Pastor's Column


"Perhaps it is also okay that the church looks different now than it did before. And perhaps especially okay that we don’t know what it’s going to look like in the future. But if we are a Gospel people, letting the way and light of Jesus be our constant in an ever-changing world, then it’s easier to trust in the church God is calling us to be now, rather than the church God had called us to be in the past"

 

~ Pastor Cydney

 
 

Pastor’s Column . . .

 

Confession: I don’t think I really understand what a newsletter article is supposed to be. The church I served during divinity school doesn’t do a monthly newsletter. There, the practice is for the preaching pastor to write a short "letter" to the congregation that gets sent out as part of the weekly email update. But that letter was basically an introduction to the theme for worship that Sunday -- setting the stage and wetting the appetite for the (hopefully) relevant and transformative worship service yet to come.

 

If I think about the monthly newsletter in the same way setting the stage for what’s to come for the life of our church over the next 6 weeks (from the time I’m writing the article) - well, I can take a guess, but it feels like a nearly impossible task to me. Perhaps it’s because my M.O. is working under pressure of a deadline, so I inevitably think critically and quickly in the present moment, and therefore am not as gifted at analyzing far-off into the future. There’s something about trying to address a reality that’s still over a month away that feels a little fruitless to me. How am I to accurately capture what hasn’t yet happened?

 

Perhaps it’s also because the world in which we live moves at a ridiculously fast clip. The news cycle is more than 24/7 somehow, as headlines whirr past us minute in and minute out; everything comes to us at exceptional speed, whether it’s the internet, information, or rumors; and we communicate at the push of a button or the tap of fingertips. Very few things are true constants anymore; things change too quickly to predict what might be reality in a few hours, let alone a month. This is but one small example that continues to lead me to believe that we are at a shift in how humans orient ourselves in this world. And with it, comes a reorientation of all things humans do, including how we understand and practice religion. What used to be fairly predictable and steady in the realm of Christianity (high church attendance and involvement, full pews on Sunday mornings, growth and expansion of programs and ministries, enough money in the offering plate each week to fund said programs and ministries, etc.) is subject to the same kinds of rapid change as the rest of the world around us. As a result, I find it hard to know what to write about for the month ahead when who knows what this next week will bring. Instead, I’d rather try to remain closer to the present. And without justifying my way of existing in the world too much, I think there is something to be said for being truly present in the life of organized religion and the changing landscape of religion in the world in general.

 

I sincerely hope I’m not coming across as being dismissive of this particular tradition. I value open communication between pastor and parishioners and unlike many churches of which I’m aware, I so appreciate that many people at New Gosh still read our Steeple in full! I also value transparency. A recent UCC Daily Devotional, written by Rev. John Edgerton entitled "Evangelism for Millennials," states: "A generation that insists on integrity, millennials have neither interest in nor patience for a preening faith that pretends it has all the answers… Better to have a faith that publicly asks real questions, rather than broadcasting fake-bravado certainty." So instead of pretending I feel confident in everything I write, especially for Steeple articles, I figure I would go the route of being honest and say "I don’t know if I’m doing this thing ‘right." Or maybe it’s more that monthly newsletter articles feel like a piece of church-culture that hasn’t evolved quite in the same way as the times around us have.

 

I’m also aware that my sense of what it means to be the church in the 21st century can be quite different than those of generations prior to me. I recently read an article that illuminated this a bit and took a guess as to why. Rev. Erik Parker writes that millennial pastors don’t remember the so-called "glory days" of mainline Protestantism, as they were predominantly in the 1950’s and 60’s, and we were born in the mid- 80’s to late 90’s. We have only ever known a church in "decline," as is often the popular language to use. And to those who have been around a while, my generation is the first one to noticeably be missing from church.

 

Parker writes, "And then as I had yet another conversation with colleagues or parishioners or other church folk lamenting the absence of young people, the decline of attendance and giving, and the general sad state of the present church...it dawned on me. These people are grieving." Grieving the glory days. And not just grieving that these times were gone, but that their goal was to bring these days back. But, as Parker continues, for me and other pastors my age, the church has always been filled with grey hair, sparsely attended Sunday School programs, and pews mostly to yourself. (Side note, New Gosh is one of the churches most well-off in each of these various examples that I know, truly, seriously). This is the only version of church we know. And yet, even in the midst of this "decline" God has called us as a new generation into ministry leadership of that church. Parker writes, "I also suspect [this] is the church God is calling us to be."

 

Now perhaps the monthly newsletter article has a place in the church that God is calling us to be today. And perhaps it is also okay that the church looks different now than it did before. And perhaps especially okay that we don’t know what it’s going to look like in the future. But if we are a Gospel people, letting the way and light of Jesus be our constant in an ever-changing world, then it’s easier to trust in the church God is calling us to be now, rather than the church God had called us to be in the past. So even if we are never again like the church we used to be in the "glory days," perhaps we are exactly where God intends for us to be, getting ready for what is next. Because as we know, with death comes new life and with decline comes renewal. And isn’t that what next month (and our faith) is all about anyway? Happy April and Happy Easter, Church!

 

~ Pastor Cydney

 

 

 

 

 

 

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