Good Shepherd, teach us to listen for your voice in rumbling traffic, clacking keyboards, complaints, laughter, birdsong, the ringing that remains when all other sounds go silent. Teach us to discern your call amid the myriad voices competing for our attention. Teach us to trust your leading. Amen.
“Communication” is a perennial concern for congregations. It is also the one and only landmine of the “engagement” phase of church consolidation (Better Together,p. 133). Communication is the means by which information is shared. Communication can blow up a consolidation process because–as we have learned from “below the green line” organizational theory–”information is like oxygen in a system. In its absence, people will “make it up” in an effort to keep moving forward. Access to information greatly minimizes the negative rumors that can occur within organizations” (“Leading for Equity”). If information is oxygen, communication is the circulatory system. If there is a blockage in the circulatory system, I think we all know what happens: heart attack! (OK. So now we’re mixing metphors, but I’m hopeful you get the idea.)
The circulation system metaphor fits well with St. Paul’s metaphor of the church as the “the body of Christ.” It is critical, then, that enough “oxygen/information” “circulates/is communicated” throughout all parts of the body continually. Just as the body regulates oxygen flow in the bloodstream, so, too, information needs to be “regulated”–that is, accurate information needs to get to the appropriate people. There are areas of church life governed by confidentiality, but those are very small. In general, the encouragement, especially in the “engagement” phase of consolidation is to overcommunicate! The feedback I’m getting from folks at FCCG is that they need more communication about the consolidation process. Not less. And I’m beginning to notice the “make it up” dynamic happening due to this perceived lack of information.
There is communication happening, though it may not be circulating as widely as needed at this point. GUCCI, the steering team for this project, has created a shared Google drive to store common documents. There is, of course, the Granby UCC Facebook page. The GUCCI FAQ. A joint website has also been discussed. A summary of the February GUCCI meeting is available on the FCC website. A summary of the March meeting will be available soon.
In his book The Eighth Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, Stephen Covey writes about “the speed of trust.” When there is adequate trust among members of an organization, it’s easy to speak with one voice. Decisions are made quickly. Communication is timely and accurate. This is because we can trust that we all share the same values, are working toward the same goal, and will follow through with our commitments. I’m wondering if some are sensing that our communication is a little anemic because trust levels among the congregations are not quite where they need to be. Of course, effective communication builds trust, so it’s a little bit of chicken and egg here. But in my mind this means the congregations need more face time. I realize–pandemic and everything–but interacting together as much as possible seems absolutely critical at this moment. Communication is not just about reports. It’s about hanging out, worshipping together, working side-by-side, making decisions together. Let’s locate whatever “circulation system” blockages there may be and “go with the flow!”
“Marriage mergers occur when two comparable churches, similar in size and/or health realign with each other under a united vision and new leadership configuration. Marriage mergers in churches are a lot like a marriage of two people coming together as one bringing strengths, and liabilities to the new entity. and like a lot of human marriages churches coming together may have some difficulties, but they can work through them.”
This seems to pretty accurately describe our situation. In this metaphor, as I understand it, the past three years of Union Services and GUCCI meetings and other joint efforts could be described as “dating.”
The vote this coming Sunday is to “get engaged.” No metaphor is perfect. Different folks will have different understandings of what it means to “get engaged.” The important thing to keep in mind is that getting engaged is NOT the same thing as getting married. It’s a commitment that the parties will make whole-hearted and good faith preparations for making public and sacred vows of union.
So engagement is serious, but it doesn’t mean the marriage is a done deal. Even with the best of efforts things can fall apart. That’s OK. There’s no way to know for certain beforehand, but if we proceed with openness and honesty we can walk this journey together and find some blessing in it regardless of the outcome.
My wife, Nicole, and I are both children of divorced parents. We approached our engagement with few illusions. I asked Nicole to marry me Valentine’s Day (I know, so cliche) 1996. She said, “Yes.” Afterward we had a very serious but honest conversation about our expectations for our engagement and anticipated marriage. Nicole said to me, “This means that whatever happens, we do it together.” Fast forward, this year we are getting ready to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.
That’s my understanding of the step we as churches are being invited to take. What’s yours?
The theme for this Advent season at First Congregational Church of Granby is “I believe.” In the Bible the same Greek word is used for both “believe” and “faith.” Many people equate “believing” with assenting to certain propositions. Take the Apostle’s Creed, for example: “I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth and in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord . . .” and so on. That’s one way to understand believing. I understand belief in terms of “faith.” Belief as “faith” tends to be in short supply these days.
Rev. William Sloane Coffin famously wrote, “Faith is not belief without proof but trust without reservation.” In a world where some powerful people see it in their self interest to actively destroy our faith in institutions, our faith in our neighbors, our faith in our ability to work through our differences with love and compassion, saying “I believe” can actually be a radical act.
So this Advent we’re saying “I believe”: I believe in hope. I believe in peace. I believe in love. I believe in joy. I believe in Christ. Belief is the risky act of entrusting ourselves to each other and to God’s boundless love.
This past Memorial Day, my family and I traveled to my brother-in-law’s house nearby for what one of my friends joking calls a “get apart.” (You know, a physically distanced “get together.”)
Our conversation covered a broad range of topics–as it usually does–including our common situation of global pandemic. My brother-in-law, who works as a federal prosecutor, noted that New Zealand and some European countries (like Germany) were able to much more effectively contain the virus because, in his opinion, in general their citizens have much more trust in their federal governments than, for example, the U.S. does.
While trust is only one factor affecting a government’s coronavirus response, it reminds me how critical trust is to human flourishing. In many cases, it is literally a matter of life and death.
Trust is also a critical factor in congregational life. One of the foundational tasks of transitional ministry is building and maintaining trust among congregation members and between congregation and leadership. Steven Covey in his book The Eighth Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness writes about “the speed of trust.” High trust levels in organizations allows them to move quickly to adapt and address problems. If we had higher trust levels in the U.S., would we have been able to move more quickly to prevent infections and deaths? It is a sobering question. This is a critical question for maintaining our national health. It also illustrates why high trust levels are so important to congregational health.
How does one build trust in a congregation? Three tasks: competence, compassion, common mission. Competence: leadership has to prove to the congregation that they can do the job in a consistently competent fashion. Show up for meetings, do your homework, strive for excellence. If you don’t know something, get training or ask for help. Compassion: people have to know that you have their best interest at heart. You need to demonstrate that you see your role as promoting the health and well-being of the congregation as a whole, not your personal needs for power and control. Common mission: this is illustrated by a Scripture text for this coming Sunday–Pentecost Sunday.
The Old Testament reading is from Numbers 11:24-30. Moses’ father-in-law Jethro tells Moses that he can’t lead God’s people on his own. Jethro recommends Moses appoint 70 “elders” to share the leadership burden. Moses follows his father-in-law’s advice. Moses gathers the 70 elders around the tent that served as the holy space for the people as they may their wilderness journey. God’s spirit “rested upon [the elders] and they prophesied.”
Here’s the part I love: a couple of the elders didn’t make it to the tent for the ceremony. For some reason they had stayed in the main camp with the rest of the 600,000 or so Israelites. Nevertheless, God’s spirit had gone out to them as well causing them to prophesy among the people in the camp even though they hadn’t gone through the formal authorization the others had. Joshua, Moses’ right hand man, said, “Moses, stop them!” Moses responded, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’S people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!”
Moses was clear about his role as leader among the Israelites. It wasn’t about him, his status, his ego, his power. His role was to work with God to create circumstances in which God’s people could flourish. His job wasn’t to control the process but to bless, notice, and name God’s spirit wherever and however it shows up.
Holy God, trust is difficult. Day after day we suffer insults to our ego. Reality refuses to bend to our will. We suffer setbacks, endure disappointments, fear failure, weather the storms of shame and self-doubt. The voices of our culture that tell us our value is in producing and consuming, competing and vanquishing, branding and marketing ourselves are so insistent. Sometimes those voices are our voices. Teach us to trust in our ultimate value, which nothing, not even death, can diminish. Teach us to drop our small, fragile ego and embrace the great adventure of living for you. Amen.
*Prayer of Dedication
Holy God, only your irresistible grace will enable us to completely trust in you. Nevertheless, even with incomplete faith we offer you a portion of our finances, trusting that you will complete the good work you’ve begun in us. Amen.