Are you tired yet of me talking about nothing but change? I think I may have reached the saturation point even for me, the guy who never met a change he didn’t like. I had my usual busy fall going, building my computer business, taking a tax prep class, singing in the Community Chorus, plus all the usual church and not-for-profit work. Things were meshing pretty well when I was invited to apply for an IT (computer) job at our Lane Community College campus here in Florence. IT jobs are hard to come by here in Florence, so even though my plate was pretty full I applied, got an interview, was hired and started on 10/17. It’s part time, but I definitely was NOT planning on another 20 hours per week! I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed and frankly, I don’t like it much.
This last weekend I was a part of the Healthy Vital Church Initiative (HVCI) team that conducted a consultation at the Medford First church. This was our very first HVCI consult in the Oregon/Idaho conference, so it was pretty exciting. Our team was Steve Ross (Oregon Trail District A2B), who is managing the whole HVCI program; Jerry Steele, pastor at the North Bend church; me and a delightful consultant from Indiana named Doug Anderson. Doug was here to help us get started and David Armstrong 4 keep us on the right track; he’s done many of these consults and had much wisdom to share, along with great preaching and a dry sense of humor.
We interviewed the pastors and all of the staff, paid and unpaid. They have a wonderful leadership group, committed, innovative, ready to move the church into the 21st century and beyond. We conducted a focus group with the administrative council, and they are solidly behind all the changes that have been made, the new policies put in place, the renewed focus on outreach, all the things the Conference has urged churches to consider and move toward.
We also met with a group from Medford who are far less happy with the direction of the church. Some have been members of the church for 50+ years, some were fairly new to Medford. Some were in their 80s, some probably as young as 40. Some were lifelong Methodists; some left other faith traditions to join this wonderful system we call Methodism. They’re all Christians, struggling to do God’s work in the world and in their lives, and what they share is their pain over the rapid pace of change in the church they have come to love. They have many concerns, and feel like they are being left behind as the church rushes headlong to – where?
I’ll freely admit I have a hard time empathizing. If change is so easy for me, why isn’t it for everyone? I never worry about where the change is leading if I know the status quo isn’t working; isn’t anything better than being stuck in the mud?
God, who always seems to know what I need well before I do, managed to slap me around with this new job and the resultant overload. Driving to Medford I had a lot of time to think about how uncomfortable I am right now, as I was missing a day of my brand new job to do it. How much harder must it be to watch something you’ve been a part of for 50 years changing almost overnight? My heart was softened as I observed their anguish over their perceived loss of the church they love.
So, what to do? Our churches are made up of such an amazingly diverse group of believers; it’s a wonder we ever agree about anything. It’s the environment that drew me to the Methodist Youth Fellowship when I was a teen, and led me to choose the Methodist Church as my spiritual home for adulthood. Much has changed in those years, with much more to come before I rest. Much has remained unchanged, sometimes maddeningly so, sometimes comforting. Through it all, I’ve tried to love and accept my fellow sojourners who don’t see things as I do, and I haven’t always done a very good job. This last weekend made a big difference in my outlook.
We all want to see our congregations grow and thrive. So as we journey together through uncharted waters, as individuals, as churches, as a Conference, and as the United Methodist Church, I urge you all to be gentle and loving with those in the pew next to you. Jesus would have you do no less, and our beloved church will be stronger than ever as we move forward together, maybe not always with common mind, but committed to common purpose.
Blessing to you all on our quest!
David Armstrong is the Southern District Lay Leader and lives in Florence, Oregon where he works in the Information Technology industry.
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David Armstrong is the Southern District Lay Leader and delegate to the Western Jurisdictional Conference. He will be attending General Conference as a reserve delegate and observer. David lives in Idaho Falls, Idaho.