Written by Gradye Parsons
Each month the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Moderator or Vice Moderator of the 220th General Assembly write a column of general interest for the church-at-large.
It is said that our sense of smell is linked to some of our strongest memories.
One of those August memories for me is the scent of stacks of blue jeans in McKee’s Store. You might say that those jeans smelled of transition, as if they knew they were waiting for patient-thin mothers to purchase them for ungrateful boys for a new school year. They were very stiff jeans, as though their purpose was to rein in the freedom of summer. They were jeans meant for the combat of school playgrounds – jeans that would survive the school year through no effort of the one wearing them.
Transitions are hard, we say. Shift happens. Change is a constant. All true quotes. But we often resist. Of all the freedoms we defend strongly, it is the freedom not to change that seems most natural. We sense like the gift of new jeans in August that this is not a welcomed change.
In church, we worship the never-changing God who is trying hard to change us. That change becomes manifest in our congregations. Those congregations change as we change, as our communities change, and as our world changes. Not all of those changes are welcomed or accepted. But they come, nonetheless, like waves of the ocean.
What do these changes mean for us? One resource to help make sense of it all is A Field Guide to U.S. Congregations, authored by Cynthia Woolever and Deborah Bruce. Their work holds up a mirror for each of us to see the transitions in our particular congregations in light of what is going on in 12,000 congregations across the country.
Deborah Bruce died in July. It was unexpected and a wound to the souls of all who knew her. One of her lasting gifts is that of perspective. She could gather all of the facts and figures and turn them into a story that would lift you out of yourself. That story would give you a sense of what God is up to with God’s church.
Deborah helped us to see the wind of the Holy Spirit reforming the church. Let us honor her work and seek holy perspective.
I will observe the 33rd anniversary of my ordination this summer. It seems a long time ago when I answered ordination questions for the first time.
I have had different calls to ministry over the years, with different questions to answer at each installation. Those questions have never lost their significance. The “do you” and “will you” still evoke a commitment to a life rich with meaning.
The following is an account popular in the storytelling world and passed along in William White’s Stories for the Journey (Augsburg Press, 1988).
People in a remote village purchased a television set. For weeks, all of the children and all of the adults gathered around the set morning, afternoon, and night watching the programs. After a couple of months, the set was turned off and never used again.
Zippy was a thoroughbred horse that competed in ninety-nine races and never won. Ever. He was finally banned from rack tracks “for the protection of the betting public.”
I want to salute those silent and often unseen sisters and brothers who have the call of being a church janitor. The position may have a different name where you are, but the functions are the same.
It does not matter whether your congregation’s calendar is filled with daily programs and activities in your building or the space is used just a few times during the week. Someone, paid or volunteers, keeps it clean.