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Thinking about Change…and What It Means to Live As a Christian

These days I experience change at the core of my life, noting the discomfort inherent in a lifetime of change. I changed career paths more than once and retired more than once. I love five children who now live in five states, east and west coasts – none of them in Indiana – and I miss them. My sons are 30 years older than my daughters, leaving me in the unique space of being a grandparent of young twenty-somethings, and the mother of twenty-somethings. Each birthday brings me closer to being “elderly” with growing fragility. I live in a house begun as our forever home, only to move into it as a young widow and I’m not willing to leave it now. I’ve been both widowed and divorced. I majored in music and English, and earned two law degrees and an MBA. I was an “early adopter” of folk music and jazz in worship in the 70’s, mediation, clinical legal education and the Apple computer in the 80’s, international adoption in the 90’s, Presbyterian polity and the new Book of Order in the 2000’s. I want an electric car instead of a gas engine, and solar heat instead of a gas furnace, but it’s too soon – I don’t need either replaced, yet. Within the family I have exchanged dogs twice and am about to rotate a third dog to me. Somewhere along the line, I realized that change is inherent in living. True not only in my personal life, but also for congregations.

I’m reading Hope, a User’s Manual by Rev. MaryAnn McKibben Dana and treasure its insights. Easy to read, short chapters, but deep challenges to ponder that slow me down. After defining what hope is and is not and moving into practicing hope, she writes about “Pulling up the anchor” i.e. letting go of naming a problem in a way that presupposes/limits a solution. About churches, she writes:

It’s natural to engage in anchor thinking, especially when faced with uncertainty. The past is a huge anchor – we can’t imagine the future, and what we do imagine seems scary, so we default to what we know…full pews, thriving Sunday school, hefty youth ministry, burgeoning choir…. Forward-thinking institutions are rightly asking themselves how to adapt to an ever-changing world…. “Back to” is an anchor. There’s no going back. For churches, everything can be up for grabs: membership, attendance, worship, connection, mission. All of these things are potentially impacted and will need to be reimagined.

Living with so much change in my life, welcomed and unwelcomed, I sense that is what our church is experiencing as well. These days we notice changes in membership, attendance, worship and all the rest – sometimes with grief, but also with hope.

We already are reimagining – that’s been the work of our Chancel Visioning Team, and the Buildings & Grounds assessment of our building needs. We reimagine our liturgy, fresh each week that ties Scripture and the message throughout our worship. We reimagine our music with new people working with long-timers, with new music and old. We reimagine our faith formation practices and mission work to meet changing needs of our people, community and abroad. We reimagine our budgets and stewardship to meet the changing realities of our congregation. And our Session and other leaders will work with these re-imaginings and emerging needs in retreat next weekend. Together our congregation will continue to live forward, with hope in the power of God’s love to change us and nourish our mutual forgiveness of one another.

But sometimes it is tough, all this change and letting go and moving forward. What is a “congregation” but an ever-changing collective of individuals, some of whom come fresh, others who move away or leave angry, and others who have been part of this church family for years, joined together as God’s children. How do we let go of painful anchors: anger and/or hurt from past pastors, intentional acts that may unknowingly hurt others, words that injure, disappointing omissions, misleading gossip about one another, strained and non-speaking relationships, wrongful confrontations, judgmental conflicts over values, power struggles over music or landscaping or worship styles or translations of scripture or… the list goes on and on? Is this us? Who are we?

Partly the answer depends on who you are that shapes who we are together. Words from Sunday’s worship service for reflection here:

  • Do you experience Sunday worship as deeply meaningful, or a weekly routine?

  • Do you expect to be uplifted in worship, or together do “we lift up our praise and thanks to God?”

  • Do we “live in the tension of unity and division,” or do you expect or demand that others must change?

  • Do you “seek to claim a life of transformation” in Christ or are you set on being right, and others are wrong, and refuse to live with the continuous nature of transformation?

  • Do we “confess foolish and angry words” or do we inflict destructive, angry words to influence or control others?

  • Does your soul “see visions of grace and mercy” through forgiveness, or do you hold onto your hurts inflicted by others?

Tough questions, hopeful answers to be lived one-step at a time, being OK with continuous change, but seeking mutual support in shared relationships, grounded in Love, God’s love. “Greater things have yet to come…,”we sang.

–Linda Long


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