(I’m working on my Statement on Ministry, a piece of my ministerial profile, and this is a first draft. It’s potentially very important in making an impression on search committees. Thoughts and feedback appreciated. And, no, I won’t use blog nicknames in the real thing!)
On a family vacation in my teens, I learned how to read a map.
In that era of free maps at gas stations, we stopped each morning to fill up the enormous tank of our Ford Country Squire wagon, and my father picked up new maps for my brother and me. At the end of the day he had us trace the route we had driven. Each day we re-drew the old lines on a new map and added the day’s progress. I excelled at this exercise and may have been known to boast, just a little, of my marvelous map skills.
How my parents might have laughed to hear me calling home from my cell phone on a recent summer afternoon, after I took a left where I ought to have turned right and found myself headed in a decidedly wrong direction. I gave my location to the helpful Global Positioning System agent–my patient husband, Pure Luck–and he helped me navigate cross-country instead of retracing my footsteps. If my Maine Map and Gazetteer had been in the car and not on my desk, there would have been no problem in the first place. But there are times when finding our direction is more complicated, especially when we are searching in the dark.
On a long hike this summer, Pure Luck had to find his way back to a campsite in the dark, and he was frustrated when first one flashlight and then another gave out. He ended up using his cell phone instead. It provided some ambient light, but it could not show him the grade of the earth beneath his feet. It could shine brightly enough to keep him from falling into a ditch close to the trail.
In life we all have times where we find ourselves walking a path that is unknown or hard to see clearly. It’s as true for a church as it is for a family or an individual. We find ourselves on an unfamiliar road, or suspect we have made the wrong turn, and we stop to determine what to do next. That’s the time to call on the Universal Positioning System, the One who helps us no matter how confused our direction.
On another summer day, I sat at South Station with my two younger children, awaiting the train that would take us to see their brother in New York. I took a good look at them and the people they are becoming as they travel into and almost out of adolescence. I noted the twinkle in his blue eyes as he teased her and the gleam in her brown ones as she returned fire.
I wonder if they see the changes age brings, or if I look the same to them with my newly grey hair as I did with brown hair that came from a box.
Often in the church we come to believe that we can remain the same and yet be faithful, but we forget that all living beings grow and change and make progress on a journey that is not only outward and linear but also inward and spiral. We come to the same places again and again, at the same time that we move on never to return. My family has formed and re-formed as one and then another goes off to school away from home. We are different and yet the same, changed in our particulars but faithful to our essence: love. The life of a congregation is as fluid, despite our human desire to make time stand still. In every season of our lives, and in every season of the church’s life, there is something essential to be noticed, whether it is visible or “in,” some signal that will guide us in taking the next step toward the fullest possible relationship with God.
When I first went hiking with my husband, I asked over and over, “How much farther?” And he replied, over and over, “We’re almost there.” I did not know the trail and could not picture what might lie ahead. I fear I wasted the opportunity to enjoy the flowers and the trees, the chipmunks and the birds. Life in the church sometimes feels the same. How will we respond to the changing culture around us? Do we still matter in and to the wider world? How much longer and how much farther?
I wonder how often the disciples asked Jesus, “Are we there yet?”
I believe that all we do in community – breaking the bread and sharing the cup, baptizing both children and believers – or singing and praying together, sharing casseroles around a table, feeding the hungry, knitting a prayer shawl or weeding the church garden – all these things are acts of faith, a faith that being church means something, to us and to God.
I am committed to walking the unknown road with God as my guide, and I seek a church equally engaged in the journey.