When it came to grades, my youngest daughter had challenges with focus. Her report card would show straight A’s in math, language arts, and social studies, for example, and then a low B in science and Spanish. At parent-teacher conferences we would agree to focus more on science and Spanish. Next report card she would have straight A’s in Spanish and science, but her grades in the other areas would drop. It became clear that it wasn’t a matter of ability, but how to maintain a balanced focus. Olivia was struggling with something many of us find challenging even into adulthood: how to know what to focus on, how much to focus on it, and when to focus on it. Olivia had no difficulty focussing on one thing–especially if she really enjoyed it. My guess is this is true for many of us. Balanced focus was much more difficult. I find that it is a lifelong project. Hence, the “balance wheel.”
The “balance wheel” or “wheel of life” is a simple tool for taking a snapshot of the “balance” in one’s life. See example on above. The wheel is divided into eight categories. They can be any areas of significance in your life. The concentric circles represent “level of satisfaction.” Take, for example, the category “business/career.” “1” represents the lowest satisfaction, i.e. “I need to quit now.” “10” represents highest satisfaction, i.e. “I can’t believe they pay me to do this!” Place an X on the 1-10 scale in each category. Then connect the dots. You can see in this example that the “wheel” for this fictitious person is almost a square. The balance wheel helps one identify areas that may be out of balance and then identify strategies for making the wheel more “round.” The idea is that a round wheel will roll more smoothly and swiftly than a lumpy, out-of-balance one.
Recently I was reminded of the “balance wheel” exercise. It made me wonder if it could be adapted for organizational use. I created an example (below). I took the six Granby UCC working groups and added “worship” and “faith formation” as separate areas to make eight. How do you see our “balance” right now? The balance wheel encourages us to dream. Imagine a “10” in Program, i.e. “I can’t believe our church does all this amazing stuff!” What would it take to get us there? Likewise a “10” in Getting-to-Know-You (clearly we’re almost there, maybe 9.5) or Worship or History? Sometimes in the mess of life we can get in the habit of “just bumping along.” Remember: those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength and find their balance.
Recently First Church member Bill Bentley shared an opinion piece entitled “America is no longer as evangelical as it was – and here’s why” as fuel for conversation among Granby congregations. Author Diana Butler Bass shares her personal faith journey from a mainline Protestant upbringing to her “born again” experience in high school, which led to immersion in the Evangelical world, to her journey back to an Episcopalian church. She connects her personal faith journey to the latest poll from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), which released its American Religious Landscape Survey for 2020.
Many of the findings showed previously identified trends continuing: increasing racial and ethnic diversity, increasing religious diversity, increasing numbers of people identifying as “unaffiliated.” One surprising trend reversal: the survey showed between 2018 and 2020 a slight uptick in the percentage of white Christians. Still more surprising: this was despite an accelerated drop in the percentage of white Evanglicals. Even still more surprising: this was due to an increase in the percentage of white people identifying as mainline Protestant.
Butler Bass has theories about this reversal. I have theories about this reversal. I won’t get into them here. I’ll let readers draw their own conclusions. There are, however, implications for our Granby UCC consolidation/restart project.
This is a simple reminder that trends–whether decline or growth–are not immutable. Butler Bass warns against fantasies of returning to the “golden-age” or mid 20th century mainline dominance. Nevertheless, mainline demise is not inevitable. There’s an opportunity here for those congregations willing to meet it.
Almost 20 years ago pastor and author Brian McLaren–whose faith journey resonates with Butler Bass’ (and mine)–wroteMore Ready Than You Realize: The Power of Everyday Conversations. Butler Bass’ piece reminded me of this title. My guess is that Granby has a sizeable number of unaffiliated folks and folks for whom the Evanglical church is no longer a good fit. They may be looking–as I was many years ago–for another way of being Christian. We could offer that to them. That is why I continue to encourage us to reach new people. Now more than ever there are increasing numbers of Diana Butler Bass’, Brian McLarens, and Todd Yonkmans out there. They might be interested in what we have to offer if we offer it to them.
One caution: success in reaching people who are looking for an alternative, more inclusive way of being Christian will require mainline folks to critically examine their own prejudices against Evangelicals. My guess is that this is one of the primary barriers to folks who might otherwise be interested in checking us out. I can attest that throughout my 25 year career I’ve heard remarks and experienced attitudes from UCC folks that heard through the ears of my Evangelical upbringing sound very offputting and unwelcoming, which is disconcerting coming from a church that says, “Whoever you are, wherever you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here.” For a helpful examination of “liberal” prejudice see Van Jones’ “Big Think” talk on disagreement vs. disrespect. Let’s truly commit to meeting everyone wherever they find themselves on the journey.
Jesus tells us that he is the Way. The Great Way we call Jesus invites us to practice great faith, great doubt, great effort, and great patience. Whether longtimers and newcomers we are all just beginners on the path. With a child’s heart we once again enter the Way with wonder, curiosity, and unlimited possibility.
“Everyone should have a chance to be the watering can, and everyone should have a chance to be the flower.” At our (almost) weekly TGIF (“Thank goodness it’s Friday”) social gatherings I’ve been asking First Church and South Church folks about the consolidation conversation: what’s exciting, what’s challenging, what’s working, what’s not working, where folks find God in the mix. When I asked a South Church person at a recent TGIF how she thought things were going she responded that she really appreciated the possibility of increased volunteer support. She said that at church “Everyone should have a chance to be the watering can, and everyone should have a chance to be the flower.”
I must have made a quizzical expression because she explained that at South Church (much like First Church, in my opinion) it’s been the same people rotating leadership positions for quite some years. Volunteers are getting tired and burned out. She explained that in her ideal church everyone gets a chance to be the watering can–that is, everyone has a chance to serve on behalf of the larger community–and everyone gets to be a flower–that is, everyone gets a chance to be served and nourished by the larger community. Her hope was that joining together would create a larger volunteer base and more opportunity for people to shift in and out of “watering can” and “flower” roles. I agreed. In my experience that is how healthy churches and organizations function. Dying churches are “stuck” churches and “stuckness” manifests in the same people stuck in the same roles year after year. Watering cans need opportunities to refill if they are to continue watering and flowers need to share their fruit if they are going to continue to grow.
A little story about flowers and watering cans: Last week I joined my wife to hike about 50 miles of the Maine section of the Appalachian Trail. She is hiking the entire 200 miles of the Maine Appalachian Trail for her sabbatical. During our hike we got rained on for almost two days straight. As we hiked through the rain I just got soggier and soggier. It was unpleasant. The trees and the moss and the ferns, however, shone with a bright green radiance as if they were rejoicing with every drop. The sun eventually came out. Nicole and I dried off. And by the time we had completed our 50 mile itinerary, I was reluctant to leave. Though difficult and unpleasant at times, the journey had been incredibly spiritually refreshing for me. It was so good to unplug, step out of my daily routine, and engage in a strenuous physical challenge. My point is, being a “flower” isn’t always pleasant. It takes both rain and sunshine to grow. And being a “watering can” doesn’t have to be onerous. Frederick Buechner wrote: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep joy and the world’s deep need meet.” I look forward to creating a community of joy and genuine spiritual nourishment together.
There are many different stories of faith and tales of trust. The Bible is full of them. We are full of them. Some are dramatic. Some are ordinary. Some make us anxious with their seemingly impossible demands. Some comfort and encourage us. They’re all just stories. They help us understand our lives. Yet they are not our lives. Our lives are more than the stories we tell about ourselves. They are more than the stories others tell about us because the Author of all life isn’t finished with us. God says, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.