The fall 2021 theme for worship at First Church and South Church is “Dreaming Together.” As a reminder, we will be sharing Union Services on the first and third Sundays of the month. The remaining Sundays we will be worshipping separately. In September and November the Union Services will be hosted by First Church. In October and December the Union Services will be hosted by South Church.
At our “What is Your Why?” workshops way back in 2019 and 2020, we watched a TED talk by Simon Sinek in which he refers to MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Sinek argued that over 200,000 people showed up on the Washington Mall that day in 1967not for Dr. King but for themselves. They showed up because they had already dreamed a dream of racial justice in the U.S. Dr. King’s genius was his ability to articulate a dream that many already shared and to translate that dream into concrete reality.
The purpose of the “What is Your Why?” workshops we shared together with South Church was to invite both of our congregations into a similar “dreaming” process. African Americans have faced and continue to face indescribable suffering due to system racism. The dream of racial justice arose out of that suffering. First Church and South Church are facing our own communal suffering due to diminished human and financial resources to support our ministries. Staff have been cut, beloved events have fallen by the wayside, programs have been discontinued due to lack of participation, volunteers face burnout, members have left, conflict has arisen, fewer people are supporting a greater share of the annual budget, the long term health of our endowments is threatened. The list goes on. Just as a communal dream arose in response to racial injustice, so too, a dream for collaboration and consolidation has arisen in response to decline among the congregational churches in Granby. Godly dreams arise out of real world suffering. Making these dreams real can change the world.
Over the summer six working groups composed of First Church and South Church members have been working on clarifying a dream or dreams of a new, consolidated Granby UCC. Worship at both churches this fall will focus on what it means to dream God’s dream for our lives. The work of dreaming together isn’t for the working groups alone. The dream of a vital, sustainable UCC movement in Granby will become reality when each of us takes up the work of dreaming together.
As First Church and South Church face another autumn season with the coronavirus I’m reminded of a time someone jokingly said, “These are the good old days.” This is an important reminder both for us personally and for organizations in transition. As meditation teacher Ram Dass famously said, “Be here now.” Jesus said, “Keep awake!” (Mk. 13:35). Human beings have a tendency to cling to the past and fantasize about the future. Meanwhile, our lives are happening right here, right now.
When the Israelites were journeying through the wilderness they longed to go back to Egypt even though it meant enslavement. They complained to Moses about his leadership. Moses, in turn, complained to God. Yet, generations later when the prophets found themselves facing the decadence aarnd corruption of an established Kingdom of Israel, they wrote with longing about the simpler times when the Israelites wandered through the desert and worshipped in a tent. “Oh, how close our ancestors were to God!” So, if we find ourselves in a bit of a wilderness time, remember, these are the good old days!
How can we “be here now” in the midst of the pressures and pulls of transition? In a recent article “It takes faith to resist the attention economy,” by Rev. Katherine Willis Pershey writes about the search for groundedness in the midst of a sabbatical in the midst of a pandemic. Her answer is to return to those practices that keep her attention on Jesus, worship being one of them, even when there might be more exciting alternatives to give her attention to. In fact, in this “attention economy” in which social media companies have developed sophisticated algorithms to capture our attention and sell it, devoting our lives to the simple practices of prayer, Scripture, song, and service are courageous acts of resistance to a culture that incentivizes exploitation for profit. Worship, devotion, prayer, and meditation in their many forms can return us to the present moment. Let’s enjoy the good old days while we’re living them!
Here are some responses I’ve been hearing to my informal survey of the First Church/South Church collaboration/consolidation process. Hopeful signs: Reports that UNITE is uniting! After some initial tension around the type and amount of programming for “uniting” people, it sounds like a “both/and” approach is beginning to emerge. Breakthroughs have occurred as members of the working group have shared their personal stories and what connects with them. Particular sensitivity has been raised around the kinds of events that feel welcoming for people in recovery. This is a great example of how making space for diverse voices expands our perspective, which in turn expands our ability to connect with people.
More hopeful signs: Folks from the property working group have been working with their coach to do yet another critical piece of “both/and” work. With the leadership of the coach they are thinking about “mission.” They are also doing a detailed evaluation/inventory of our properties in an attempt to get a more “objective” handle on the property resources both churches bring to the table. Keeping mission in mind while doing an objective assessment will give our congregations the resources we need to make wise decisions about what physical properties will best serve the new mission of the new church.
I’m hearing questions about what decisions are best made during transition time versus “after the settled pastor has arrived.” My two cents: First, we might want to think of this person not so much as a “settled minister,” but as a “restart pastor,” with the requisite gifts and experience for creating something new. Second, having served as both a settled minister and transitional I can see both sides. There is not a hard and fast rule. Here are some questions we can ask ourselves:
“Are we ‘waiting’ simply to put off making a tough decision?” In this case we’re neither serving ourselves nor our future settled (restart) minister; We might ask “What is preventing us from making this tough decision now? Lack of resources? Lack of information? Lack of willingness? What can we do to address these issues?
“Will making this decision now help us clarify our vision for the future so that we can put ourselves in the best position possible for finding a good settled (restart) pastor ‘match?’”
“If we decide to wait with this decision, are we really open to letting our future settled (restart) minister lead on this issue? If so, how will we make this expectation clear to the congregation?”
Examples: As a settled minister I have been in situations where church leadership told me that there was a staff member who clearly needed to be let go. Instead of just making that tough choice during the transition, they put it off for the settled minister. This was NOT helpful because it made my job of bonding with the congregation that much more difficult. On the other hand, I’ve had situations where the church hired staff during transition when as a settled minister I would have preferred the position filled on an acting basis so I could have more input in building the team. This same sort of dynamic is at play with properties, finances, program, etc. So, as I said, there is no hard and fast rule; rather, it’s a process of discernment. Starting something new is all about building momentum. My encouragement is to use this transition time when things are in flux to set up your future “settled” (restart) minister for success.