I always stand in awe and wonder at the institution we call the church. To many it seems an ancient and unchangeable entity. Translated: “But we have always done it this way.” Or if we need an image – church is as solid as the mammoth cathedrals which took centuries to build and populate with the faithful and then centuries more to empty out and become hollow and silent.
But for me, the church is always changing and the new science seems to be pushing us to think in this wholistic way about not just church but all systems. The new science wants us to look at any system as a system of relationships that exist among seemingly discrete and disparate parts. The old science said to know a system, look at the pieces: they all fit together and if you know how each piece works you’ll understand the whole. You can take the pieces apart and put them together and you’ll not lose anything in the overall working. The new science says: look at the relationships between the pieces – in between these parts is where the life of the system can be found. When we look at church this way we may find ourselves smiling at the wisdom of an old Sufi teaching:
“We think because we understand one that we must understand two because one and one makes two. But we must also understand and.” Even after many years of pastoral leadership, I have yet to fully understand or describe “and“ because it was defined differently in every church I served and perhaps is likewise differently defined in every marriage made under heaven. It’s in the “and” where all the magic happens.
This is because of the dynamism of human relationships – how they move with change, and can be adaptive and flexible rather than static and strained. But how do we know when it is time to adapt in a system of relationships? Can we adapt to a place that is boundaryless and remain the same system? Can we simplify things without losing what is crucial or become decentralized (without buildings or by-laws or constitutions) and not lose control or differentiation from other entities also called church?
Perhaps there are some key elements that guide the shape, energy and renewal capacity of a system like the church. One such element might be the ability for learning and growth to happen between every person. Another key element might be each part’s willingness to be open or to be stretched in times of stress so the system continues to breathe. Such openness does not fear a shift in the balance of power; it relishes a chance to adapt but it never loses sight of the goal of the system writ large. Like a stream, a church can have more than one response to rocks or accumulated debris and sometimes that response could involve staying expansive and broad. Could we say, that a renewable system also involves faith? And if so, sometimes the faith needed is large enough to see a system like a church dissipate as a system in order to form a new healthier system. Could faith help us see and not fear that new order that emerges from old chaos?
Do you begin to hear, as I do, another key guide to keeping a system living and growing? It comes from a passage that is so common as to have become trite. If we reach back into Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church we are reminded of an old way he described the renewing linkage that would keep the nascent church both eternal and ever new. This linkage, the new science might call the “and” between one and one that keeps the sum always stable at two but, also surprisingly, always fresh and new. Paul says, to his church: “Look here. Know this:”
Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
This June, I celebrate the adaptability of this church system we call, First Congregational Church in Hampton, UCC. I celebrate the LOVE (the and) between the persons that make up this system – a love that is strong yet adaptable, forgiving and open – a love that for more than 375 years has kept its eye on the gravity inherent in its course and like a stream, has continued to flow ever closer to fully realizing the servant body that Christ has called it to become.
In the spirit of “and”, I wish you a renewing summer,
Lectionary Readings and Sermons for June:
June 2 – Sacrament of Communion
Acts 16:16-34 – Breaking Chains
June 9- Pentecost Sunday
Acts 2:1-21 – Sermon Reflection on “Why the UCC Synod is Important” – Don Bliss is guest reflector
June 16 – Trinity Sunday First Summer Sunday at 9AM
Guest preacher: Diane Mix
June 23 – Post Pentecost – The season of Green –
Luke 8:26-39 and Psalm 42:1-6a – “In God’s Presence – what happens?”
June30 – The Season of Green
Psalm 16:5-11 and Galatians 5:1,13-25 – “Pick up the Mantle”
Services at Compass Care: June 13 and 27 1:30PM
Service at Partridge House: June 18 at 2:30PM
Planting of the Peace Pole: On Sunday, May 5, the Church School and adults celebrated the gift of a Peace Pole for the Church by sharing in a brief “Planting Ceremony.” Please plan to stop by any time you might be passing the church and thank our children for their vision of peace accomplished. You can read the phrase, “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in Arabic, English, Spanish and Swahili. Perhaps you could leave a prayer by the pole, too?