“Going from this place to another place is like the bird in winter
who remembers the beauty of her Springtime nest
just to keep herself from freezing.”
~ Nancy Wood
As summer approaches memories of summers past flood my mind and bring a smile to my face. Though my father and oldest brother no longer share this life, the memories of the fun we shared sustain me through the roughest days.
The gift of our memory is something we rarely think about until we get to the age where we have trouble remembering. However, memory enables us to recall our blessings, to give thanks for them, and to grow because of them. Good memories can encourage us, warm us on a cold day, and help us to keep hope in our hearts. Memories serve as a way to keep us connected. Good memories strengthen and sustain us.
Memories are valued and necessary to the health of church “families.” As Christians we gather in memory every time we meet at the Table of our Lord. At the Table we remember our baptism, remember what our Lord has done on our behalf, and are Re-membered into the Body of Christ.
Just as we need memories in our biological families, creating memories by offering opportunities to play together strengthens worshipping communities. Laying a foundation of positive memories proves helpful when storms begin to rock the boat. Healthy congregations laugh often, enjoy being together, and support one another in fun times as well as in the hard times.
All too often congregations become fixed upon the problems facing the church and forget the importance of playing together, leading to dis-ease, or disfunction. Focusing upon problems rather than the Problem-solver, can lead to conflict and unhealthy practices. One way to change the focus from the negative perspective to a positive outlook, is to be intentional in planning opportunities for congregants to interact in fun activities.
Our ability to remember is a precious gift. It is in remembering our blessings that our hearts are filled with gratitude. Without memories we would be unable to savor the good things that happen to us and for us. With no memory we would be unable to heal from painful situations.
Healthy congregations PRAY together, PLAY together, and STAY together.
- Jennie Hemrick
Last time you’ll hear from me for awhile…I promise. But in a gathering of the task force, Bryan McFarland and I both used examples that the group thought might be helpful in our conversation, in the work to build and sustain healthy congregations, in our corporate life together. (Look for Bryan’s next week.)
When one of my children hit middle school, it became pretty impossible to parent for a number of reasons. We lived our days responding to crises. All our time and energy and resources went into the broken, the angry, the smart-aleck.
We tried to assure our other children that life would eventually be better, but I don’t think they really believed us. Our actions and our energies said differently. They said, “You get attention when you refuse to be part of the family, refuse to take responsibility for our own actions, and blame everyone but yourself for your problems.
A brilliant child psychologist taught us this. “You get what you reward.”
She suggested that our tendency to get in our child’s face to “fuss,” our establishing of eye contact and undivided attention when said child was out of control, our setting aside time to “problem solve”…all this granted attention to the bad behavior.
It was a head-slap moment.
She suggested we give as little time and attention to bad behavior as we possibly could. No eye contact. Even if we were directing commands to the child, we never locked eyes. No time spent explaining. No energy directed to “discussion.” Command, consequence. Period.
And our energy? our eye contact? our resources? Give that to the children that behave well. Find the behaviors you want to see again and talk then, establish eye contact then, build relationship then.
As a presbytery, as congregations, as lay leaders, church staff, and pastoral leaders, I think it is time to ask ourselves, “Are we getting what we are rewarding?”
It may be time to take a hard look at what gets our attention, our energy, our resources. It may be time to direct that attention, energy and resource to what we really want to nurture.
- Beth Utley
Stories of congregational transformation are stories of life and death. I can’t remember a story of significant transformation that didn't start with a dying congregation. I have read stories of large churches who start new ministries, who hire new staff, who change their worship style or programming, but I don’t hear the same degree of “new life” in those stories.
It seems there is one requirement for resurrection…death.
We hate going there. What we really want is another band-aid…one with antibiotic this time. Maybe that will heal the deeper disease that threatens our existence. What we want is another analgesic…a pain reliever that hides our disease for a bit longer. What we seek are the quacks with promises too good to be true, but who promise us continued life, even if that life will be walking death.
We know the words of resurrection. We don’t have funerals; we celebrate services of Witness to the Resurrection. We quote the familiar verses that promise us that death holds no power over us, that nothing can separate us from the love of God, that new life is ours.
But death is to be avoided at all costs. Whether it is Presbyterian Women as we knew it in the 60’s or our order of worship which hasn’t changed since Christ was born, we just hate for it to die.
Outsiders don’t see much of our hope of resurrection. They watch us cling to our comfort zones as our pews empty out and our ability to pay the bills tanks. They hear us lament about their lack of involvement in our terminal illness and wonder if our minds have “already gone.” We use our last bit of energy to fight battles about the color of our hospice gowns and who should be allowed in to visit.
It may be time to pay attention to the one requirement for resurrection. It may be time to embrace death.
What dies will be different for every church. Maybe it is a congregation. Maybe a program. Maybe a relationship that no longer thrives. Maybe it is an expectation. Maybe it is faith in a pastor or a program or a style of worship. God only knows.
But what is true is that new life, resurrection, comes only after something is gone, after something is dead, after we are willing to let go of worshipping life as we know it and trust that in life and in death, we belong to God.