We vote this Sunday after worship, in what’s expected to be a short congregational meeting— most of the discussion, we assume, happened in two pre-meetings- significant discussions after church on May 5 and May 19. So the meeting will happen in the Sanctuary: checking for a quorum, introducing the motion, taking questions, then voting using a pre-printed ballot.
This questions before us, along with “where can the mobility-challenged park once our two, small lots are gone?”, are where our community has felt some agita over all the changes proposed by the redevelopment along 4th Street and the programmatic additions of adding permanent supportive housing on our property.
Some people feel we should continue the Winter Shelter “because with homeless people on the streets, there is still a need for our emergency shelter spots.” Others are worried that the Winter Shelter is integral to our identity, how we are known and how we know ourselves.
Others are excited that we can “upcycle” from a six-month emergency shelter (people sleeping on the floor with their belongings in plastic bins) to permanent year-round housing for vulnerable formerly homeless men and women.
You all know where I stand on this: I want our ministry of shelter to focus on the people in permanent, supportive housing. Why? We need to be honest about the limitations of our resources and how much extra work the shelter is, particularly for church staff. I also want us to help the residents be successful in their permanent housing. Old First is going to need to build close relationships with the new neighbors we are bringing into the Old City community. And, it’s your pastor’s hope, that in the deep, on-going relationships we forge with new neighbors who have some challenges… that together we will learn something new about love.
But more than anything else, I want us as a church to be looking ahead, not stuck in the present or longing for some past (that most likely is imagined and never existed!)
Let’s not get stuck in some Babylonian Captivity of our past accomplishments, the way we have “always” done things. Let’s find the freedom of asking ourselves what God wants us to do next? Our God of time and history goes marching onward; don’t we want to keep up?
Maybe this Sunday’s vote isn’t make or break? Perhaps, the most important question isn’t whether we should have the Winter Shelter in 3 to 5 years when the permanent residence opens? Maybe that’s too short a timeline? And maybe permanent housing for a handful of formerly homeless folk is too modest an accomplishment for all the love God has shown us.
Instead, shouldn’t we be asking ourselves “what new things is God walking us toward in the future?”
Where do you think God expects Old First to be in 2027 when we turn 300? Or where are we aiming in faithfulness to be in 25 years?
Can we give thanks for all this church has been and done, and is and does, but realize that tomorrow is already dawning, and God is asking of us to be faithful in new ways for a new day…
Are there needs Old First is gifted and called to meet, but we haven’t yet responded to? Are there missions we have not undertaken, but in time by which we will come to be known by as a church? In all the mess our world is in these days, is there some specific witness that this church can contribute to the healing, betterment and blessing of the world?
And once we begin to agree upon and articulate a vision or visions we believe are God’s will for us, what are the steps, how are we going to try to get there?
When I was a much younger man in ministry, I was called as pastor of a church that was a mess… a mess unlike anything Old First, even in its toughest times, can imagine. They’d had six years of chaos, but many of the ghosts that plagued them traced back to before World War II.
So, unafraid to ask for help, I brought Dr. Carl Dudley on as a consultant. Carl was the Professor of Church and Community at Hartford Seminary then. He was also great at diagnosing congregational difficulties and saying strategically, pastorally and effectively tough things that need to be heard. Carl was a great impetus for that church becoming more healthy and loving.
Carl taught me many things, but one of his statements has always echoed in my heart: “If you can get any congregation intentional about anything of God — instead of all the ancillary issues or conflicted nonsense that often consumes church life — then the church will prosper.”
Let’s not sweat the small stuff or get all knotted up in every little, intermediate step (even if we sometimes disagree). Instead, let’s step back and look further ahead, for the things of God, a vision to lead us on in faith. How do you see Old First serving in 2040?
See you in church,