Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Week of April 26, 2015

Approaching the end of four months with a new pastor, it's probably wise for New Kirk Presbyterian and me to step back and look at this first quarter together.  Recalling where we've been and accepting where we actually are is the only way forward.  Life teaches me that living is always in the current step, so let's observe just what kind of a step we're taking now.

Liftoff.  Most churches experience both turbulence and what feels like layovers during interim periods.  Not helpful is the fact that rarely do these interim periods end after one year.  Thus, it wasn't surprising at all to find New Kirk Presbyterian excited and anxious to get things rolling once the new pastor arrived.

Our first weeks here were full of joy and welcome.  Christmas, while hectic in transition, signaled exciting new beginnings for my family and me, as well as for the work and worship of New Kirk Presbyterian.  Learning curves come with all transitions.  Years pastoring in the traditional setting made for still-ongoing detox and withdrawal from the on-the-wagon feel of life in a new congregation.  For New Kirk, too, there has been some shock to the system with me aboard the ship.  I bring those years of compulsive anxieties in matters of church order and system operations.  Together, we're better.  That I truly believe.  New Kirk shows me God's new ground and a very accessible gospel.  In return, she has to deal with one of God's vulnerable saps who finds sacred in the mundane and who will always prove to be little more than uncouth in the end.

Even mid-launch, I was certain that the way of New Kirk Presbyterian is the way to which I'm called in ministry and probably will be as long as a call to ministry remains effectual in my life.  (The uncertainty in that sentence, I've learned, is none of my business.)

"Houston, we have a problem." A few weeks into ministry here, the full weight of our challenges became clear.  Steps taken together were full of hope and excitement for good reason.  These same steps, however, contained the reality of chaos always present in creation (Genesis 1.1-2).  Think about it: most churches serving as our home churches began years before we were born and will continue, more than likely, years after we're gone.  As a matter of fact, a great majority of these churches have outlived generations of folk.  Relative to those, New Kirk Presbyterian is an infant.  In some ways, she both brushed with luxury and with very real prospects of death almost upon crowning and with hardly enough time to remove the birth from her airways.

It's no secret that the financial challenge is her most imminent danger.  The budget projects a need of about $365,041 if we are to pay only for our building-grounds costs, our business administration costs, and the cost of personnel.  If that projection is right, New Kirk Presbyterian needs to deposit about $7020 into the bank weekly.  What kind of step are we currently taking?  Since January, our average weekly deposit is $3816.  However, when it comes to what our average costs have been--the actual cost from January through March--we're on pace to need a total cost of only $247,467 to cover building-grounds, business administration, and personnel costs.  This means we would need an average weekly deposit of $4750.  Honestly, I don't understand financial projection well enough to comment on any of this; but, common sense reminds us that, either way, our current way of stepping costs more than our energy intake.  In other words, we're burning fat--which is cool, except we've only got $38,889 of "fat" to burn, a lot of which is designated for other uses besides operations.

Finances, while straightforward, can be tricky--especially with God involved!  This early in the game, there are lots of unknowns.  Regardless, we acknowledge this imminent danger.  The challenge is before us: we need to up that weekly deposit.

It's most unfortunate that, amid this challenge, we must zero in our energies on meeting our obligations to exist geographically as proprietors.  That's a hard one to swallow in light of Christ's words: Matthew 8.20, Matthew 19.21, Matthew 24.2, Luke 12.20.  Yet, we must acknowledge this ground as that upon which prayers were prayed, tears shed, and upon which worship continues.  It is sacred ground.  It may or may not be ground worth fighting for, but it's absolutely ground worth listening for.

Hope.  There's always hope, and all challenges are teachers giving us opportunities for exercising that hope.  The greatest lesson will always be that which leads us to let go of our attachments--attachments to the way things were or could've been; to the hard work, hopes, and dreams that went into making something great; to physical things or to ideas or to programs.  Jesus summed it up beautifully (Luke 17.33).

Ishenhiem Altarpiece, Matthias Grunwald
Free from attachments, intention becomes right in every view, every aspiration, every word, every action, every work, every effort, every thought, and every meditation.  Things become as they were the first time we experienced them, free from fear-drenched distortions.  We're cutting some new ground in this spirit around here.  We're trying new church-wide programs and new small groups, pushing the vernacular.  We're becoming less risk averse in worship in hopes of stumbling upon a more faithful way.  While I seek to remain faithful in my role of constantly pointing towards the spiritual dimensions of this challenge, I am confident that our Session and committees, alongside presbytery, will work diligently and creatively towards meeting this challenge.

There is hope in that weekly giving seems to be up a bit.  There is hope in the hard and faithful work of your staff to exhort the congregation to dream and in their particular God-ordained ways of plowing those God-given dreams into the soil of New Kirk Presbyterian life.  Trips and conferences that seemed impossible for our youth just months ago now have become realities, thanks to those willing to face and meet this challenge head-on.  There is hope in the way this church continues to offer help to the suffering in our community and beyond.

There is an ultimate hope, though.  It comes as we awaken to life lived amid each step.  We discover that there's only the step we're currently taking; so, we take that step fearlessly, willing to both succeed and to fail, unattached to direction or results, and open to the fullness of Christ-promised life in the way, truth, and living we discover in him.

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