(Pastor’s note: The Elders have extended my Covenant Ministry to provide time for discernment wherein the church and I decide if we are to continue to work together in ministry. I submit this essay as my commitment to beginning that consideration.)
You know me better than any search committee knows its final candidate in a UCC search. The congregation as a whole usually gets a name, a brief bio. and an hour or two’s exposure! Likewise, I know this community and institution — and the people who currently incarnate it — to an extent a pastoral candidate could never imagine.
So can I tell you anything more about what I kind of settled pastor I would be at Old First? I think so.
In its broadest outlines, my call is about pastoring so the church evolves intentionally to serve more people. If “what we’ve always done” were sufficient, the wider church today would not be facing shrinking membership and support. In Covenant Ministry we have proven that adaptations and innovations need not take away the best of Old First. But they can make church more visible… relevant… real to neighbors in an increasingly secular society.
My willingness to serve as Old First’s settled pastor is based on Old First committing itself in two areas:
1. Keeping “revitalization” as a major emphasis, alongside the congregational existing values of diversity and “service Christianity”;
2. Addressing the conditions that cause and perpetuate hunger and homelessness, while maintaining the social service programs that provide direct service to those in need.
Old First must continue to grow more demographically and more theologically diverse and flexible. As we engage more people with little or no church experience, we will need to become better at tutoring people in the principles and practice of faith. This involves finding effective ways to offer a busy and spread-out community with effective Christian education and spiritual support.
I would like the effectiveness of our partnership in ministry to be measured against these standards:
~ Are we reaching more, different people and building an effective Christian community as a reflection of who we know God to be in Christ? Is the community we serve and the community of servants growing in number?
~ Are we leading people to faith and church participation that makes a difference in their lives, in our congregation and the wider church, and in our world?
(2) Social Justice
Our witness and service have to grow beyond the social service that has characterized our work with the urban poor. It is a Christian necessity to provide food and shelter to hungry and homeless people. And it can be transformative to provide people in our own community and from other communities who are insulated by class and comfort with experiences of the poor as people precious in God’s sight… and of community comprising the comfortable and the needy as equal partners. But we cannot accomplish that goal until we are tackling the conditions that cause such social problems and human suffering. Without taking up the issues that cause need, we risk reducing needy people to a means for the privileged’s ends.
To follow the vision in these two areas, I promise as settled pastor to challenge Old First to be a safe space in which people are valued and affirmed — the condition necessary for people and a community to try new things; fail sometimes; be forgiven and forgiving; and try again. We need a community where everyone is respected and loved so that we allow it to challenge and discomfort us in order to stretch, change, grow, and serve. In all these, I have to strive for and model the values I hope to help teach.
(3) In return, I expect Old First to:
a. Welcome the change that becoming a significantly larger faith community will involve. Increased size will necessarily affect the style and the nature of our relations and work together. New people change us.
b. Respond creatively to a reality we uncovered in Covenant Ministry: new people coming into our community are less likely to participate in church in traditional ways. How does church have to change; how does church have to challenge its constituents to change?
c. Free me up from some of the duties of a traditional pastor so I can focus on “leading to grow the church,” as we committed to in Covenant Ministry. Examples have included not expecting me at every meeting, and finding ways to get others working on visitation thereby lightening my load.
d. Assist me with the tasks of welcoming and building relationships with newcomers and visitors. We’ve got a start in our Sunday morning hospitality ministry, but it takes other times and off-site encounters to begin to get to know and be in relation with new folks.
e. Innovate for the delivery of effective Christian education and spiritual support to a community increasingly hard to gather at church. We’re in the business of training disciples, but if the worship hour is the only opportunity we have…
f. Begin addressing the conditions and root causes and conditions that perpetuate need and injustice. We have a good start in this direction with our involvement through POWER. I believe we are also going to have to revise the “Controversial Issues Policy” in order to allow the church to act in the wider world in a timely fashion, based on clear commitments we have already made and earlier precedent.
g. Strengthen the church’s financial position. Experience has shown this will not be a single factor solution. Rather it includes growing the congregation; deepening people’s stewardship commitments; greater use of the buildings by outside groups; more outside funding from beyond our immediate community.
h. Undertake a capitol campaign to eliminate the deferred maintenance that is costing us more and leaves our buildings in disrepair that negatively affects the public face of our ministry.
These are some weighty conversations, church. We all have incredibly important choices before us!
I assume the discernment process will offer some time for the congregation to address questions to me, and for me, likewise, to talk to the congregation. But I wanted to offer these thoughts and perspectives as my contribution to the beginning of the discernment which begins necessarily as a conversation amongst yourselves without me.
See you in church,