Empty Church

GA is coming, that’s Presbyterian Speak for our large governmental gathering “General Assembly” where we discuss worrying things like Our Investments (or not) in Israel, How important gay issues really are (or aren’t), and……the fact that there are no young people in the church. Debate will ensue about most of these issues, except the last one. There is no governmental amendment to magically change the demographics of the church

There will be lots of worrying about the drop in membership, the drop in money and the drop in young people in the church.

People will ask where have the people gone? They will also ask why people won’t represent (Particularly the lay people), they will ask where the children are….and they will worry…

However, I do believe that at most churches, Presbyteries and even on the GA floor the wrong question is being asked. The question that really asked isn’t Where are all the people.

The worry IS about the emptiness.

But I think the question people are really asking are not “Where have all the people gone?” but rather “Where has Jesus gone?”

Because, if Jesus was in church, then wouldn’t the people be in church? If Jesus was here, wouldn’t people flock to us and what we are doing?

Here I have to confess: I believe Jesus is in the church!

But I also believe Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit is already at work in the world. I believe that church doesn’t hold a monopoly on God (our God is bigger than that)

and I believe that the emptiness the church is feeling is real and is scary….I also believe we have felt it before, when Jesus died on the cross, when the tomb was empty, when Jesus Ascended, when the church was scattering across Africa, etc. etc.

The church is empty, but what can we theologically learn from that emptiness

Maybe Jesus will find us in our church and ask us….

You are afraid of the emptiness? Look at what God did with an empty tomb!

 

(and p.s. if you want more families to be present I highly recommend BABYSITTING and FAMILY FRIENDLY accommodations as a start, it isn’t an amendment that will bring families flocking in, but it is a way to serve those who are already present–this should not be an uphill battle folks, it should be a given)

Family Church

I went to General Assembly in 2012 as an observer…which meant, literally that I was there with absolutely no ulterior motives, I just wanted to see how things worked. My husband, my three children and my mother came with me. Luckily, my husband had friends in Pittsburgh, where it was, so he was interested in seeing them. Luckily, my mom is a Presbyterian Pastor so she was interested. Luckily my youngest was an infant so he could easily tag along with me. Luckily, I could go.

But it was a hassle, and there I was a young pastor burning with the call to do things–and I couldn’t find the young/contemporary people.

And, I want young people to go to church–maybe, perhaps, even more than my elders do. I want young people to come not just because they are the “future of the church” not because “we need them” or even “the church is dying” but because I am young, and I feel alone. I want my peers to be into what I’m into, I want friends and partners who understand what it is to be fulltime working, raising children, on all the media and a millennial…it hurts, it hurts because its tempting to take the weight of an entire generations’ conversion on my shoulders (which is stupid because I don’t convert people, Jesus does, but I’m only human, so I slip), one night I cried all over my best friend’s shoulder because it just felt so overwhelmed and sad and alone

There are a few gaps that I see that I think that are obvious to me that do not seem to be a part of the conversation in the greater church.

Churches are NOT family accessible:

I could write the laundry list of why, but lets just say…most timing is very inconvenient and children are NOT included in most of church life…they are either tucked away somewhere else or ignored.

and there is never any babysitting…there certainly wasn’t any at GA….and then they wonder why young families aren’t coming.

This is all to say that I am going to the NextChurch conference next week, and no I am not bringing my children, but there is BABYSITTING. This alone makes me know that nextchurch is on the right track.

“We WILL have childcare available for the National NEXT Gathering. Childcare will run from 8:30a-5:30p on Monday and Tuesday and 8:30a-12:30p on Wednesday. Childcare will be located at the Hilton, the conference hotel. We’re outfitting a playroom there. It will be staffed by fully vetted childcare providers through the service College Nannies. The fee for childcare is $75 per child for the whole conference. Please bring a check made out to Village Presbyterian Church, earmarked “NEXT Childcare.” If this cost is prohibitive, please be in touch with Jessica Tate (nextchurch2014@gmail.com) to discuss options.”

LOL Pastor

I have been an LOL person before it was cool, before LOL was conceived (almost) I was living it out. If you have ever been to one of my services, be warned, LOL will happen. In fact I am very likely to LOL at myself (and if you don’t know what LOL please google it immediately)Image

Now here is the interesting thing, my willingness to laugh has gotten me into a lot of trouble. (For why I laugh please read https://katyandtheword.wordpress.com/2012/05/16/pastor-with-a-sense-of-humor/)

a. People think I’m an airhead (I think this has to do with me being female). People assume because I laugh, I don’t care, when actually its the opposite. I laugh because I do care. I tend to take life very seriously. And when I say seriously, I don’t mean in a holier-than-thou or everything-is-sacred kind of way I mean the, life-is-God’s-gift, We-only-get-one-shot-at-it, so I pay attention way! I pay attention, so I don’t miss the happy moments. I pay attention because I have found that laughter is rare, and humor is a hard commodity to find. I pay attention because it is SO important to find Joy in life, and I don’t want any ounces of it that I can catch to slip through my fingers. Image

b. People think I devalue God, ministry, etc. by laughing. Last I check the Book of Order (the Presbyterian Constitution) says W-1.1000 i.e. the very, very, very first thing said about worship is “Christian   worship   joyfully   ascribes   all   praise   and   honor,   glory  and  power  to  the  triune God.” We are supposed to have fun, I don’t know why we forget that (p.s. when is having fun not holy?)

Plus-we are currently striving under Openness to be more open to joy (bet you didn’t even know that). In F-1.0404, our first Openness statement is “a  new  openness  to  the  sovereign  activity  of  God  in  the  Church  and  in  the  world,   to  a  more  radical  obedience  to  Christ,  and  to  a  more  joyous  celebration  in  worship  and  work;”

What does this mean? It means the more obedience we find, the closer we are to God, the more joyous our celebration has become. My most recent example of this is the Farmer’s Market, which most of us find “fun.” This doesn’t mean we aren’t working, to the contrary, it means we are doing the right kind of work.

Which brings me to the third problem I often encounter.

3. People think I don’t work hard enough. I seriously think because I enjoy my job, people think I’m not “working.” I have tried to give more voice to the work I am doing, but I have found it difficult to do this without gogguzomen (grumbling, muttering, complaining in Greek–I love that word, doesn’t it sound just like what it means?). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbhnRuJBHLs Anyway, so if I don’t complain like the rest of the world, I must not be doing my job properly, but in actuality I am obsessed with my job. I am, in truth a workaholic, and it takes a lot for me to put down the reins and take the days/hours/minutes off that I need. However, it is hard for people to see this, because I love my job. I truly love my job. I love that when I do well I can laugh, I love that when I make mistakes I can laugh at myself, and I love how God turns everything upsidedown on me, so what I thought I was doing completely changes (rather like a King in a manger, Salvation on the cross, Great Epistles written by a tax collector), when these surprises come I like to laugh. It doesn’t mean I am taking things lightly. It just means that I am game for God’s jokes. I am ready to be surprised, I am ready to be happy, and I’m ready to find happiness, even in what seems like mistakes at the time. It doesn’t mean that I don’t internalize those mistakes, it doesn’t mean I don’t feel guilty, or work on them. What it means is that I am able to find the humor in things. I am able to understand that I don’t understand. I see the mystery in God’s face, and I laugh.

So I admit it. In the face of a faltering denomination tearing apart on issues of acceptance no less (talk about the ultimate irony!!!), despite a disappointing GA where the Youth/Younger people were ignored (even as people wondered how to get young people into the church), in a place where Vice Moderators are threatened and feel the need to step down (http://www.pcusa.org/news/2012/7/4/mccabe-resigns-vice-moderator-220th-ga/). Times seem to be tough. However, I refuse to give in. It is easier to pick-a-little and talk-a-little than to find the good. It is easier to dwell on the bad, and it is human to try to rip things apart rather than to laugh and move on together. So in light of all this….I’m going to continue to be a LOL pastor.

Psstt….Meet me at the well…..

Once when I was working as a Children’s Coordinator the pastor told me that I really needed to try to look bored more often….

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This was a great point in fact, because I love to be busy (I guess I’m in a good profession for that).

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The Pastor then told me the story of Jesus at the well. He told me to think about not only Jesus’ ministry of presence but also his ministry of waiting. There he was, waiting at the well, for someone who needed water to come….and thus a friendship was born.

Image4Now he had to go through Samaria.So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the townto buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”–John 4:

Hearing from the moderator today, he noted that he is making a point to be present (either himself or the vice moderator) at the committee meetings…a strong choice for presence, and one that echoed the hard questions given to him on the floor.

It took four votes to elect our moderator (the youth/seminary advisory board loved him). There seemed to be some dispute because he is abiding by the letter of the law regarding gay marriage, meanwhile his running mate signed a marriage license in her state during their campaign.His response to this was that he wasn’t going to put aside 10 years of friendship over a difference of opinion. i.e. part of being friends means being present for one another–choosing to be present even when our choices differ.

During the Hymn Sing at GA we sang “Go to the World” the final verse is

“Go into the world! Go as the ones I send, for I am with you ’til the age shall end, When all the hosts of glory cry Amen!”

What a friend we have in Jesus, who promises to be present no matter what we do.

So here I am, present at GA. On the one hand I’m not “Doing” much, I have little to no agenda about the meetings, and have not been commissioned, chosen or asked to do anything.

On the other hand, I am here, I am present. I am witnessing the work we are doing, praying for all of us who are doing it, and keeping my eyes and ears open for the Holy Spirit. I have waited, hoped, and possibly even made some new friends

Guess I made it to the well Pastor Kevin! (at least for GA)Image

 

Shannon A Thompson

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