Pastor’s Corner January 2011
The turn of the pages on the Calendar to bring in another year also means folks are talking about the New Years’ Resolutions they made, and in some cases already broke. I discovered long ago that I could make a few, but to hold myself too firmly to the fire merely meant I would get burned. I set high goals, and got frustrated when they did not pan out. So some years I would skip the New Year’s Resolution altogether. Then I began to understand that some flexibility could carry me a long way. Set the goal, establish your desires, and then be flexible, on timeline, achievement, talent, etc. This wasn’t a matter of cutting corners, but adjusting along the way.
In the church, I realize many of the same principles are always in play. We need to be flexible, adjust, and ride the waves of good fortune, and the riptide of frustration. As one friend put it to me once again recently - “This too shall pass”. This phrase is purported to have been one of the real pieces of wisdom imparted from the lips of Solomon, and inscribed on one of his rings, for the reminder that the good times will pass away and we need to enjoy them all the more, and the bad times too shall pass away, so that we may see a brighter day ahead.
In past years I have had to outline particular goals for the Staff Parish Relations Committee, or for my supervisor. I know that in the local congregation both are the larger congregation. SPRC serves as a sample of that congregation and everyone is supervising what I do according to their own standards and expectations. I suppose it only fair that I share with all of you the goals I have, and have had since I arrived at St. Andrew UMC.
-Trust: As is so often the case, nothing of substance can happen without trust. Now, there are a few little tricks of the trade I have been taught over the years; like as a pastor you get your first three “wishes” in a church, after that all bets are off (not sure if I ever used all of them). This comes about because the new church wants to trust you, and has hope that the “wishes” you are making will be the magic bullet to solve all the problems of that church. Trust comes in making what my wife, Anna, would call “pie-crust promises: easily made and easily broken”, just to follow through and do them. Sometimes it means keeping promises that were made by someone else, and never completed. And, it means making big promises and keeping those as well. We have had many instances of this, from completing name badges that were commissioned long before I arrived, to setting a series of preferences for what the pastor (me) would preach, and carrying that out. We have some that are still in process, like completing the technology upgrades to the church for all to have better access, repairing the roof of the Social Hall and Classrooms, and restoring the finances of this church to completeness and invoking the next word:
-Transparency. We want to be clear about what we take in and what we spend, and show all of our finances with clarity and with accuracy. But, there is more to a church than financial transparency, and one of the deepest challenges to any community is the transparency of its members with one another. I have tried to provide an example of this (this newsletter article being just one such example) through my recounting of facts and foibles, successes and failures before the congregation, whether that is from the pulpit, through electronic communication such as Facebook or Twitter, in print, like my blog or the newsletter, and with my covenant group. Transparency and trust go hand in hand. Trust without transparency leads to devastation and destruction, transparency without trust leads to defamation and devaluation. We build a base of trust and provide transparency to establish a long-term viability to the program and ministry, as well as the individual witness of those in the local church, and the local church itself to the community in which it serves.
-Truth. As noted above, truth involves telling the complete story of oneself and of the church. When we are afraid, we hide information, and keep people from helping us find real and effective opportunities to solve those issues and problems we have, as persons and as community. There is another truth in play for me as well. I have seen several laments over the past years about what we can tell the congregation about the Bible. the general idea is that we cannot tell the congregation about the Bible, or the truths that are evident, because it would obscure the capital “T” Truth (God/Jesus/Gospel) for them. I try to offer the truth at every turn, even if it challenges our current notion of what the scriptures say. I struggle with the places where it says things I do not like, or agree with, and where it seems to say something different than what I thought I read elsewhere in scripture. I open myself to being wrong each time I read scripture, about what I thought I knew, or even making a wrong turn in what I think I discover in this reading. I have found that this vulnerability allows me to be more transparent, and allows God greater room for Truth to invade my very being, from my words to my actions and to the perception of me, which helps me to transition.
-Transition is that state of change which is neither here nor there. The common phrase, “the only constant is change” reminds me that we are ever in transition, from one phase of life to another. I came from an appointment at Ojai UMC where I was there for a one-year appointment. [Truth is, all appointments in the UMC are one-year appointments. We are appointed one year at a time from July 1- June 30 of the following year] At Ojai UMC, I had the privilege of working with that congregation to complete their vision statement.They were transitioning from what they had been over the last 50 years to what they would yet become, and the vision helped lay the foundation for the how and why of what they would become in their future. Prior to my appointment at Ojai, I followed a beloved pastor in a church who had been burned out of his home at the parsonage, and where the church was dealing with the loss of community and homes during the Old Fire of 2003 in San Bernardino. My penchant for telling the truth got me in some hot water when I told that congregation 2 months into my time there that I was their “transition pastor”, and that “whether they were transitioning to me or to someone else was yet to be seen”. Transition is that space that is uncomfortable because there is obvious need for change, or has been dramatic upheaval in the community at large, but where the future is yet undetermined and needs to be fleshed out and created. From this seeking and discovery I use the tools at hands - the gifts and graces of the individuals in the church, the assets the church can bring to bear, and the needs of the community. Transition is that time of discovery. We are still seeking the answers to all of these questions, and even when we find the baseline for each of these categories they will need to be reassessed on a regular basis because “the only constant is change”.
-Transformation: I leave this for last, but the reality is that this is the first goal. The other areas I have named are all there to help create space for Transformation. And the reality is that “the church” in any form, let alone the form it takes at St. Andrew UMC, is here because God has already transformed people and the very order of creation by the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ, and the existing relationship God had with Israel. Transitions help us to move through those spaces where we are neither here nor there, but transformation is what arrives on the other side. Our small transformations, such as how we interact with a certain individual in a given moment, or how we choose to spend our money, or whether we are going to sing with gusto to the hymnody, all are part of a larger transformation. The true Transformation is what we have become in Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are challenged in each moment to allow God’s rule to guide us and not our own. When we all gather together and claim the name of Jesus Christ, and allow the Holy Spirit to work in us and through us, the “church” as a gathering of people in a certain time and space can become something far more powerful than the sum of its people, the assets they bring to bear individually (wallets) and corporately (walls [of the church buildings]). The transformations effected are those of individuals and churches, and most especially communities. If we are truly living according to God’s transforming power, then the principalities of this world cannot stand against us, and God’s Kingdom will come on Earth as it is in Heaven. To that end, I seek to make adjustments in my attitude, and my actions, and sway people according to the understanding of Truth I share, but more deeply the power of the Holy Spirit given opportunity to act in my life, and the openings to do so in yours. God is faithful, even when we are not. We take each moment as it is given to us, to begin to find a solid unity of people and purpose for God’s action which will change and transform the world around us into the new Heaven and new Earth promised in Jesus Christ.
I hope that laying my goals out before you, adds another level of transparency to our relationship. At the end of it all, what I want most is for meaningful relationships to translate into more meaningful relationships, beginning with those who are immediate family and church friends to those who are further from us, in walks of life, in location, and in understanding. We want to challenge one another to have a deeper relationship with the God who named us, and sent his son Jesus Christ into the world, knowing that would not be enough and sending the Advocate, the Holy Spirit to abide within each of us. May we transform the world, because we have chosen to listen to the truth of the Gospel, and been willing to transition through the difficult times, transparent with one another, building trust along the way.