For the last few weeks in the in The Gathering and a little at the traditional service, we have been spending some time with Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Being a good reformed pastor, I have an affinity for Paul’s letters. When read chronologically, the reader really gets a sense of both the development of Paul’s theology as well as the growing struggles of the church.
By the time Paul writes Romans, we see that Paul is really struggling with the direction the churches are going and the influences that others are having on the simplicity and focus on Jesus Christ. We also see that people are continually struggling with the question of how they can be the church.
In the Presbyterian Church, we are really struggling with that very question right now. The significant drops in worship attendance across the denomination, as well as the exodus of many congregations, have left the church rethinking how we do church and what it means to be a community together. Personally, I think this is going to make my time as the delegate to the General Assembly of the PCUSA fun! However, as we struggle with that question, most congregations within our denomination are not having fun. Instead of embracing the reality we are in, most congregations are struggling and lamenting their past. Interestingly, many congregations are even perpetuating problems and issues that happened many, many years before.
Looking at our presbytery, there is a group of us that are starting to meet to begin to envision what the future look of our presbytery might be and how the presbytery can resource the churches. And in our congregation, our leaders are also beginning to ask how we can be both relevant to our community while being authentic to who we are as a church community.
This started at the leaders retreat a few weeks ago. The session, deacons, staff, and others from the congregation gathered to listen and discuss our congregation. There were two parts to the retreat. The first part we began to look at our past and the second part looked at our present, especially in terms what the community looks like around the church. For everyone who came, it seemed that we got something practical from each section.
As a pastor, though, for me there were two things that made it a really positive day. First was that there was not “heated conflict;” though there was plenty of disagreement in various places, some without resolution, we treated each other well and were willing to accept the opinions of others without forcing them to accept ours. The second thing that I found to be really important was a chart that we made that really hit on what things feel like when they are perceived to be going well vs. what things are perceived to be like when we struggle.
For the elders who came, many highlighted the work that was done in getting to know our community through the demographic work from Bruce, our coach for the Gathering. These highlighted some surprising information like young singles are by far the largest demographic group and Asians are the lowest! But we also started to ask how we might be able to better connect with those communities.
For me I do not want to leave things there. For the next two months, February and March, in my weekly letters I am going to look at topics and issues that came from the retreat. In February, I am going to focus on what we have learned through our history and explore the chart I wrote about earlier that broke out the things that make us happy and those that make us frustrated. In March, we are going to explore the demographics and what that means for what our church looks like and where we may focus our ministry.
I hope that you will take time to read these articles, reflect, and talk with me and other leaders.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen