and mercy in between. And we have it, thanks be to God.

Thanks, Old First, you are really quite amazing!

See you in church,