Week of the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
In last week’s message, I shared a summary of that which I believe we have accomplished together in mission and ministry with special attention to: getting through the initial crisis of the pandemic; the nature of worship during this season; and faith formation at Resurrection during the time that we have shared. This week, I will focus on our responses to other crises in our wider society and how we addressed them in our congregation’s witness as well as calling attention to our shared visions for mission and the faithful stewardship of our building in welcoming The Village School as a tenant in much of our educational wing.
Before I turn to these themes, though, I want to return to the matter Christian education and faith formation to report to you that as part of the whole fabric of transition at Resurrection Church, our Youth Ministry Director, Amanda Lindamood, will also be departing in early August as a member of our staff. Amanda has done excellent work with creative programming for our youth, including confirmation instruction. Amanda has also been especially effective in heralding a vision of faith formation that is intergenerational and holistic, and she consistently called our attention to matters of social justice that are integral dimensions of our life of faith. Amanda and I have worked together effectively as a team and I thank her for her work here and dedication to this congregation.
During the summer of 2020, amidst the pandemic crisis, our wider society was also riveted by concerns about racial justice. In response to this wider public outcry, our Congregation Council voted to place Black Lives Matter signs on church property as a public witness in support of anti-racism and toward promoting racial justice. Because of concerns about the BLM organization, the placing of signs provoked a critical response among some members of our congregation. I believe that ultimately, we used this crisis as an opportunity for learning and growth on more than one front. One dimension is that we did in fact take up the matter of racial justice in our life together, when a group of committed members of the congregation devoted over a year to the study of Pastor Lenny Duncan’s book, Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the U.S. Our working through this book, under Amanda’s leadership, became the occasion to really begin to grapple with racism. Over the course of these many months, those who participated began to learn more fully how to engage controversial issues thoughtfully and with a sense of personal vulnerability. I pray that this time together will continue to serve as leaven for how Resurrection may continue to engage matters of social controversy as an expression of our public witness.
An outgrowth of the Duncan book group was the emergence of the Social Justice Learning Group, led by Charlie and Judy Hughes. Once a month, between ten and twenty members gather after worship to discuss various matters of social justice, facilitated by our own members who have expertise on what is being examined. I find this development very encouraging, and I pray that the Social Justice Learning Group will continue to meet to bear fruit not just in learning but also in taking action to promote a vision of God’s justice for the world.
Another fruit of our beginnings with more directly taking on matters of justice is our new Creation Care Team, under the leadership of Monica Hirschberg, which also meets monthly to promote habits locally in our congregation that make for more environmentally friendly and sustainable practices.
Still another outcome of the crisis concerning the Black Lives Matter signs is the insight that we do well as a congregation to be more widely collaborative when engaging matters of controversy. Members were concerned that the Congregation Council did not consult the wider membership before making the decision to place the BLM signs on church property. Since that time, we have endeavored to widen the circles of conversation when responding to concerns that could provoke controversy.
Yet another fruit of all of this was the decision to replace the BLM signs with a new set of banners above the Washington Blvd. entrance to the church focusing on Micah 6:8 and the charge to “Do justice; love kindness; and walk humbly with God.” Most assess that this witness, rooted in scripture, expresses commitments most can agree on even as it gives words to the kind of identity this congregation aspires to.
Moving on to the stewardship of our building, Resurrection is blessed with a substantial campus that is well-maintained. Like many ELCA congregations, our building was built during an era which called for more space than we currently need. In fact, much of our educational wing is not just underutilized, parts of it are not currently utilized at all. It has been sad to say goodbye to our preschool which had operated in our facility for over twenty years. Likewise, the Clothes Closet was a casualty of the pandemic and this season when volunteers are oversubscribed at home, at work and at church, diminishing our capacity to offer programs. Moreover, the Finnish Language Schools now operate in large measure online. Thus, our facility is crying out for faithful, fruitful utilization. Therefore, it was a gift when The Village School approached us about the possibility of renting a large portion of our educational wing to host their pre-K through 8th grade independent, non-profit, private school. In addition to providing needed rental income to the congregation and making faithful use of our facility which is ideal for this school, The Village School’s presence in our building holds promise to increase the visibility of our congregation in the wider community, an important feature of our public witness which I pray will bear fruit for Resurrection under the leadership of the pastor who will be called in the coming months to lead and to serve toward God’s promised future.
A side benefit to The Village School’s coming was that preparing our spaces for the school inspired a major “Spring Cleaning” of our whole building. A dedicated team of member volunteers expended huge amounts of “sweat equity” in going through our many rooms and storage closets to remove items that we no longer use or have no use for. Many items were donated to other schools. Much also found its way to Goodwill. And even after new homes were found for many things, still when it was all said and done, there were four truckloads of things that simply had to be discarded. As I have written previously, the dynamics of purging our spaces – at home and at church – have the effect of renewing our relationship with our physical surroundings. I believe that such spring cleaning has set the stage for discerning and deciding how Resurrection’s building may in the future serve this congregation’s mission and ministry.
When it’s all said and done, there is a sense in which my pastorate of two plus years has been an “unintentional interim pastorate,” which I believe has further prepared the congregation for whatever is next in mission. Certainly, the pandemic inhibited forward movement into God’s promised future. But our time together has not been wasted time. Another feature of this season focused on crafting the shared statements of vision related to most aspects of our life together. These vision statements emerged in part from the consultant-led congregational study that was undertaken during the interim period after Pastor Ickert’s retirement. While these vision statements may change in the future under the leadership of a new pastor in discerning conversation with congregation leaders, having such statements gives you all a sense of direction and focus, a sense of what is aspired to in Christian community here. Many congregations undertake their activity in a rather ad hoc manner without much attention to where they actually feel called to end up. The shared statements of vision provide a much-needed sense of direction during these tumultuous times in church and world when we are otherwise prone to be blown about by the many crises and opportunities that claim our attention.
To be sure, there was much on my “to do” list as Resurrection’s pastor that was not accomplished. However, our time together has been intense and fruitful in many ways as we have sought to be faithful with the mission and ministry God has entrusted to us for such a time as this. I pray that this message and that from last week provide a good sense of the big picture of what we have in fact accomplished together under the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit.
With abiding appreciation yet again in Christ Jesus for the opportunities to lead and to serve at Resurrection Church,
Pastor Jonathan Linman