What’s Up with Pastor Todd 6-4-21
Nothing brings energy to people like making history from a positive vision for the future. Last week I was having a conversation with a couple of First Church members over lunch on a sunny patio. We were discussing church business including our ongoing consolidation work with South Church. We spent some time talking about some of the missteps we’ve made and some of the challenges ahead. The consensus was that this has been a messy process whose outcome is far from guaranteed. Nevertheless, one person offered, “I’ve been a member of this church for 35 years and served in a number of leadership roles. I remember when the church was full on Sunday. I served on Christian Ed when the Sunday school classrooms were full of kids. Recently a colleague asked me about my experience at the church and I told him, ‘I’ve never been more excited about the church than I am now.’”
My response was to thank this person for sharing, that this is why I do my job. There’s no greater joy for me than to share in the joy of doing something big, risky, and costly in service of God’s mission. When I shared this exchange with my wife, Nicole, later that day she said, “Yes. That’s why this person is so happy. You’re doing something big. You’re not simply planning next year’s program.”
My experience of the church in New England is that there is a lot of focus on preserving history. Less thought is given to making history. We sometimes seem to take the attitude that our ancestors took all the risks and made all the sacrifices. Our job is simply to acknowledge their efforts and enjoy the fruits of their labors, that is, the legacy of this property, these endowments, these buildings, these traditions, these stories, this church. There is a place for enjoyment and appreciation. There is a place for preservation and legacy. But when these become our primary preoccupation, that vital spirit of risk, sacrifice, and adventure that created the legacy in the first place begins to diminish. We begin to lose a sense of serving a purpose beyond our own personal comfort.
One of the things I love about transition work is the possibility of making history. Last year as a part of our transition process, First Church did a timeline exercise. We then made some observations about the timeline we created together. You can find notes on those observations here.
Some of the “big” dates on the timeline included: 1736, the Salmon Brook society begins holding meetings at Daniel Hayes’ tavern; 1739, construction of the first meetinghouse begins; 1775, the meetinghouse is moved two miles northwest of original location; 1818, establishment of a singing school; 1831, the church votes to build a new meetinghouse, a large number of members leave, “low ebb” of the church, “little interest in religion”; 1872, the minister resigns to start a new “society” with 38 members at Salmon Brook village (now South Church) . . . and the list goes on . . . What makes the “big” dates “big” is that they have an impact not just on the life of the church, but on the life of the town. The town is already talking about our consolidation efforts. It’s clear our neighbors are anticipating big things. Our denomination is looking to us as a model for successful consolidation. It’s not everyday we have a chance to make history.
What’s Up with Pastor Todd 10-3-19
At First Congregational Church of Granby we’ve been having some wonderful conversations over the past several weeks. We’ve had four “Meet the Minister” meetings with about 40 total attendance with one more to go. This covers close to our active membership. Great participation! In those meetings we have addressed four questions: 1) What brought you to FCC? 2) What keeps you at FCC? 3) What is your vision for the next 3-5 years? 4) What next steps might we take to get there? There have been a wide range of responses, honest and heartfelt, and most have left the meetings feeling a mixture of grief over what was and hope for what might be. I will be compiling the responses and making a presentation at our next “Working Lunch” Sunday, October 20, in Cook Hall following worship. I’m looking forward to deepening the conversation in this time of transition.
Speaking of “Working Lunch” . . . We had our first Working Lunch this past Sunday, September 29 in Cook Hall. Ann Wilhelm and crew prepared a delicious lunch. Thank you so much! After lunch a group of about 25 church members created a timeline of significant events in the life of the church, in the town of Granby, in the United States, and in our world. We also included our own personal significant events such as baptisms, funerals, weddings, confirmation, and other life moments. It was helpful to take a 30,000 foot view of the movement of events and their interconnection.
Following the creation of the timeline, we made observations, including highlights, lowlights, patterns, things we would like to see continue into the future, and things we might not want to repeat. There were many insightful comments but one that struck me came from Emily Messenger. After reflecting on how people at FCC and other congregational churches tend to get upset and leave, she commented that we should be “learning to make conflict as a way of growing rather than splitting apart.” I thought that was incredibly insightful.
Conflict is normal. God created each of us different with differing perspectives, opinions, and life experiences. If we were all the same, life would be boring. Sometimes churches tell me they have no conflict. To me, this indicates one of three possibilities: 1) They are lying; 2) They aren’t doing anything of any significance; 3) They’re dead. It is also true that conflict handled in an unhealthy manner is the number one reason for decline in congregations. The good news is that we can learn healthy communication practices that will indeed enable us to use conflict as a way of growing rather than splitting apart. The Church Council is recommending we hire consultant and coach Rev. Claire Bamberg to help us with that work. You will have the chance to meet her Sunday, November 17, when she will be preaching and leading worship.
The point of the timeline exercise is to create common memory. Georges Erasmus, a respected Aboriginal leader from Canada, said, “Where common memory is lacking, where people do not share in the same past, there can be no real community. Where community is to be formed, common memory must be created.” Our history is full of ups and downs, but the good news is we can learn from it. And with new learning comes new opportunity for new life.