There is an old saying: “the only constant in life is change.” Oxymoron or truth?
Over the past several weeks I have gotten a lot of feedback, both positive and negative, about the actions and choices I have taken and made as rector…and about the general climate of Trinity right now. Change has been accepted and also it has been rejected. Everything from new bulletin formats to time changes, from shifts in management style to program goals. Many things have remained the same but that has not been a focus of those giving feedback so I won’t really comment on those things. What may not be understood by the congregation as a whole is that some the things that are changing were already in process when I arrived here as rector - I inherited them and both of our arrivals may have been so close that I am being thought of as the creator of those changes. If you are looking at the changes with fond eyes, I am benefiting from those associations. If you are not so excited about change in general, I am getting labeled as “a changer.” Though not all the new things are attributable to my actions - I am willing to accept the invigorating process of discussion of all the changes with each and every person who feels either way about the shifts we must face together.
The most “physical” change of course is the arrival of the new organ and its profound impact on the space we call our worship home. Other areas we can look to: the shift in Church School time on Sunday mornings which was conceived and processed and put into action by the committee members charged with this program’s oversight, though I wholeheartedly and eagerly support all new areas in which parishioners take on a deeper involvement and caring for the direction of the growth of their faith lives. Look to the rearrangement of the chairs in the Chapel (My idea and a hope to connect our congregation with a old tradition of the ancient church which started worship in the round centuries ago), or to the manner in which the wardens and I have chosen together as our “style” of leadership: to form (and reform) committees and ministries at the Vestry level. Even in the more esoteric and relatively hidden places of parish ministry, within the opacity of financial or capital management, there has been dramatic change. Sometimes that leads to joy and success, and sometimes that leads to error and correction. But it is true, there is change happening all around us. Internally and externally, we are a parish steeped in the healthy and common practice of active growth – and we all must be supportive and caring for those that find this state difficult to accept.
Many expect the Church to be a bastion of “tradition” as they individually define that term, not an agent of change. Yet, in its founding moments of the church’s birth, each person had to accept change from their previous understanding of “God” to a new uncertain faith, a Way of following the teaching of Jesus Christ which would become what we now call Christianity. There was change with each and every step, without any guarantees that this change would be positive for them, except for a deep, inner voice telling them that faith in Jesus as Savior would lead them in a better path. Our Lord embodied the greatest Change that has happened since the creation of the world. So, if we are in His image, then what does that say of each of us? Are we then also to be “beings of change?”
Each of us is faced with change in our daily lives - on many levels – and must determine if the change before us will help us to grow or not but, here in the Church we must also be part of a group sense of the adage: “The only constant in life is change.” It is meant to be a comfort and can be if the listener is growth inspired. Spiritual growth is something we all strive for in our heads and therefore we attribute it to our hearts too but, in reality change is something many people fear and have negative “gut reactions” to when they are faced with a difference from what they have grown to categorize in their lives as “the norm.” We have a very potent opportunity in this season of Epiphany to visualize change as a growth moment and not as a “not following the norms established.”
Growth requires change to become a reality – it is easy to think that way. In fact, it is uplifting to think of growing within our faith and within our own selves to be better and not be stuck reliving past pains or in situations where we have been less than successful. How would we grow as humans and feel it is required of us to maintain a status quo in all areas? I think we all can agree that can not work…in our heads. Our hearts may lead us in a darker place though as we contemplate what feels good and what feels uncertain. Change implies we will be “uncertain” of the outcome to some degree and we often find ourselves wandering into uncharted territory with these thoughts acting as our compass: “Preservation is a good thing.” and “There is no need for change, things are just fine as they are.” However, I would bet big money that no one would ever utter the phrase: “There is no need for growth.”
“Ay, there’s the rub.” Change and growth go hand and hand. If we allow only negative associations with the word “change” we must realize that we are creating walls (without doors) between ourselves and spiritual growth, as individuals, which is a personal choice we each have a right to make; but we also need to consider the possibility that any individual staying with “things are fine so no change necessary” approach may be making a decision for the group, as well. Trinity church as an entity… as “a whole,” is made up of a very diverse set of people and we are defined by that in many ways, but most importantly it means we have many perspectives and fuller understanding when we are open to all. To achieve our greatest potential we must be willing to review our practices and reevaluate our costs against our benefits. We must challenge ourselves to understand “Spiritual costs and benefits,” rather than define our spiritual selves with the parameters provided by the business worlds we are more familiar with, and wherein we maintain a stronger sense of control. Church is a “led” experience where we seek God’s agenda, not our own, as we seek to become more fully formed in God’s image.
As a church community weathers change it requires each of us to be willing to focus on growth and not on “norms” – we must remain open to the possibility that what worked in the past are not appropriate choices anymore. Status quo is a slippery slope and is often the first step to stagnation… and that path most often concludes with ending of life instead of growth. The only constant in life is change and whether we accept it, embrace it, or enjoy it- it is a reality that must be faced. Together we can make it positive for a stronger future. Society, as a whole, stopped using telegrams as an efficient form of communication, so Western Union announced the cessation of telegrams as a service they will offer. It may be sad for those who used telegrams to announce important events to friends and relatives in distant places but, now email is cheaper and yet again faster and more available to each and every person these days.
When I was interviewed for the position of Rector here at Trinity not one person said to me: “We want our new Rector to maintain our status quo.” And as I consult weekly with my advisory committee and with the Vestry, there has been very little talk of being happy to stand in the past or being “satisfied” with everything. I would not have taken any position that had spoken of that desire; I am not a person that believes Christ is found in stagnation so I could not help a congregation find him there. I am a Rector who believes completely in my role of liturgical leader and as a supporter of the Vestry’s job to be the ones who tell me what direction they wish the church to go. If they were to advocate a program or system which I did not feel brought the congregation closer to one of many possible paths of spiritual growth, I would of course counsel them to rethink their choices. That is my job, and I do it with joy, because I feel Trinity as a whole church does go toward a path of growth in which I can be fully supportive. I am very proud of the leadership being willing to re-embrace their responsibility as leaders of specific ministries as they release the mode they had to take up in the interim – where all sorts of responsibilities were taken up by that body because there was not a rector – they were acting in a time of need to keep the church vibrant without settled clergy leadership. As we transition into a time after the interim, we must now look at the systems we used under a different state of affairs, not because they are inherently wrong but they were created to respond to a particular moment in the life of this parish. Even our spiritual world systems and processes grow inefficient or may not serve us in the best way as things change in transitions. The Epiphany season challenges us to see what might have been thought of as impossible yesterday as not only possible today but, also as a positive change for a brighter future. Christ revealed himself to the apostles so that we might know with certainty that he is the risen savior and that their job was to go out and help other to see that as fact. They were charged with the very difficult task of changing people’s mind over many issues – not the least of which was the fact that a person died and came back to life. We don’t face that challenge in the changes we face now but sometimes it may feel just as scary to accept, and just as life altering, if we allow change. I pray that all can embrace the newness of each day with the positive sense of change. Change, which brings with it light and a chance for salvation over and above the fear of change which often makes us uncomfortable and unable to walk forward with Christ in love. A love which led him to sacrifice his own life for us so that we could experience a world of infinite possibilities, for in his death even death has been changed from an ending of life into new beginnings. When we embrace change, we are able to open doors we never knew were there before - we only have to reach out and grasp them with open hearts, hands and minds.