Yesterday, the congregation I served had a congregational meeting to vote on some options that resulted out of our 5 month discernment process. If you check the "church" tag, you can see how this has progressed. It came down to three options: 1) close gracefully 2) risk what we have to try to start a new ministry 3) do nothing and go back to the drawing board. After all the meetings, discussions, presentations, and votes we finally decided on...
... doing nothing.
Honestly, I'm not shocked. I am incredibly disappointed and while I'm trying to not take things too personally, I feel a little disrespected. Still, I have to respect that as a Presbyterian minister this is not my church. It is the people's church and ultimately Christ's church. That said, there's a giant "now what?" hanging in the air that needs to be addressed. Some of that "now what" is for the church. A lot of that "now what" is for me and my family.
My initial thoughts:
- The church has to go through some sort of new discernment process. I probably won't be able to lead them through it.
- in the time that we've decided to do nothing, we have gone through five months worth of resources, including impromptu repairs that were required for the roof and organ. To say we 18 months left, as our clerk stated yesterday is naive.
- "do nothing" is the church's default mode. I get that now. I think they expected I would do stuff and they would be on the receiving end. I expected to do stuff and that they would do it with me. We're both feeling anger from misplaced expectations. I should say that I don't think "do nothing" is the church's default by choice. I think the older folks really feel like they've contributed all they can to the church. The younger ones (you know, in their 60's) are trying to get blood from stones. There's no one "out there" to help. The biggest problem is that the church does not want to accept what they are - a church of senior citizens. That doesn't mean they've outlived their usefulness, but they do have to severely limit what they do.
- I too have to come to some realizations. I'm incredibly unhappy where I am. I can't try to lead people who don't want to change anymore. Change is hard, but they knew when they hired me that something different was coming. I feel that they haven't lived up to their end of the bargain and they probably feel the same about me. At some point, it is better to cut ties and try to end things as amicably as possible. Furthermore, and I hate to say this, it is really draining for me to lead a group of people who are in such a different phase of life than the one that I and my family are in. I have a kid in diapers. We've had several announcements about great-grandkids being born over the last few weeks. We're not speaking the same language. "Church" means something completely different to me than it does to them.
- This has been hard on my wife. I sometimes wonder if it is harder to go through something like this or to watch someone you love do it. She's been an amazing support for me, but she needs a church community too.
- At the end of the day, the decision that was made yesterday was to shuffle along to the finish line and maybe hope for a miracle. I don't think I can shuffle along with them. It's been the thing I've been saying for five months that we shouldn't do. I still see it as our least faithful option.
- Presbyteries are clueless when it comes to churches like this. In the past our regional governing bodies used to be heavy-handed so now they err on the opposite side, at least that's the story here. At some point the presbyteries have to step and direct small, failing churches like this one. Some things require micromanagement.
- I want to believe that I was faithful in this process. I listened to what I thought was wise advice. I tried to create a meaningful structure for dialogue. I tried to empower boldness and risk, both within the meetings, but also from the pulpit over the last few months. In the end, you can't make people change. I don't believe God coerces. I don't believe love coerces. In the end, I hope I didn't coerce anyone into anything. Um... quite obviously I did not coerce the majority of people into anything.
- One thing I wish I would have worked on earlier was a process of building consensus. I hate voting. I hate the winning/losing feeling that voting creates. There has to be better. more affirming ways of making decisions.
When people are frightened they do nothing. Before we started this process, I read the parable of the talents to my session (Matt. 25:14-30). One of the session members, who has been a great leader through all of this, mentioned that the servant who buried his talent (or bag of treasure) was paralyzed by fear. That's where we are. It didn't end well for the man in that story. I don't see it ending well for this church either.