Thursday, August 16, 2012

Harmonious Matters…

At each meeting of our Servant Leaders (those spiritual leaders whom other churches call “Elders”), I ask, “How’s the health of the church?” The reason is that we’ve decided that Servant Leaders care about health; the bodily and familial health of members struggling with surgery, loss, pain, etc. But also the communal health of the church itself, our common trajectory in faithfulness.

Well, a couple months ago, responding to this question, we talked about our church’s values of “unconditional hospitality” and “freedom of belief.” Acknowledging that different folk pursue these differently, nevertheless we pondered how we could be more forthright with ourselves and guests about how this church puts those values into practice.

So the Servant Leaders decided to begin a conversation with y’all. And being Plymouth Creek, it began on a bulletin board. Have you noticed that the bulletin board outside my office has changed? On one side, there’s advertising for August 25’s School of Congregational Learning, hosted by Lake Harriet Christian Church (you should go!). But on the other side are rainbow colored Music Notes and a simple statement. Titled “There’s Harmony in Diversity,” the fuller statement reads: “We are a small church who welcomes everyone with warmth and love, regardless of age, disability, economic status, ethnicity, family status, gender, race, sexual orientation or social standing. This inclusiveness makes us an even stronger and more loving Christian community. There are notes in search of harmony in our community- How can we invite them to join in our song?”

As I’m sure you noticed, the statement begins simply. Most churches say they “welcome everyone with warmth and love.” But as it continues, more definition arises. Indeed, some of the categories it names cause consternation in many churches. Obviously, there’s the claim to welcome all regardless of sexual orientation. But even commitments to embracing diversity in ‘economic status’, ‘ethnicity,’ ‘age,’ when churches try to implement them, can produce awkward moments, perhaps serious disagreements among the faithful.

Now, I assure you, this bulletin board wasn’t attempting to pick fights! Rather, we wanted to encourage the church to think more about our values. When we claim to value ‘unconditional hospitality’ are some folk not included? Do we celebrate ‘freedom of belief’ when someone expresses beliefs we consider uncomfortable, even wrong? You likely know that I try to avoid putting limits on hospitality. It seems Christ’s job, not mine, to draw boundaries around grace. But I also honor the variety of opinions among the followers of Christ, and think that two people disagreeing around, but staying at, the Table is just about as holy a moment as we’re bound to see in these divisive days.

Nevertheless, the statement wasn’t just about what I or the Servant Leaders (who certainly don’t always agree with me!) believe about Plymouth Creek. We want to know what you think, how you’d update or amend that statement. Are there other, unstated values demanding acknowledgment and reverence? Are there ways of achieving “harmony” we failed to consider?

And more than that, the Servant Leaders want to know how you think we can make all this more than talk. Notice the final question: “There are notes in search of harmony in our community- How can we invite them to join in our song?” I firmly believe that the 21st Century Christian Church ought be a place where variety joins in praise. And I think many folk who don’t go to church now just might reconsider if they learned about a church where they can authentically be themselves. Where they’re not judged for their doubts or questions, can share and experience the unique expressions of faith they love, where they can invite friends who are skeptical of Christians by saying, “I’m telling you, Plymouth Creek is different!”

Are we that church? Do we need to do more to get there? And how should we share that identity with folk beyond our walls? No answers yet, just questions, which I hope you’ll dialogue with me about. For whatever faith is, it’s certainly a symphony of discoveries and harmonies, continually changing and evolving. And I, for one, feel richly blessed to be playing divine music with you!

Grace and Peace,
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