Changing Church

Ages ago, when I was in the messy middle of coming out bisexual (I felt raw and unformed because I was not the person others had thought me to be; I railed against God for making this world such a difficult place to be honest in) I read a passage my spiritual director Cil Braun had written in a newsletter:  “God is not static.  God is in constant creation, constantly being created.  We are not static, either.  We are in constant creation.”  Yes, I thought; I am being created.  At the time it felt wretched.  Looking back I know coming out was gloriously, divinely formative. 

“Discomfort is the nerve ending of growth,” Jonathan Rowe writes.  Kids know this viscerally when growing pains wrench their legs; they know it emotionally when cascading new experiences—getting dressed themselves, suddenly drawing figures—send them scurrying back to babyhood.  Sometimes Gwyn crawls into my lap and pretends to nurse as though her perpetually changing life is just too much to bear. The writers I work with learn to tolerate terrible discomfort as they take their pieces through revision; they, too, throw occasional tantrums.  Change hurts.

So when the facilitator of the Healthy Small Church Initiative challenged our congregation to change significantly, I thought, Ut-oh!  Individuals may kick and scream their way through growth, but organizations are worse; they dig in their heels.  Prospect Park UMC has been given some provocative statistics, though.  We’re on the decline.  Other churches with worship experiences and communities and ministries much like ours don’t make it.  The facilitator’s message:  Change now or die.

Dire?  Grim?  Perhaps, but I keep coming back to Cil’s words—God is in constant creation.  Staying the same slowly shuts out God’s work.  Changing—consciously, willingly, actively—is one sure way to participate in God’s realm.  Many of the facilitator’s suggestions were exciting:  Talk to the neighborhood, find out what is needed.  Create a vision for ministry.  Shift the church culture to be more inviting and inclusive.  Worship in a way that meets the spiritual needs of those who have yet to come as well as those who are here.  Good stuff.

But getting there is going to hurt.  Can we learn to tolerate this terrible discomfort together?  “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”      –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew