Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Patterns and Transitions…

The elementary school across our (new!) parking lot opened for classes recently. One back-to-school evening, I’m told, coincided with the end of our construction project. An unexpected challenge arose. Some parents ignored the flimsy orange tape meant to block the entry. Understandable, I thought, when a full school event occurs, usually our lot is full. Still, fresh asphalt requires time to cure and our child care center’s owner knew that. Apparently, she walked into the lot and kindly invited parents to move, even to drive over the grass so as not to do further damage!

Well done, Kristy, thank you. New situations demand changed behaviors, parking lots included. Nevertheless, it reminded me that another fall has arrived, the slog of school days here once more. Our condolences to every youth mourning summer’s departure. I’m reminded of those days; the seating charts in new classrooms alongside familiar faces; textbooks distributed with new material to learn, but in familiar fashion through homework, tests and projects. Every year was a transition. Every teacher was a fresh…what’s the word…challenge. Yet the process of third into fourth into tenth grade, into seminary, felt like the same pattern had begun again.

I’m feeling that way now too, albeit with a slight change in sentiment. Last week was my first at work following the two month sabbatical. It’s been like school starting- the routine returned, the projects and sermons coming due, although no church elder has given me a pop quiz. I know the pattern, and enjoy it most days, certainly far more than I did fourth grade language arts! Still, there’s a whisper nudging my spirit and mind, a question hoping for answer: Now that you’ve stepped away from church for a time, how will your pattern change?

And this isn’t just a question for me personally. I hope our church together might seek an answer. Time apart could, indeed it should, reveal important priorities we miss when apart, and those we’ve missed when we were together! For instance, it’s been a priority for the church’s Servant Leader Team, over the past three years, to support new leadership. Churches die when they fail to identify and help develop fresh faces and voices, when they rely only on those who’ve always been around. The finished parking lot revealed to me anew the wisdom of this commitment. Without the pastor, a new set of leaders pushed the ball over the finish and did it well. Many who’ve long been around helped, of course! But it’s the interaction that’s so critical. We need to keep new leadership a high priority for years to come.

Conversely, a priority we’ve frequently missed, which my sabbatical reinforced, has been the active seeking out of new relationships as a church. I felt this when I visited small faith communities and was warmly welcomed, or studiously ignored. The hospitality made a difference in my evaluation of that place. One of our blind spots, if I may be blunt, is that we’re often hesitant to initiate new relationships. Not always, and it’s better than it was, but we still struggle to reach out consistently. A pastor wants to push aside members to welcome visitors, not make the introductions. We can get there. We’re a friendly group! It just needs to be a priority.

Related, I need to ask your forgiveness. Last year I began a process for creating a congregational outreach plan. The goal was to identify target groups of people near our church whom God was calling us to serve and invite into fellowship. Smart PCCCers gave me great ideas, which I collected and…left sitting on my computer. I got focused on other things, important things maybe, but my priorities shifted and efforts stagnated. Time away, and wanderings among centuries-old faith communities thriving by continually renewed outreach to neighbors- or dying because they’ve stopped- reinforced that was a bad idea on my part. So I’m sorry. Let’s pick up the ball.

In fact, we are… October 20, will be invite-a-friend-to-church Sunday. October 13, Pet Blessing. November, Women’s Tea. You’re already showing renewed commitment to these hospitality priorities. Bravo! It’s making my transition back an energizing one, indeed.

Grace and Peace,
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