Monday, December 12, 2005

And now we have MUD

So it will be in the 50-degree (Fahrenheit) range today, and we have snow AND ice AND mud, which is pretty much dog heaven here. Last week I took two nasty falls walking Wilson Wolfhound, and discovered the big goof has gotten a rudiment of cognitive capability: now, when I am lying flat on my back and the leash has come out of my hand, he comes bounding, slipping, and sliding back to me to see what's happened. This in itself is motivation enough to get up, since 140 pounds of bounding, slipping, sliding dog is not a soothing sight when one is lying supine on ice. However, I was extra motivated because one ignominious fall took place right in front of a mortuary, and my first thought was that business must be down, since a huge segment of their sidewalk was covered in ice with a light skiff of fluffy snow on top for disguise. I had visions of a guy in a suit with a long, skinny gurney heading my way, so I got up extra fast.

I preached last night in one of our denomination's churches in a smaller town about 60 or so miles away. The congregation is small and VERY quiet. While some make efforts at community (going out to eat after service, etc.) and many have known each other for years, they don't 'feel' vital as a congregation, and they do not seem to have much interest in changing that fact. I think many of the members live outside even the smaller town, with some being farmers or ranchers, and their lives demand a ton of their time and energy. Their needs are different from those of my younger, more urban congregation--on the one hand, the rural congregation has less overt crisis, but on the other hand, the rural congregation is more profoundly attached to sameness in their worship, sameness in their numbers, etc. The group has a closed feel even on first meeting. For their church to survive, they would need to develop some effective outreach, particularly to young people at the university near them, but I don't see that working unless the core membership is willing to share leadership, take risks, and be open to change. What was lacking that I see in my own congregation is a sense of lightness. Everyone took everything soooooo seriously. Perhaps that's generational; I don't know if I'd have developed as much sense of humor around church if I weren't worshipping with much younger folks. I don't know, though, I have to say that the people I have seen be most successful in ministry over the long haul have had lively senses of humor and have been able to take themselves, at least, very lightly. I did feel a sense of terrible earnestness in the congregation last night, and I don't know how, as a pastor, one could ever work with that--and yet, I think that earnestness, genuinely respectful as it is, may be one of the factors that threaten the very survival of the congregation.

I know there have been lots of traumas in the not-so-distant past in that little congregation. Feelings have been hurt, and badly. Mending is in progress, and it is probably too soon to look for playfulness. It may even be too soon to look for change. Perhaps wounded hearts need something familiar to cling to, in terms of worship, and familiar faces, etc., while they consider whether trust is possible. Their gifted young interim pastor is working hard, very hard to facilitate healing. But if I wish them one thing, it is the gift of some playful spirit. I was playful in my sermon, and several did ask if I would come back sometime, so there *is* that. Saying prayers for them today, and appreciating their willingness to hear me and make me welcome.


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