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Frustration and God Showing Up

God shows up - in the midst of the unknowing – right in the midst of chaos.


When I was Ordained, Bishop Hoshibata placed his hands on my shoulders and invited me to “take thou authority.” Sometimes that moment in time feels so far away. I started in ministry in July of 2001 - before planes hit the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, before a severe worldwide economic crisis, before a global pandemic lasted 2 years straight, before I knew what zoom (or Facebook or Instagram) was.


The last two years have only amplified the divisions that exist both in the church and in the world around us. Increasingly folks in churches see the change coming – the empty pews, the lack of young people, youth, and children, and yet are even more rigid in their expectations of how they will "fix" the problem of attendance and engagement. They want to go back to the way it was when the pews were overflowing with people, when the youth went on mission trips, when there weren’t cell phones or technology, when everyone could read music notes, and when everyone knew their name. They want growth without the flexibility that comes along with letting go of their own insular power structures to younger generations.

“Every church I served remembers a time when their buildings were brimming with families, children, vital programs to encourage people, and an organist who let everyone know of God’s amazing grace as Jesus walked with them in the garden.”

Nearly every church I have worked with has words swirling around in their hearts. Words like small, limited, insignificant, inadequate, ineffectual, unessential weighed down every decision, causing friction and deep ruts. Every church I served remembers a time when their buildings were brimming with families, children, vital programs to encourage people, and an organist who let everyone know of God’s amazing grace as Jesus walked with them in the garden.


They tell of having a vision… a long time ago, of carrying out that vision for ministry, of producing disciples of people who grew their church by way of biological evangelism (young folks had kids, who participated in the church). They once were strongholds of vital ministry in their communities. People flocked to them. There is deep grief in many mainline churches for what once was. People deeply want things to stay the same. They want consistency and normalcy. The reality (big surprise) is that nothing stays the same.


The church will never look like that vision of 1960’s bliss again. They can't even imagine what tomorrow will look like, let alone 5 years from now. The 2020-2022 pandemic has changed the face of main-line white protestant churches. Church as we know it is shifting and the future will not look like the past ever again. As a result, it feels like long-range planning with local churches is hubris.


And yet, my call as a Pastor is still the same - to midwife churches through the birth canal into their unnamed futures. The focus right now, and as COVID-19 shifts from a pandemic to endemic, needs to be sitting in the liminal space of the Holy Spirit. I know that for many (laity and clergy alike) this can be unsettling. We want our churches to be set in a routine, set in ritual, set in sameness. We want a clear roadmap and a direction for where to go and what to do. But there are no clear roadmaps - it is individualized and specifically unique for every faith community.


It means deep listening to the voices of the nominally religious in our community. It means showing up to places in your community where you can engage new generations of people (starting with your own family members). It means being the hands and feet of Jesus in a hurting world: turning our unused buildings for opportunities to engage the community through clothing closets, housing for the unhoused, food pantries, and meeting spaces. This work is difficult for the tapped-out folks and weary pastors.


But when we tend to the task at hand, admit the future is unknown, and trust in God’s presence, somehow, God shows up - right in the midst of the unknowing – right in the midst of chaos.

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