In this visioning journey on which we've set sail, I volunteered to serve on the committee that writes a state-of-the-church narrative. Producing the narrative was one of the five recommendations in the Report on Congregational Health that a consultation generated last summer.
So when the five committees gather regularly around five tables in the Fellowship Hall to talk and plan, I sit at my table alone with enough pens and paper and markers for a whole team. Theresa Mathis moves among the tables, guiding and encouraging. Keeping tabs. When she gets to mine, she asks the same question she's posed to all the others, “Well, Bob, how's the conversation going here?”
“Fascinating,” I say. I guess I'm the only one who enjoys researching the past to write about the present. Chasing after the future must suit everyone else far better.
You can read the report when I'm done. It's six single-spaced pages so far. And growing. I'm sure it will be fascinating. So here are a few early fascinating observations. Back in 2005, there was another consultation. Maybe you remember. Average church attendance was 212 back then, and Sunday School was at 90 percent capacity for all ages. And yet, we lamented our present. “Where are the old days when we were better?” The church in decline needed help, a new direction.
The consultation talked about repairing the organ, building ramps, fixing lights, shortening pews, widening spaces, adding signs, changing here and there, inventing this and that. Since it seems I'm stuck on the word fascinating, I find it fascinating that 17 years later, in 2022, with daily church attendance far below 100 and Sunday School on life support, the laments of our latest consultation are essential the same as before. And again we are changing and inventing.
Father Richard Rohr, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, wrote in a recent daily meditation about German scholar Heinrich Zimmer (1890–1943), who studied sacred images and their relationship to spirituality. Zimmer concluded, “The best things can’t be told: the second-best are misunderstood.” So we settle for easy talk about the “third-best things” – things like lamenting attendance and counting money and fixing things and changing here and there. It's a conversation that generates a reassuring sense of our own authority and a “sense of certitude, order and control.”
We ask third-best questions that require only third-best answers.
Those questions are necessary for forecasting and rebuilding structures and programs. But if they're all we ask, then our inquiries reveal a very common degree of spiritual poverty, Father Rohr says. There are also richer questions to ask. And richer answers to contemplate. Admission of that poverty, Father Rohr writes, “should keep us humble, curious, and searching for God. I offer that as hard-won wisdom.”
So, maybe while Jamie's here, he can help redirect someone like me, who spends hours and days fascinated about answering third-best questions, to admit his spiritual poverty. Maybe he can point the way to second-best things that point to first-best things. Maybe he can clear up misunderstandings. Maybe he can lead a new, richer and deeper, spiritual consultation. Maybe we'll learn both to work and to wonder. Maybe someone else will join my table.
Watch for my report soon.
These thoughts and reflections come from our Senior Minister, Minister of Music and Board Chair. We hope that they provide both challenge and inspiration for your spiritual life.