What We Might Look Like… When? …2025 Maybe?: Old First E-pistle 01.26.18
(Pastor’s note: the E-pistle this week is the second part of my Pastor’s Report for the Annual Meeting this coming Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018.
Please join us for worship, the potluck luncheon and the meeting this Sunday. And as I suggested Sunday, “Since this is an important meeting, could you think of who you might reach out to and extend a special invitation so that we are all here.”)
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Rereading Edwin Freidman’s A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix,” in preparation for the NJ UCC pastors’ retreat I led last week, I came across this line: “You have to get up before your people and give an ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.”
So here it is, not nearly as eloquent, and more local, but still something that will take us years to realize. Nonetheless, Friedman insists, it’s important for me to share. Even if it won’t go as we expect, but there may well be serendipities in the path before us right alongside of disappointment. It’s risky, but life with God is always an adventure.
It’s a dream deeply rooted in the history and ministry of this church since we’ve been back at 4th and Race. A dream coming out of our commitment to be “a church for the whole city,” (I think that’s Daehler’s phrase); a dream growing from our years of service to the urban poor who have had such an impact on who we are and how we see God.
It’s a dream, that working with a partner, we get through all the hoops and approvals, the funding and design needed for the construction of a new building on the corner of 4th and Race. A building that offers permanent housing to 30+ homeless people after over 30 years when what we could offer was the floor in our Social Hall for the winter months. And a building that offers us modern and accessible administrative and program space (instead of little rooms stacked high on narrow stairways) with much less cost to us than the space it replaces.
It’s a dream of special people living in this new residence. People that Old First counts in its ministry and as part of our community. Imagine if a handful of the neighbors from this residence found their way into our church. I can imagine a day when our congregation is informed and enriched by the presence and ministry to and of these residents.
This corner would look different, be different. Old First would be different. Old City would be different too. And Philadelphia would have more shelter for some of its most vulnerable citizens. Most importantly, different could be the lives of 30+ people who have found permanent housing with the support they need to have fuller and more secure lives. All God’s children… finding a home (with some material and spiritual help from us).
And this commitment and reality — namely, Old First having found out how to create permanent supportive housing — they would make us look different too. In part, physically, as one passes the new residence and comes upon Old First tucked back a bit, but with a more welcoming front courtyard — a yard for our neighbors, both those in the new building and from the streets around. A more open and inviting approach, at the entrance and the public space of the courtyard and at the front doors of our building… and how the courtyard and the building are landscaped and lit.
And the difference continues inside. The residents of the new building, if we can really welcome them into our church life, they could affect the complexion of our congregation.
Likewise, other changes: where the Sanctuary could become less about how it was at the end of the 19th century. Of course, it needs to hold its historical feel and the integrity of its architecture. But what if it were not just renovated, but redesigned for the multiple purposes a congregation like Old First could dedicate space for these days? Relax, the pews are staying! But what if we could get the chancel area and front of the sanctuary more accessible and usable? What if the children’s pageant did not have to work around the raised pulpit platform? And what if, when we were not using the sacred space for worship, an arts organization was filling it with beautiful music? And what if, we could find some more storage. …And new ways to integrate our children into our sacred space and worship life?
Going further forward in possibility as well as in time, what if all these changes, physical and figurative… what if they helped unstick us in other ways. Maybe in ways we aren’t even aware right now that we are stuck.
The more parts move, the more moveable the parts. What if, in all this change, we didn’t experience regret and loss so much as a growing dynamism and new vision and possibilities? Imagine how our church life evolving could become a celebration and an enthusiasm — one more of the aspects of this congregation that attracts people to church and to God.
Not tomorrow. Or maybe even next year. But could this be where God is leading us? Isn’t an integral part of church some deep faith that God has much more to do with us, and that we can do much more with God?
This is my faith and its vision as we take on more, getting through these first decisions and steps of a new undertaking. Only one person’s vision, but one shared honestly and humbly, knowing that what will come will be of our shared visions playing off on another, and akin to God’s will for us …That we can take the best of this great church — its ability to fashion communion and community out of an eclectic and diverse people — and build on that charism, becoming ever more a sign of what God’s reign must look like.
See you at church on Sunday, for worship, lunch and the Annual Meeting,