For the past several months I’ve asked the congregation to sit with me and assess our compass heading.
Where are we?
Where are we going?
To what do we aspire?
How do we bridge the gap between where we are to where we feel God’s leading?
Your input has been very informative and has helped me understand Covenant in context. It is in no small part the fruit of those prayerful Christian conversations that has given rise to our shift in Sunday morning scheduling, set to launch January 3, 2010.
Covenant in context. That has been a key for me.
We who have been to seminary and had to endure, oops, I mean enjoy courses on Biblical interpretation are very familiar with a German phrase that guides interpretation of Holy Scripture. The phrase is “sitz im leben.” It is translated “setting in life.” When we read Scripture, beyond what we think it says, or what we think it means for us, we must first be guided by the notion of what it meant to those who first heard it, who first received it. What was their setting in life that prompted such words to be offered in the first place?
I have been studying our “setting in life” for these months upon my arrival as your pastor. I could not with any integrity whatsoever articulate any change in the rhythm of our church without knowing our context, living in it with you, and determining whether a shift was warranted in the first place.
It is from that perspective I offered my strongest sense that we needed to recalibrate our course for two primary reasons. The first is to claim outright that each worship experience has value and requires the fullest measure of attention from each of our clergy every week. And the second reason depends upon the first. That is, it is time for Covenant to stand up and proclaim its distinct Methodist witness in Cordova. It is time for us to set our course toward growth, in outreach, mission, ministry and evangelism.
For Covenant to be the Church we could be, and what The United Methodist Church needs us to be, we must focus upon the scores of people who are not yet a part of our fellowship, but because of this course recalibration, will come to be integral to our community of faith. To that end we offer this shift.
I know only too well how jarring it can be to make a change like this. I have studied, prayed, talked, conferred, sought counsel from every level of the Church, spent too many sleepless nights, and anguished over where we needed to go. After living in this context for some months, the one thing I concluded was that the status quo was not going to allow Covenant to make its best and most effective witness for the long term.
With this change, we make room for growth in Sunday Schools that right now we do not have. We create an additional hour every Sunday morning for groups to form. I’m encouraging all classes to consider the implications of this shift on their group and to consider their decisions investments in Covenant’s future. If very large groups are willing to split and seed new groups that would be great, although it needs to come gladly and willingly. I'm not intentionally forcing any group to split. Groups who seek to remain intact and find this shift makes it difficult to do so on Sunday mornings are encouraged to find other ways, other times to be together.
With this change, Lora Jean and I can be present at each service. This one was big for me. I determined after awhile living with this schedule that I could no longer abide the thought that on any given Sunday I was missing seeing up to 1/3 of my worshipping congregation. For a new guy trying to learn your stories and take the journey with you, to miss 1/3 of you a week makes something that in the best of circumstances takes time virtually untenable.
I’ve heard opinions aplenty of what I needed to do about our context. Do we go from 3 services to 2? And if we did, which services got forcibly merged? And what kind of spirit would reign in a service of forcibly merged people? Hmmm. I wonder?
Here’s what I’ve determined. Covenant, regardless of what it was way back when, is this – a congregation of very distinct worship styles each of which deserves expression and the full attention of your pastoral leaders.
My most pressing concern in the proposed change, however, was the impact on our Children and Youth. I asked Zack and Tara to study options with me. Could our ministries on Sundays bear up to this change and find creative ways to accommodate and make consequences of the change a good thing. I believe they have created models where that is the case and I’m thankful for their thoughtful and dedicated work.
From the beginning of my time with you, I’ve asked us to aspire to unity, not uniformity. In fact, it is our diversity of expression and experience that no longer needs to be considered a liability to the Church’s future. I believe it to be among our greatest assets. What will unify us Sunday to Sunday is the presence of our clergy, the creative ways in which classes and small groups form and grow and seed new classes that will form and grow and so on. It is those moments through the year when we all come together and bring a spirit of unity to our common worship experience like we did in August on Rally Sunday (although I promise we won’t go 1:45!).
This recalibration is a corner turned on the cusp of a new year. I invite you, I urge you to join me in it.
Covenant, it’s time.
Right here. Right now.