A book I am reading was talking about the trap of being well-rounded. The author asserts that well rounded people do not get noticed because they never go deep. She suggests honing in on what you are passionate about and focusing on that instead of diversifying.
I sometimes feel like local churches suffer from trying to be well rounded. We have taken the golden rule to mean that unapologetically claiming an identity that is not everything to everyone is wrong. But I wonder, if we were forced to pick one thing to focus on, one thing for our communities to deepen what would it be?
I am a bit of a church geek and I went to an Episcopal seminary so I was reading this article about the structure of the Anglican church and was particularly struck by the following:
“What leaders in the church need to face is the fact that while they are rearranging the deck chairs, the Titanic is sinking in the traditional regions of the church’s sphere of influence. The Episcopal church’s own internal research unit recently surmised, … that the body’s membership in the U.S. now stands below where it was at the beginning of the 1950’s!
With diminishing church membership – gay, straight, white, black, or even blue avatars – and falling revenue, the churches that remain cannot support the organizational hierarchy that was built during the church’s boom times – which was now decades – or even a century – ago. Why are the mega-churches and stand-alone churches doing so well? In part yes, it is because of their individual appeals. However, they also do not have to support a bureaucratized superstructure of bishops, canons, and their supporting staff. Without these albatrosses, they can serve their local communities and local peoples without siphoning-off revenue to the regional, national and even international bureaucracies.”
The crisis described is, of course, not unique to the Episcopal church. The United Church of Christ is also trying to figure out what to do with in the present reality. The UCC differs from the Episcopal church because it is not hierarchical in terms of authority. Our structure, however, is not actually flat either. Local churches are asked to send money to local associations which in turn send money to local conferences which in turn send money to the national denomination in support of “work” that we need done. To me, it seems like the problem is that our flat structure (even though it technically doesn’t have authority over us), is overestimating what local churches need from regional and national support systems.
Now many people argue that pooling resources (especially in the UCC) makes funds and services available to communities that wouldn’t otherwise be able to stay open. I realize it is important for churches with financial resources to share with others who have less, but shouldn’t we also be asking questions about the purpose of the church and how we fulfill our mission to spread the good news of Jesus. Personally, I don’t think that keeping struggling churches open is necessarily fulfilling our mission (or good stewardship for that matter) and I am concerned that I don’t hear more conversations about creative ways to respond to God’s call.
I appreciate the thoughts presented by David Wyld, but I’m not sure that a flat structure is the answer.
On Saturday night we had dinner with friends who were visiting from out-of-town. When all of us had been served our food, I felt a small hand grabbing mine. My son was holding my hand and the hand of our friend sitting next to him. My partner looked at me as if to say, “What is he doing?”. I replied, “He wants to pray before we eat like we do at home.” We both took a deep breath and all joined hands. At home, we hold hands and pray before we eat dinner. Our prayer is usually a song which this son likes to belt out in various styles including opera. We weren’t quite sure what to expect.
I looked at him and said, “Really?” He bowed his head, I took another deep breath, and he began speaking:
“Thank you, dear God, for this precious day. Please guide me in love as I learn, grow, and play. Amen.”
Phew. My dismay turned to a smile and my heart was full of pride, we kissed each others hands (again, like we do at home) and began to eat.
I had an immediate appreciation for the importance of modeling for our kids. If I had wanted our son to do what he did, he probably would have kicked and screamed and refused. Instead, he had seen this act modeled for him in the past and wanted to continue the routine, plus it was extra special to him that he got to lead our friends through our ritual.
Now there are many things that I model for my children which they subsequently imitate that do not give me pride and that are not flattering at all. I suppose this is true for any parent. But this experience reminded me of the importance of trying to live a life that we want our children to live. Lately, I have been involved with conversations concerning underage drug and alcohol use and abuse and bullying. While it may be that our children need more education and more awareness, I believe that the most important factor in affecting our children’s lives is for adults to reflect on their own actions in the world and to model the change they want to see.
I recently came across this video that reflects on how the messages that we are bombarded with every day eventually affects how we walk in the world. I realize that not everyone agrees with the premise presented in the video, but I have to say that I do think what we hear and see in various media, can affect how we hear and see things in real life.
In last week’s Grey’s Anatomy, the character April Kepner loses her virginity and then laments that she has ruined her relationship with Jesus. This week, Kepner struggles with the fact that she enjoyed having sex and concludes that either she is going to have to let go of her beliefs or she is depraved.
I am a Christian. I don’t believe that Jesus hates us when we have sex (yes, even sex outside of marriage). I do believe that sex can help us deepen our relationship with another person and with God. I also believe that sex can break down those relationships.
While there are plenty of people in the world who are Christian and have similar beliefs as mine, I realized that I don’t think I have ever seen one portrayed on television. Why is it that our media only offers us certain stereotypical views of what it means to be Christian? What are we doing to get the word out otherwise?
Yesterday, while I was waiting for my boys at little league practice I started talking with a few of the other parents. We happen to be on the Rosemont Market team and interestingly enough, many of us live in the Rosemont Neighborhood and one of the parents works for Rosement. After reflecting on that conversation, I realized something. OK, I realize this is not rocket science, but it still seemed important to me. I realized that the reasons people gave for liking Rosemont Market were about much more than the food (although, their excellent selection does not hurt). I realized that part of what makes Rosemont such an important place for so many people is the ability for customers to connect to the market. One mother I was speaking with talked about how her husband knew the butcher and the owner of the market personally. This connection did not exist for any other reason than he was a customer of the market, but it was obviously a very important connection nonetheless.
Personally, I realized that I also think of connections and relationships when I think of Rosemont. My family just moved into the Rosemont neighborhood in the last month and just by coincidence I have worked next to the Yarmouth Rosemont for the last 2 years. When I went into the Rosemont near our new home, I found myself wishing that I would encounter the familiar faces from the Yarmouth Rosemont. I didn’t expect or long to see familiar faces when I went into the Shaw’s or Hannaford’s in Portland – but I really wanted to make those connections at Rosemont.
I happen to be a church pastor, so I tend to think about these types of things in terms of the institutional church. And this experience has made me wonder why so many churches see success as being growing membership with more and more programs. Yes, I understand that this helps the bottom line, but I’m not sure it really spreads the good news of Jesus. I think the good news of Jesus is that he connected with people.
Thank God for places like Rosemont Market, may they remind us of the importance of local connection and inspire us to get to know the people we interact with everyday. Amen.