Holy God, on this Easter morning we welcome the sunrise. We welcome the birdsong. We welcome the branches swaying above our heads. We welcome the opportunity to greet familiar faces and meet new ones. We welcome the energy and joy and promise of a new day, new beginnings, and new challenges to face. We welcome the chance to hear with new ears the old story of Jesus: how he died at the hands of violent people and was raised by the unstoppable power of your boundless love. Renew our faith in resurrection. Renew our commitment to the Jesus way. Amen.
Holy God, Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. Scripture tells us that resurrection is assured. Yet we live in fear. We’re afraid of losing our loved ones. We’re afraid of the unknown. We’re afraid people won’t like us or our children will forget us. We know we’re not the church we once were and afraid of what that might mean. We’re afraid that if people knew who we really are, they wouldn’t love us anymore. While we long for abundant life, we’re afraid of what it might demand from us. Disrupt our addiction to fear. Open our lives to true boldness. Give us confidence not in what we can achieve, but in the power of what you are doing in and through us. Amen.
We confess, O God, we often find ourselves confused. Like Nicodemus, we are searching for answers. Like Nicodemus, we find ourselves confused. Like Nicodemus, we approach you under cover of night, afraid of what it might mean to expose our broken hearts to the light of day. Like Nicodemus, it can be difficult to see that the one before us is the very one we seek. Like Nicodemus, keep us faithful to the end so that we, too, might bear witness to resurrection. Amen.
As you all hopefully know by now, First Congregational Church of Granby will be voting to approve one of two proposals for moving forward as a congregation: 1) collaboration/consolidation with South Church or 2) downsizing. As your transitional minister I’m clear that the decision is up to the congregation, so I’ve been preparing myself for both outcomes by staying up to date with the latest in best practices. Three resources have come to my attention.
Should we end up deciding to continue on the decline trajectory, I’ve been reading Toward the Better Country: Church Closure and Resurrection by L. Gail Irwin. In case we decide to move toward collaboration/consolidation, I’ve ordered and will be reading Better Together: Making Church Mergers Work by Jim Tomberlin. If either of these books sounds interesting to you I encourage you to get a copy. If you are a podcast listener, I encourage you to listen to the latest episode of the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast (#367 with Jim Tomberlin). You can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. The more we have a common understanding of the work we’re facing the more productive our conversations will be.
Just as the path that led us to this place has been made with countless small decisions, so too, the path forward will involve many decisions along the way. My understanding of our decision on February 14 is that either way it’s not the end of the line. It’s simply a way of agreeing as a congregation that we will devote ourselves to pursuing a path in good faith one way or the other. If it’s downsizing, then we will downsize and do our best to figure out what that means for the future of our congregation. If it’s collaboration, we will do our best in good faith to make that proposal work. I’m confident that the GUCCI team has done a good job laying the groundwork for a successful consolidation, but I’m also fairly certain there will be difficult decisions and obstacles to success ahead.
No transition process is perfect. Messy and difficult is the name of the game. But that shouldn’t be too surprising. Life is messy and difficult, and church is just a particular (and peculiar, perhaps) form of life. The good news is that the process doesn’t need to be perfect to be successful! In my experience, the transition processes that have “worked” have worked because the people involved in them wanted them to work. So let’s make our best effort trusting the results to God. As the prophet Jeremiah wrote, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”
Holy God, your Spirit calls and our hearts respond. Your Spirit calls and our world is overturned. Your Spirit calls and our spirits awaken. Your Spirit calls and our minds clear. Your Spirit calls and our bodies relax. Your Spirit calls and anxieties depart. Your Spirit calls and old ways diminish. Your Spirit calls and a new future is born. Amen.
The end of the year is a time for looking forward and looking back. Before I go any farther, a couple of caveats: 1) I recognize and honor all of the loss, grief, and anxiety of 2020 including the global COVID pandemic, our nation’s racial reckoning, and the ongoing political “civil war” that is tearing at the social fabric; 2) I recognize the longing to “go back to normal”; 3) as far as the future of our church goes, I’ll do my best to support whatever direction the congregation chooses.
That being said it seems highly unlikely that it will be possible to go back to pre-COVID “normal” entirely. Too much has changed. New habits have been formed and will likely continue–like worshipping online and doing meetings on Zoom, for example. Yes, we will resume doing things in person, but we will be connecting online much more than before COVID just because it’s more convenient and actually better suited for certain kinds of interactions. The good news is that we may have unwittingly perfectly positioned ourselves for this moment.
I encourage you to check out the blog post “Five Reasons Why 2021 Should Be Your New Baseline.” The author, Thom Rainer focuses primarily on church metrics (how we measure our ministry), but his suggestion is that churches treat 2021 as a “fresh start.” If 2021 is a year for “fresh starts,” it seems to me that either the “downsize” lane or the “consolidation” lane could offer the opportunity for the freshest of all fresh starts–depending on how it’s done.
I get it. We human beings tend to resist letting go of anything lest we lose something “important.” Wise discernment is necessary for deciding what to leave behind and what to carry forward. But it is also true that an important part of our faith is the opportunity to start again, to lay down our burdens, to let go of the past including all our mistakes and regrets, to receive forgiveness, to get a second chance. As horrible as 2020 was in many respects, 2021 might just present us with an opportunity many people long for: a fresh start.