What’s become clear to you since last we spoke? That question, attributed to the poet T.S. Eliot, is my go-to question in this season of discernment. I’ve put the question to many of you in one-on-one conversations over coffee; I ask the question of the Discernment Committee at least monthly. I think it will be helpful in this moment to answer the question myself. So here are a few things that have become clear to me:
1. You care about the church at the corner of 22nd and Guadalupe. You express your care in different ways: an attachment to your story, a feeling for the sanctuary, a fondness for your traditions, a delight in your children, a devotion to your staff, an affection for each other.
2. Some of you are anxious about the future of this church. The anxiety is high for about a dozen members. (The church is small enough that we can be fairly precise about “some” and “many” in our conversations.)
3. Some of you are not anxious about the future of this church. I estimate that about three dozen folks hold their care for the congregation in a different way. For some, personal issues or interests take precedence over the church without taking anything away from their care for the church. Some are both grateful for the church and detached from the church’s unknown future.
4. Some of you who have been in the church for years, perhaps two dozen members or more, have what one member describes as a pent-up desire to do more. What is “more”? You define this in different ways: greater engagement with the university; a more prophetic witness in the city; a more missional use of the church’s property; a larger crowd in worship. While an observer might conclude that you don’t share a unified vision, I believe otherwise. (See #8 below.)
5. Some of you, perhaps two dozen, are eager for leadership. You have been eager for leadership for some time. You recognize the weariness of a small group of laity who has carried multiple responsibilities for years. You recognize the necessity of paid staff to take action. You want staff to advance the work of the church beyond maintenance of the status quo.
6. Some of you (I’ll let you tabulate this one) struggle to hold the tensions. For example, there is tension between caring for the church and wanting more of the church; there is tension between being devoted to your staff and wanting more of your staff. Because you love the church, you wrestle with how to articulate these truths without upsetting others. It is difficult yet possible to see these tensions as part of a whole.
7. The church needs all of you to discern its way forward. A few of you who have strong intuition can help the church listen deeper, past the presenting anxieties to deeper fears and yearnings. Wisdom is required. All of you can be more curious about the other. Resist the temptation to lock in on your position about the church or your conclusion about the other. As Stephanie quoted Brene Brown: “Move in.”
8. You desire to be a beneficial presence. You want the church to impact the wider community. You want to be part of a church that grows its impact. Now, some of you define growth in terms of worship attendance, while others are uneasy with attendance being the sole metric. Yet what you share in common – the vision you share, the hope that has been born again and again across the years – is to be a presence at the corner of 22nd and Guadalupe whose influence grows.
After nine months here, I know this church is capable of inquiring into the nature of the church for our time and the calling of a particular people in a particular place. I am encouraged by what has become clear so far in this inquiry, and I am confident that more will be revealed in the coming days.
Friends, my confidence is rooted in the sustaining belief that the Spirit is on the move in this city. Every day, even amid moments when I despair, I see the movement. And I hear the Spirit’s invitation: Pay attention! Trust! Participate!
May your own confidence in this good work grow.
Peace be with you.