by Jennifer Brownell
(editor note: In the April issue of On the Way, my lead article was titled “Which Side of the Grave?” You can read the April 7th article here: http://cpcucc.org/blog. I talked about the Center for Progressive Renewal, and the difference between resuscitation and resurrection, as it relates to church vitality. Jennifer saw things from a different perspective. She graciously gave me permission to share her thoughts with you. In this issue, I’ll also include a number of other reports to the CPC Board that are part of this discussion. Let me know what you think! wj)
Hey there WJ,
Your letter in this month’s OTW got me thinking. I am thinking also about the Essential Functions document you’ve been distributing over the last 6 months or so as a conversation starter, so this is also a partial response to that document.
I think one document said that the conference would not be focusing on new church starts because there is neither money nor staff time to devote to this. Fair enough. What then, is the vision that we as a conference and you as the executive can cast for the gathered community of Christ in what it sounds like you are imagining here is the post-church age? I personally believe that EVERY church in the conference could think of itself as a new church start in this time of change. Rather than think of new church starts as a drain on our energy or resources, if we could see ourselves as ALL renewing, all the time, then a new program or idea or even congregation of the conference would not be just another time and money vacuum, it would be just a natural out-flowing of new life.
Look, every day the new church is being born. It can’t help it. With every new person, every new idea, every new spiritual insight – the church changes. To my mind, the trick is not to whack what we have over the head and kill it off so some new thing can be born. The trick is seeing what is already growing here, and shining light on it so it can grow some more. That takes a lot less energy and is a lot more enjoyable too. If I had any request of progressive Christian movements, it would be that we stop talking about an old thing dying away and a new thing about to arrive and realize that a new thing is already here among us. Because, with our insistence on dancing on the grave of the old church, we are missing the life all around us.
It is not my experience in talking with my church members or colleagues that many of them are invested in maintaining a dusty or old paradigm of church structure or programs. But I do have a concern that when we think about church renewal, we will find ourselves backed into a whole new “one size fits all” mentality, or that we will throw the baby out the with the bathwater. I heard this attitude at our fall gathering, for example, when one of the presenters, in talking about music said something about “those of you who STILL use the pipe organ…”
We could debate the relative merits or not of pipe organ music all day, and we would find people on both sides. I’m not all that interested in entering into that debate, per se, but am using it an example of an “us-them, now-then” kind of thinking that is not all that helpful. Instead, what is helpful is looking at every context, and recognizing, encouraging and uplifting those ways in which the communities in our conference are already being faithful followers of Jesus. For example, what is faithful for Parkrose is to be liberated from their building so it can enter into new partnerships, while what is faithful for Hillsdale is to make improvements on our building, so it can be a better community resource. Neither is wrong.
In thinking back again to the essential functions document, if I had any hope of what the conference could do for our church, it would be this. Believe me, we know how bad it can be. We need you – with your wider perspective and the opportunity you have to see many churches doing many things – to remind us how good it can be, too. I know you said in the essential functions document that your pastoral function to pastors must be limited, but I don’t necessarily think so. Every interaction you have is a chance to be both a prophetic and a pastoral presence. This is not pie-in-the-sky or naive thinking. It is intelligent optimism. It is hope – which is what we’re all about, especially this time of year, right?
Keeping the conversation going, Jennifer
Jennifer Brownell – pastor, Hillsdale Community UCC, Portland, OR