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Merging Churches... Part 2

Building Harmony

This is Part 2 of a 10 Part series on how two churches in Oregon merged. To see the first post go here: Merging Churches... Part 1

I adore music. For years I sang in a Trio, where we carefully practiced our harmonies. Even as an amateur musician I know that harmony comes with struggle and practice. Sometimes it can even be quite messy. Getting a song to the point where you want it to be is much more difficult than just everyone singing their part. It entails individuals learning their parts, measure by measure. Then it requires listening carefully to the other parts to know how you can sing together. It also means that if we are to sing together, we must be willing to be directed by someone who can understand and see the wide vision of the piece of music. A church choir director once told a group of us that working through a song for Sunday morning is like being stuck in heavy traffic on your way home from work - it is constant stops and starts. But once we are unstuck, the result is glorious!

One of my favorite scriptures comes from Romans 15:4-6:

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (NRSV)

For over a century, the cities of North Bend and Coos Bay have been rivals. One might even say since the dawn of time. The two cities don't always see eye to eye or even agree on how to do business together. In fact, they consciously choose to NOT partner together. These divisions, at least for me as an outsider, seemed a bit silly. But it was a gigantic hurdle to overcome when these churches decided they could do more together than apart. So, when these two churches from these two cities came together to do ministry - folks were surprised. At the same time, it provides a glimmer of hope for the future of Oregon’s Bay area.

I often observe a mindset of scarcity in churches. This takes different forms in different congregations obviously. Scarcity vs abundance mindset was coined initially by Stephen Covey in "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People." Early on in my career, a mentor recommended the book to me, and the difference between a mindset of scarcity and one of abundance has stuck with me. Essentially a scarcity mindset says that there are not enough resources to go around. For churches often that means a lack of finances, people to "do" things, etc. A mindset of abundance says that there are enough resources for everyone. For churches that live in this mindset, they focus on what they have, not what they don't have. For example, if your congregation is "stuck" ask yourself, who in my congregation has a mindset of possibility and abundance? This naturally creates a win-win success. It seems that in churches, when a congregation adopts a vision by telling stories of God's faithfulness, with an emphasis on gratitude, we leave space for God's spirit to enter.

“...building harmony does not mean that everyone sings the same note”

Just a note of clarification: building harmony does not mean that everyone sings the same note. An attitude or mindset of abundance doesn't mean that you can't be realistic about the situation a congregation is facing. It asks the question, where does this congregation need support? How can we be creative in utilizing what we have? I also want to be abundantly clear that I don't prescribe to the belief that God granted North Bend and Coos Bay congregations movement forward because we had the "right" kind of faith in God. No church has a corner on that market. There were some pretty challenging moments throughout the process. It took careful planning to figure out how to be with one another. Throughout the process of merging, we worked to build people up so that they felt like they each played a part in the harmony being created. Measure by measure we practiced what it meant to live in a community with one another, and what it meant to live into the vision that we were creating. Sometimes, we completely and utterly failed. Other times we found the sweet spot and it was a symphony. We discovered, in the process, that we could sing different notes AND make beautiful music together! Each person is wonderfully created in the chaos of the earth. We each come from unique backgrounds and perspectives. But we live in harmony.

Harmony United Methodist Church happened because we made the commitment to walk the difficult road of discernment with a mindset of God's abundance. We practiced and practiced so that we sang the same song: to share the unconditional love of God, connect with God and each other, serve with compassion, hope, joy, and prayer, and grow on our faith journey.

Next up: Part 3: Casting a Vision


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