Church Life

Growing Pains

My new friend, reverend mommy, wrote something the other day about the difficulty and discomfort when a church is growing, and I was reminded of caring for #1 Son when he was an infant.

He was a skinny little baby, and he took a long time to get the hang of nursing, and I was inexperienced and worried and kind of shell-shocked from giving birth. I remember sitting in the rocker with him and wondering how to get him to stop crying, when his dad said, “Why don’t you sing to him?”

Now this was an odd question, because I sing a lot. But I hadn’t been singing to him, and when I tried to sing, I couldn’t remember any songs. It’s as if that part of my memory had been wiped clean. Slowly songs came back to me, but the first were the songs I learned at Camp Alleghany a hundred or so years ago. So I sat in the rocking chair and held my little baby, and I sang “Black socks, they never get dirty, the longer you wear them the blacker they get…” And then the campfire songs came back to my mind: “All Through the Night,” “Walk, Shepherdess, Walk,” and the song we sang to our Honor Girls, set to the music of “Going Home” also found in Dvorak’s New World Symphony. That became his favorite lullaby, “Sleepy Boy,” words by Mom.

By five weeks old, we were good together. And then came the week from hell. No sleeping, all crying, and a whole lot of growing.

Think about what it must feel like to be five weeks old and put on a pound in a week. It wasn’t just a pound of flab, which is easy enough for us adults to add and not even notice. It was sixteen ounces of bone and muscle and sinew, everything stretching to fill a new space.

That’s what it feels like for a church to grow. And for the people who were comfortable at the beginning of the growth spurt, it is all crying, even when they know it’s inevitable, even when it’s what they prayed would come to their church. It’s unfamiliar, and it’s uncomfortable, and sometimes it is excruciatingly painful.

So when I say my 90 member church added 12 new members in 2004, with a net gain of 10 when you subtract the two deaths, I’m saying more than we grew 11%. I’m saying that new people ran the fair and others had their noses out of joint, even though they didn’t really want to work that hard on it anymore. I’m saying that we’re glad Andrew, a former chef, joined the church and is cooking the Roast Beef Supper now, but I’m also saying our good friend Bob died, and we need a new cook. I’m saying that even though one of the new gals is willing to call around for pies before the Supper, we miss Nola who has retired with her husband to South Carolina, and Liz who is living in a nursing home.

Oh, sure, some of it is closed-mindedness or a bad attitude, but some of it is just hurt and fear that time is moving on without me or you or him or her.

It’s growing pains.