How many Episcopalians does it take to change a lightbulb?
10! 1 to change the lightbulb,and 9 to talk about how much they liked the old one.
It’s true. Episcopalians aren’t keen on change. But we’re hardly alone. Humans, in general, don’t like change when it involves loss – imagined or real; and we especially don’t like it when we’re told it is the consequence of our own actions. But that’s exactly what I have to tell you today. The next set of changes we are about to go through as a parish are all your own darn fault!
When you called me as your Interim Rector in 2016, and then Rector in 2018, you told me you wanted St. John’s to become more outward-looking: that is, more concerned about and invested in serving our community; and more actively involved in building loving relationships with our neighbors – both long-time neighbors we didn’t know well because of neighborhood segregation as well as economic and cultural barriers, and neighbors moving into this area in record numbers from all over the country and world.
Well, your wishes have come true. We have become exactly that kind of church — or at least we are well on our way. While there are still so many ways we might deepen and grow relationships with God and our neighbors, both within our parish and out in the community – with all our neighbors, no exceptions – I believe God has met us in the desire of our hearts and has helped us on this path.
This should not be surprising, really. I believe God always meets us in the desires of our hearts — when our desires match up with the desires of God, that is. When a community genuinely seeks to walk this holy Way of Love with each other and the world around us (even though we fail perhaps as much as we succeed), it is beautiful. It is hopeful. It helps quiet the voices of cynicism and despair within us. It’s certainly better than the alternative – a fear and hate-filled world of self-centered individuals and a world divided into “tribes” who are constantly striving for their own security and happiness over against others.
In response to this vision we hold, and God’s many blessings on our efforts to pursue it, it seems our parish community has grown quite dramatically over the last several years. We’ve grown in the Christ-like quality of our life together and we’ve grown in the number of people who want to join us in this Way. It seems that people are genuinely attracted to this beautiful hope we hold — and that is very encouraging.
We’ve done our best these last few years to offer a warm welcome and make room for new companions in our parish groups, ministries, outreach, and other activities; and it’s been such a joy to see new ministries blossom and ongoing ministries flourish alongside new friendships.
But we are quickly approaching the point where there is physically “no more room at the inn” in our church nave for all who wish to join us for worship on Sunday mornings. Each week at 9:25 AM and after, those of us on the chancel watch individuals and families walk through the doors, look around, and pause — uncertain if they’ll be able to find a seat. The same thing is happening in the parking lot and in the parish hall at coffee hour and parish-wide events.
We’ve been talking about this for a while now – since before the pandemic; and as the Vestry and I have pondered and prayed, it’s become obvious that the best next step is for us to add another worship service on Sunday morning.
“That’s so exciting!” you say?
Yes it is.
“What a great problem to have!” you say?
Yes it is.
The problem is, there’s no way to do this without creating disruptions across our whole Sunday morning experience.
No matter what times we end up starting our three services, they will feel too early for some, and too late for others; and at times it will feel like we are “splitting up” the current congregation.
We have a gazillion issues to resolve, and no way to resolve all of them in a way that makes everyone happy:
- Should we offer two very different worship “styles” or keep the difference between services minimal?
- At which service will Godly Play be offered, or is it time to consider a different approach to Christian formation – or perhaps offering it at a different time of day or a different day of the week?
- At which service will nursery care be provided?
- At which service will the choir(s) sing or ring handbells?
- What happens to coffee hour?
- What happens in the parking lot as one service lets out, and another is gathering?
- Will we have enough people to support three services on Sunday and all that is involved in planning, leading, and cleaning up?
As you contemplate all of the implications, you begin to see what I mean, right? Each set of choices creates a ripple effect in one direction or another, and I suspect that no matter what choices we make about time or style of services, etc., many folks will be happy about one thing or another, and everyone will be unhappy about something! Every change brings loss, and there is no way around that.
So, as we enter this new season of change in earnest, I want to make a couple assurances, and ask a couple of favors:
First, I assure you that as our Vestry, staff, clergy, and other ministry leaders begin to work through the options, we will be prayerful and will seek God’s wisdom all along the way.
Second, I assure you that we will seek the wider input and feedback of the parish on all of these questions. We do not yet have a “plan” in mind, or any solid answers to the questions above. We are just beginning a creative process that may take several weeks before it settles, and we truly will take your interests and concerns seriously as we move forward.
Third, I assure you that God will provide. If we keep our eyes on continuing to become the kind of community that God calls us to be, and if we are willing to give a little of what is comfortable for us in order to make room for others, I believe we’ll find our way through this next season of change, and it will likely be even better on the other side than we could ask for, or even imagine. That’s kind of how God works. (Have we not seen that already?!)
All this change may be hard at times, but I have to believe that if God has blessed us this far as a parish – through hard times in years past, and through many transitions in recent years – then God’s not just going to drop us off a cliff now.
Now, here’s what I think you can do to make the best of this next season of change:
First, please be kind. Trust that our parish leadership is doing our level best as we move through this. If you find yourself upset or concerned about a proposed change, feel free to share your perspective and concern, but do it with respect and kindness.
Second, contribute constructively to the conversation and don’t be a critic from the sidelines. Don’t jump to criticize before you understand the reasoning and the priorities behind the decision; and for the love of God, please ask questions if something puzzles you! Respond to surveys when we send them. When we invite you to an in-person or a Zoom meeting to sound out ideas, please participate as best you can. We’ll create lots of opportunities to work around everyone’s busy schedules because we genuinely want to hear your thoughts.
Third, take the long view, keep the faith, and consider what you can contribute! We are not doing this because we want to be a “bigger and better” church. I don’t believe Jesus cares one whit about that. We are doing this because it seems there are more people being drawn to worship and walk together with St. John’s on this Way of Love, and Jesus told us how important it is to share this life with our neighbors, and with the next generations, and even “to the ends of the earth.” So, let’s joyfully embrace the opportunity to make a difference for others, even if it means a little discomfort in the short term. God is calling us to a bigger and better way of life, and to share that life generously; and that’s worth a little extra investment of time, energy, love, prayer – and yes, even a little sacrifice.
It’s an exciting and scary moment in our life together. But let’s stick together and take another leap of faith. I bet when the dust settles, we’ll be thrilled we did!
This comes with Love,