Dying and Being Reborn

15 09 2009

(Originally published in Presbyterian Outlook, Sept 21, 2009 http://www.pres-outlook.com/reports-a-resources/presbyterian-heritage-articles/9206.html)

On Tuesday morning, I got the call that Kennedy had been born and everyone was doing well. At eleven I gathered with family and friends to celebrate Clara Mae’s life as we grieved her passing.

We are people of faith.
We are “both / and” people.
We are dying and being reborn at the same time.

Some of us reminisce about what was and some long for what will be.
Some have never been members anywhere else and some of us haven’t yet joined a church.
Some of us prefer private faith and some of us live our faith through relationships.
Some of us love the old hymns and some of us love the new songs.
Some of us wish for more organ music and some of us are excited about new instruments.
Some of us find deep joy in the presence of children in worship. Some of us find kids distracting.
Some of us grieve the end of one kind of worship service. Some of us are finding spiritual renewal in third spaces and in new ways.
Some of us worry about finances and some of us believe that God will provide.
Some of us want more adult study options. Some of us take advantage of what has been offered.
Some of us fret about what isn’t being done. Some of us show up and make things happen.
Some of us are willing to try new things, if we believe that they will help us be more faithful. Some aren’t.
Some of us are scared for our own failing health. Some of us are willing to ask for care.
Some of us are frustrated. Some of us are hopeful. Some of us wish someone else would do it.
Some of us love this church. Some of love it and struggle with it too.
Some of us haven’t been to worship in a very long time. Some of us attend twice a week.
Some of us are comfortable volunteering. Some of us don’t feel we have much to offer.
Some of us are growing in spirit and service to others.
Some of us don’t realize we stopped growing.
Some of us are emerging. Some are traditional. Some are contemporary. Some high, some low.
Some of us feel blessed. Some of us feel gifted. Some of us feel useful. Some of us feel faithful.

I initially wrote these observations about the congregation I serve in small town Wisconsin, but I have realized that many of them reflect experiences of congregations across our denomination. These observations were given to church members to spark conversation about who we are, so that we might better discern who we are becoming. While I don’t believe that “maintenance ministry” has ever been a faithful option, it seems clear to me that maintenance is simply no longer an option at all. “Becoming” though means change.

All life is change. All that is faithful is change. We change as we seek to be faithful to the One who creates, loves, redeems and sustains us as we live into new circumstances, altered conditions, shifting global realities. I make this ridiculous claim because I know God isn’t finished with me yet. I am not yet the person God would have me be. If I am to be open to the movement of the Spirit in my life, then I must be open to changes. To resist is to refuse the work of the Holy. This is a personal choice. It is a congregational choice. It is also a denominational choice.

Marcia Clark Myers, Director of the Office of Vocations for the Presbyterian Church has recently been cited offering some intriguing statistics regarding the gaps between ministry candidates and positions available. She writes, “The future leaders of the church will need to be flexible and creative, able to serve at a time of new denominational and religious realities… Among the types of ministerial leaders the PC(USA) will need: church planters; those who can transform older congregations into new ways of being; and those capable of “hospice” ministry, who can guide congregations that won’t survive faithfully through their final days.”

I have been asking colleagues, “How many of these three tasks (planting, transforming, grieving) can one pastor do well?” Several initial responses were simply, “Only one.” As I have thought about it, I don’t believe that most pastors serving existing congregations have a choice. We must be present for those people, programs, ideas, methods that are dying, while at the same time bear witness to and nurture the new thing God is doing in our midst. It is akin to those who are caring for aging parents while raising children – we don’t get to choose. We may be better at one, but we cannot faithfully neglect the other. We are dying and being reborn at the same time: holding Clara Mae and Kennedy and celebrating both.

Ms. Myers describes three types of ministry, but I suspect that they are really a combination of two. We must be hospice workers who can identify aspects of our lives, personal and corporate, that are dying and help them do so with grace and dignity. We must also be midwives attending to the birth of the new lives of faith, new gifts, new relationships, new ministries that are blessings. Nascent church plants need wise and skilled midwives. Congregations that would rather see the church (as they have known it) die than change need hospice chaplains. Most existing churches need someone who can do both: mourn dying ministries and support those who are birthing new and faithful possibilities. I think transformation requires discernment about what is dying and what is being born and transformational leaders must to attend to both.

We are people of faith.
We are “both / and” people.
We are dying and being reborn at the same time.
We are people who believe that Jesus redeemed life and death.

The Rev. Susan Phillips :: child of God, called and blessed, convicted and forgiven, mother, spouse, pastor, servant, trying to be a disciple :: Grinnell College, Candler School of Theology, Hebrew University :: I seek theology with passion, community with discernment, conversation with depth, friendship with truth, faith with heart, love with justice :: http://www.godpots.com ::
Pastor, First Church, Shawano, WI http://www.shawanopres.org or Facebook: Shawano Presbyterians

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