Sunday, September 01, 2019

DE Ponderings

by Kevin Kessler

When I left the office to go home for the day earlier this week, the maple tree across the street caught my eye. A few leaves on some of the upper branches were displaying their fall colors. Yellow. Crimson. Beautiful!

Reality then kicked in. Autumn is just around the corner. Leaves will not only turn but will begin to fall. Then leaf raking. It is the time of year when hot dogs are roasted over fires and the aroma of wood smoke tickles the olfactory nerves. S’mores! Children sport backpacks as they return to the classroom. Daylight hours become less. There is a chill in the air, especially after the sun sets.

Ah, another reminder. Colder outside temperatures approach. Brrrrr! Of all the changes autumn brings, it is this latter one that I least like. I much prefer 90-degree days as opposed to 50-degree days when it becomes necessary to wear a jacket and the air-conditioner is replaced by the furnace. My teeth are chattering just thinking about this change. Well, okay, hyperbole added.

Funny, isn’t it, how the sight of a few fall-colored leaves can elicit these many thoughts about change. Some of the changes are welcomed and others not so much. Regardless, change is inevitable and rather than grumble about the more unwelcome changes, the better attitude is to find ways of enduring.

I’m finding that the older I get my body functions much differently than it did three or four decades ago. I really don’t like some of the changes especially those that cause an adjustment in lifestyle. But I can’t go back so I’ve learned to endure, to make the best of what I’m given, and to find something good in the adjustments that I need to make. In other words, I adapt to the new reality.

I believe the cat’s out of the bag that we are experiencing some new realities pertaining to the Church. Tastes in music have changed. Family sizes are smaller, thus fewer children. Attendance is less than it was a few decades ago. Attending worship once or twice a month is considered regular attendance. Finding pastoral leadership is more challenging. The Church is not always viewed as relevant. Church growth occurs not from families expanding but from extending invitations to friends and others. We lament the changes occurring and enter into a state of anxiety wondering about the future of the church.

If the aforementioned changes are the new reality, would it be more beneficial to adapt than lament anxiously? My response to this question is, yes. To be adaptive means we will change the way we move forward. Instead of looking for quick fixes, we’ll ask more questions. Instead of keeping things ordered, we’ll let conflict emerge and allow it to transform us. Instead of protecting the church from perceived external threats, we’ll work to disclose and expose the threats in order to engage them appropriately. We’ll no longer maintain norms but allow the norms to be challenged that we may learn and grow and become wiser as a result of seeing and experiencing something beyond the routine.

Change is inevitable but not easy. Living into a new reality requires patience, fortitude, study, listening, conversation, adjustment, and courage. The payoff from these practices is not a church in survival mode but rather a church that is thriving.

The late Salvadoran Roman Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero offers a portrait of this thriving church: The church, with its message, and with its word, will meet a thousand obstacles, just as the river encounters boulders, rocks, and chasms. No matter; the river carries a promise: “I will be with you to the end of the ages” and “The gates of hell shall not prevail” against the will of the Lord (Matt. 28:20, Matt. 16:18).

May it be so.