June 2021 CIA: A Window
The June edition of our church newsletter, Concern in Action, can be read here and our letter from Pastor Shepherd is also posted below.
Spring is turning to summer all around us—a change is in the air (along with all the pollen). As people of all ages continue to get vaccinated and transmission of COVID-19 slows, the present is opening more and more to the future, with plans for meeting up and going away being made and coming to fruition after so much time at home. At Union, we’ve moved back to outdoor worship, embracing the gift of our location to share our time of worship in the sanctuary of Creation with all God’s creatures (including the family of hawks nested in a pine tree next to the chapel, and the occasional visiting turkey!).
Throughout the past 15 months, Union has quietly persisted in its identity as a Christ-centered, worshipful church family. At the same time, we’ve collectively made a number of remarkable leaps forward. One obvious way is through the use of live-streaming technology, which enables folks from as far away as California, Arizona, Florida, and Nova Scotia to join with those gathered in the sanctuary or the park each week. Another is the addition of Jim Myers to our church staff as Director of Music Ministries, and the vitality that has brought to our music program. Other changes are only noticeable to those who’ve explored our church building and seen the pristine reconditioned floors of Herbert Harrison Hall, repairs and cleanouts throughout, and the unseen repairs and upgrades to key infrastructure (heating, organ, internet, etc.).
The past year-plus has not been without its challenges, and this little congregation will have to face even more challenges ahead. Even as we affirm that the church is “in but not of” the world, there is no denying that the crises of the past year have affected our church. Reflecting upon these crises, I keep coming back to that old adage, “when a door closes, God opens a window.” Crises cause certain things to come to an end; yet so too do they open windows of opportunity. These windows can close as quickly as they open, however; if one is too slow to respond, too cautious or afraid of embracing change, opportunity can pass right on by—running out like water between grasping fingers.
Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote that “those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.” Even as we dream of what Union could be in the post-pandemic, we cannot lose sight of who we are and who it is that we are called to minister to—the neighbors whom we seek to invite to join in the work, but especially in the uniquely countercultural joy of “being the church.”
In a recent essay, Rev. Mark Ramsey challenges church folks to resist the urge to treat church as a place where we “sit and get,” instead of “contend and send”—sent out to contend with all the pain, hunger, and injustice of the world. I’d like to share just a few of his insights:
“If a church was already struggling by being too inward-looking, too interested in keeping its own machine running, then there’s a good chance that its congregation has watched, helpless, as the machine ran out of the fuel it needed to keep going.”
“The time for modest calculation, of thinking that ‘sit and get’ will carry the day, is over. Right now, after a year of pandemic and all that has been revealed, so many are feeling lost, empty, lonely, separated, hurting, and isolated. People in every space are looking and wondering who or what can fill their deep need for care, community, connection, depth, and equity…Strangers with needs, wondering if the church has anything to say to those needs, are present in our midst. Do we meet them with insider language and internal management demands, or with words and deeds of hope and life?”
“People are looking for meaning and hope and life and purpose and connection. If that is met with ‘We are so glad you’re here, we just happen to have our sign-up table in the narthex (the what?) so you can keep our church program machine running,’ none of those searching for care, community, connection, depth, and equity will stick around for long.”
“Churches who try to keep up with the culture by offering a similar menu of ‘sit and get’ aren’t going to be able to engage the needs that surround us. But Jesus…people are hungry for Jesus. We focus on, proclaim, and model ourselves on Jesus, and from that flows engagement in both faith formation and the urgent needs of the day.”
“There are few better places to start a culture of invitation than with the question, what do I have that you need? …Do we have the courage and imagination to ask, ‘What do we have that you need?’
Now is the time to look through the window of opportunity the pandemic has opened onto the world, to call out and invite our neighbors with that question, and then to have the courage to clamber (uncomfortably) out to share what we have with those in need. Is it too much to say that the good news of Christ is an antidote to the animosity of the world? Is it too much to say that it is a joy to be the church today? Is it too much to say that what Union has is a wonderful thing worth sharing? I don’t think so. I think we can and should say all that and more.
In Grace and Peace,