An Ending

Dear Church:

Where do we go from here? Eleven of us gathered last week in the church library to consider that question. We’ll gather again today (Aug. 22) and Aug. 29 from 3:30-4:30 p.m. I hope you’ll come.

We began our conversation with a line from the poet T.S. Eliot: “The end is where we start from.” We spoke with honesty here at the end of my interim ministry.

I love stories, so I appreciate a “good ending.” As a reader and viewer of stories, I value the nuanced ending — not too tidy, not contrived. I like a little mystery or uncertainty at the conclusion, especially when the end is artful, like Truman Burbank exiting the world’s largest TV sound stage, set of “The Truman Show,” the only story he has ever known.

However, as a participant in a story, I generally want a clean closing, a satisfying denouement, a happy ending. I want us all to smile. So I am disappointed that such an ending won’t happen here. I am sad, bewildered and frustrated. My psychiatrist offers this clinical summary: It sucks. For all of us.

And: “The end is where we start from.” So I believe each of us must embrace this ending, however unsatisfactory it is.

Friends of Christ, the church near and far has only begun to enter the end, that stage in the lifecycle of an organization in which participants have to reckon with history and death. This stage is natural. It is also theological. Our conviction is that life comes from death. But the reckoning comes first. Faith calls us to see death through, all the way to the end.

“The end is where we start from.” So the reckoning requires this church to have hard conversations. I think you know the topics: the mistakes of leadership, the failures of the system, the contradictory experiences of the dominant narrative of a loving and welcoming community, the pain of isolation, the sadness of disconnection, the missing integration of church and life, church and neighborhood, church and university, the gap between aspirations and actuality.

To embrace the end is a process that must play out, not a contrived closure to get to an easy healing. To embrace the end is to set out on a journey, much like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

These friends needed the distance of seven miles from Jerusalem to describe their loss. They needed a slow pace to name their pain. They required this space to begin to reckon with the finality of their experience. The long walk into death — the death of Jesus, the death of hope, the death of a future they thought was assured — had to happen in order for them to turn a corner. Only after beginning the reckoning did a stranger cross their path and help them appreciate the fullness of the story they had been telling.

The stranger told them a longer story. It stretched from the time of Israel’s slavery in Egypt to God’s deliverance; stretched from Israel’s claim of security in a religion used to maintain the status quo to the prophets’ call for genuine peace and justice for all. The stranger told the disciples of the Messiah’s way, from the end to glory, and he gave them a new story.

“The end is where we start from.” The poet also said, “We die with the dying … We are born with the dead.” So the end is the beginning, provided the church sees it through, walks together with courage and curiosity, “further up and further in,” as C.S. Lewis put it at the end of Narnia.

O people of UBC, the journey is yours to make. May you be so bold to go all the way.

Peace be with you.

Daniel Pryfogle
Interim Pastor

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