Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Chasing Tales

I had lunch today with a group of Presbyterian clergy colleagues. It's a group of good folks that gets together once a month, and I always enjoy breaking bread with them. Today the gathering included three retired pastors and four of us still "laboring in the vineyards." We tend to be more liberal than conservative, but we do come from a different points on the theological spectrum and have a fairly broad variety of church experience.
Still, we can be counted on to wind up most months talking about the crisis of the church in our time. To be sure, we don't usually talk about it in all caps: The Crisis of the Church In Our Time. It's usually more shop talk: combining two worship services for the summer in one congregation; replacing a long-time church musician in another; a sabbatical plan of one colleague; another colleague moving on to a new call.
But in all of those stories the context of crisis bubbles up, and every tale of church life becomes, at some point, a tale about what church is these days and what it isn't.
I'd love to lie and say that we have come up with answers to those questions, but we simply part with hugs and best wishes and head back to our posts to keep on doing what we do.
For me, this afternoon, it's putting the finishing touches on the annual stewardship mailing to the congregation I serve, and then heading off to a Presbytery meeting.
The letter will say, among a lot of other stuff, that the way we spend our time is, of course, the way we spend our lives. But more to the point, the way we spend our money is the way make judgments about what is and is not important in those lives.
I spend so much of my time tending to the institution of the church. I suppose it is indisputably the case that for the past 15 years or so that is the way I have spent my life. Outside of the care and feeding of our children, and the housing of us all, the church has also been the chief beneficiary of our spending, as well.
I wonder about these choices all the time, and never more so than following conversations about the crisis of the church in our time, my time. I told the congregation at Clarendon a few weeks ago that I do not want to spend my time writing funeral dirges for a dying church. I did not mean this congregation, but rather the entire enterprise of church in North America.
Nevertheless, when I look at my calendar and my check ledger it's clear that I cannot tell my own story apart from the story of the church.
None of this is the least bit surprising considering my vocation, but it does mean that I only really have access to the insider's point of view. Crises require more than that limited perspective. And while good church stories are required, they are not enough for the day.
But that's all I'm going to get today, because now it's time to go to that Presbytery meeting. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. What's yours?