The more I read about the woes of my denomination… the implosion that many see on the horizon, the lack of resources already hitting many congregations and myriad other issues… the more I wonder what God is thinking in calling women and men into ordained ministry. Within and to this denomination.
I mean, really… there are tens, maybe hundreds, of people already tripping over one another for every decent church post that comes open. There are fewer pastors retiring (who would, given the economic climate), making those openings fewer and farther between. And it’s not as if there are many hospitals or other medical facilities crying out for chaplains. The one “growth industry” that seems possible is chaplaincy at elder care facilities… but then, not many folks have the funds to move in after losing so much from retirement funds in the crash. Blah blah blah…
And then it happens. That Jiminy Cricket voice in my head reminds me that when God pointed me to seminary, God didn’t say anything about landing in a traditional church ministry setting. In fact, throughout my seminary journey, God has been tugging my heart as I explore all sorts of odd places… General Assembly, Presbytery office internship, New Church Development Committee. God has been providing opportunities to learn about communications, strategic planning, re-branding, organizational change and coaching. God has led me to conversations in person and online with people who are dreaming about what new things might be in store for us as this way of being church wanes.
Those conversations are where I see glimpses of ecclesiological imagination that stirs something within me. It makes me say- with conviction – that this is an exciting time to be a Presbyterian. There are people asking questions that we’ve not been bothered to ask. Who are our neighbors and how might we show them love? What happens if we measure success in relationships rather than statistics? How can we empower ruling elders to be spiritual leaders instead of corporate boards? What if we took a new look at how we live out our connectionalism and how we share resources to share God’s love with more people?
Yes, there are many problems in our denomination today. And the root issue of Biblical interpretation will lead many to leave with the ordination standards change being the primary symptom. But those who want to remain part of this denomination in spite of theological differences will help push us to exercise our imagination in new directions, with new structures and relationships. Maybe this is good. Maybe this is God’s way of waking up God’s people to the ways we tend to stagnate and settle for less of the Holy Spirit than God desires to pour out. Maybe this is God pointing to Paul’s prayer that we would experience God’s grace and goodness that is greater than we can ever ask or imagine.
When I try to imagine my future… well, it’s not clear. But when I pass by this certain empty storefront, it makes me think about what I’d put in it.
I imagine a community built around art, music and conversation.
I imagine a place where people learn how to integrate their faith into their home and work lives and relationships. I see women and men of different ages gaining confidence in leading conversation groups that become life-giving communities of faith.
I imagine a place where those who can’t join a Sunday worship can gather on a different Sabbath, making that day the Lord’s Day, hearing the Word and gathering around a table for fellowship and the Lord’s Supper.
I imagine a place where the chancel becomes a place for poets, musicians, dancers and speakers to make an offering of their talents to the community and to God .
I imagine walls covered with shelves and hangers for all manner of art and books.
I imagine young people gathering to ask questions that they might not ask elsewhere.
I imagine people just being there… so that if someone has bad news to process or joyful news to celebrate, this is the place they come. To laugh, to cry, to pray, to be held in prayer.
I imagine a church that uses a space, rather than a place to go to church.