Pastor’s Page Feb. 2020
February is discernment month for First Church Granby. Feb. 9 following worship will be our annual congregational “discernment” meeting. I think it’s great that FCCG has one meeting a year devoted to the spiritual practice of discernment. There are many different approaches to discernment. You can find a number of different examples in the Bible: prayer and fasting, casting lots, consulting prophets, rituals involving sacrifice, pilgrimage. Gideon famously put fleece outside overnight to discern what God wanted him to do in battle. Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive the 10 commandments. We won’t be doing any of these things. We will be doing prayer and conversation. But what all these have in common is the ancient human attempt to determine what God wants or what God is up to, in more formal language, “divine will.”
Divine will is a notoriously difficult thing to determine. The Bible is full of stories of individuals who claimed to know the divine will when, it turns out, they didn’t. The results are usually unpleasant. So humility is the first and most important quality to bring to discernment. The second is patience. Scripture says that “the Spirit moves where it will.” God answers in God’s good time. And sometimes the answer is silence. In which case, we might decide to sit with the question a while longer. But I want to encourage us that it is indeed possible to discern God’s deepest longing for us. I’ve experienced it. I’ve witnessed it happen in congregations. We’ll know we’ve nailed it when there is a moment of connection, joy, and release. God’s will may not be pleasant. God may not be inviting us to do something we particularly want to do. But there is joy and release knowing it’s the right thing to do. There is a deep sense of connection knowing that in the long run discerning and doing God’s will leads to abundant life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come.
So don’t miss worship Feb. 9 and stay for the meeting after. Our transition coach, Claire Bamberg will be joining us and facilitating a discernment discussion on the topic of “What is Your ‘Why’?”
What’s Up with Pastor Todd 1-16-20
I spent Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday morning this week on meditation retreat. I came home and took a nap. Why? Because sitting on the floor in silence while maintaining as still a posture as possible for 10 hours a day is, in fact, exhausting. Why do I do it? Scripture says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Humans like to move. We rush around doing this and that. But even if we’re “vegging out,” our minds jump from this thought to that thought. The practice of meditation is stilling the body and mind together to become completely still like water on a pond. It turns out that the Bible is true! I can attest that cultivating stillness does, in fact, create circumstances in which God can be encountered in a profoundly life-changing way.
When asked my purpose, I tend to say “Helping people connect to God.” How can I help people connect to God if I am not myself living out of that connection? As a personal purpose statement, “helping people connect to God” seems to work for me. Working with our transition coach, Rev. Dr. Claire Bamberg, has taught me to ask a different question, namely, what is your “Why?” I realized this week that “helping people connect to God” doesn’t answer the “why” question. Why help people connect to God? Great question!
I don’t know the answer, yet, exactly. Maybe something like this: I know the pain of being separated from one’s deepest longing. I also know the joy of connection. A world of joyful, connected people is a world I want to live in.
As a congregation articulating a “why” is vital to our future. More important than what we do is being clear why we do it. Claire will be leading us in a congregational conversation about our why. In the meantime, I strongly encourage you to watch these short videos and think about what is your “why” and what is FCC Granby’s “why.” The videos show why the question of “why” is so important.
What’s Up with Pastor Todd 11-25-19
A print of bricolage artwork that hangs on the wall of my church office speaks to my understanding of hope. It shows two sparrows with twigs in their beaks flying above a jumble of houses and buildings, some tipped over. The landscape is jagged clump of fragments above which float fluffy green-gray clouds and an orange sun that looks a bit like a basketball. (I don’t know what the weird, brown, rock-looking things in the sky are. Giant meteors?) It’s not a particularly attractive piece. I bought it primarily for the quotation at the top: “. . . We are not in the least afraid of ruins . . . We carry a new world here in our hearts . . . .”
The quote is from Buenaventura Durruti. I didn’t know who Durruti was when I purchased the print from a funky little craft store in downtown Providence. At the time I was pastoring a dying congregation through a major transition, and the words along with the image resonated with me. The congregation knew that things were falling apart. They saw all the empty pews every Sunday. And they were afraid. Their fear, however, just made things worse. The more they tried to control the situation, the faster things deteriorated. Part of my job was to help the congregation calm down, step back, and accept that things would never be the way they were. The spiritual practice of simply sitting in the ruins of what once was creates a space in which a new world can arise. Later I learned that Durruti died fighting Facists during the Spanish Civil War. Key to Durruti’s struggle for a more just world was the ability to courageously face the ruins while carrying a new world in his heart.
The sparrows in the bricolage remind me of Jesus’ teachings on fear. In the Gospel of Matthew he says: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father . . . So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows” (10:29, 31). Durruti also found courage in Jesus’ words, specifically the promise that “the meek shall inherit the earth.” Durruti could face the ruins because he trusted the promises.
Once in a while as I work with a church in transition a member uncomfortable with change will say, “You are ruining my church.” That is 100% untrue. All I am doing is facing the falling apart that is already underway and inviting others to do the same. Why? Because I am committed to living not some fantasy world where nothing ever changes but in the reality that a new world is possible if we get out of the way long enough to let God bring it forth.
A new world is absolutely possible. It can’t be controlled. It can’t be manufactured. It emerges on it’s own timetable and in it’s own form. Our job as Christians is to observe and nurture it. That is difficult to do if we allow either despair or anxiety to take over.
Hope is the theme for the first Sunday in Advent. The difference between Biblical hope and false hope is that Biblical hope courageously faces the impermance of every human endeavor. There are always ruins to face because always somewhere something is falling apart. Biblical hope as opposed to false hope trusts not humanity’s ability to create the world we long for but in God’s ability to keep God’s promises and our ability to cooperate with God’s work in our world. In the immortal words of songwriter Leonard Cohen:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
Maybe your new world isn’t in some far off place at some far off time. What if it’s shining through the ruins right now? Will you notice it? Will you nurture it? Will you, even now, celebrate the abundance to come?
What’s Up with Pastor Todd 10-22-19
Following worship this past Sunday we had the second installment of our monthly “Working Lunch” program at First Congregational Church of Granby. This month we focused on a report of our Meet the Minister meetings. 47 church members participated in five Meet the Minister meetings over a period of several weeks. An intentional effort was made to invite the participating of both more active and less active members. Each meeting addressed four questions:
- What brought you to FCC Granby?
- What keeps you at FCC Granby?
- What would you like FCC Granby to be in 3-5 years?
- What steps might we take to get from here to there?
Responses were recorded and then tabulated through a method of qualitative analysis. You can read a full report of the results here.
Top line summary:
- What brought you to FCC Granby? Sunday school for our kids (17 mentions).
- What keeps you at FCC Granby? Frienships/”people” (13 mentions).
- What would you like FCC Granby to be in 3-5 years? Merge South Church and First Church/a new combined church with new pastors, new mission, new space more that fits new mission (11 mentions).
- What steps might we take to get from here to there? Get out in community/Invite people (9 mentions).
The response to the first question is easy to understand in light of what FCC Granby and the wider culture used to be. Most participants joined the church when they were young parents. It was generally thought in the wider culture that some sort of exposure to religion was a good thing for children. So they looked for a vibrant Sunday school program and found one at FCC Granby. Now those kids are adults and are either moved away or no longer find church relevant. Newer generations have little or no exposure to church. The wider culture no longer values religion the way it used to. Today we can no longer count on young families with children to find us. We need to put in the hard work of connecting with them.
The response to question two is important. Declining churches are often faced with hard choices due to limited resources. This raises a foundational question: What is the “church?” If a church decides that what it really is is the building, its options for creating a sustainable future are severely limited. Too often, the church ends up closing and selling its beautifully maintianed building to someone else. If the church, however, is the people, for whom the building is a resource for ministry, the church has many more options for creating a future for itself.
The response to question three inspires me. It says that many in the core, active membership of the church see the need to do something big to fundamentally change the decline trajectory of the church. Merger is the most obvious option, but what shape that might take remains unclear.
Response to question four may seem at odds with the response to question three, but I don’t see it that way. I don’t see a merger possibility as “throwing in the towel,” so to speak. I’ll say it again, if the vision of merger is tying one “Titanic” to another “Titanic,” we’re wasting our time. If, however, it is combining resources to create a new mission of reaching new people and having a greater impact on Granby and beyond, then it’s worth it. The time to begin building that new mission is now.