What’s Up with Pastor Todd 3-20-20
It’s a bit of a risk writing a piece scheduled to publish two days from now. A lot could change and likely will change in the intervening hours.
This morning I listened to the New York Times podcast “The Daily,” which I find helpful because the host, Michael Barbaro, usually takes one current issue and goes a bit more in depth than most news broadcasts.
Today’s podcast was an interview with New York governor Andrew Cuomo on his state’s response to coronavirus. I appreciated Governor Cuomo’s frank and honest assessment of the situation in his state and the clear actions New York is taking to “flatten the curve,” that is, slow the spread of the virus so that the healthcare system isn’t overhwhelmed, which will increase the chance that deaths can be minimized.
At the end of the interview Governor Cuomo made a direct appeal to everyone in his state to set their desires and self-interest aside for the good of the whole. He particularly appealed to those whose risk of serious health consequences from the virus is low to nevertheless observe social distancing protocols. He recognized that for many the closing of bars and businesses would have serious economic consequences but that in this case, saving lives comes first. As long as we have our lives, Governor Cuomo argued, we have an opportunity to figure out together how we will get through the economic consequences of this crisis.
I find myself strangely moved by the interview. I think the reason is that it reflects my values and my understanding of Christian values. You personally may not like Governor Cuomo. You may disagree with his policies and political positions on other important issues. The point of this piece is not to argue politics. The point is that the rhetoric of caring for one’s neighbor–”loving one’s neighbor as oneself”–as the Bible puts it, has been so absent from our politics for so long. I found it deeply moving to hear a politician calling for that kind of moral action.
The Old Testament Scripture for the fourth week in Lent is 1 Samuel 16:1-13. It tells the story of how God sent the prophet Samuel to find a new king for Israel. The new king didn’t come from the ruling class. He wasn’t rich, famous, or endowed with other conventional qualifications for the job (except, perhaps, that he was male, which is another “What’s Up” for another time). That future king, who was named David, turned out to be the greatest king of ancient Israel and the ancestor of the one Christians would come to recognize as Savior of the World, namely, Jesus.
The message of Scripture is that God raises up leaders from unexpected places in times of crisis. Our world is now in a time of crisis. Our politicians are calling for moral leadership. Now is our time as a church–one that professes to follow Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself”–to provide moral leadership for our town and the wider world.
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.