Every month, one of our pastors writes an article for the congregation as part of our newsletter entitled The Advance. Below is the article from the June/July 2015 issue.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith… Hebrews 12:1-2
Where do we go from here? Where should anyone go from one point in time to the next? To be faithful we must look beyond ourselves for wisdom. “Look to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter.”
I want to bring all Advance readers up to speed with the news, which is the proverbial “elephant in the room” that is the backdrop of this column. On May 13 a congregational meeting was called by a group of concerned members to consider a motion to terminate my call as your Senior Minister.
Contact the office if you need the stated reasons for their motion, but for now I offer my interpretation of their underlying concern: the continued vitality of our 146 year-old fellowship. Membership has steadily dwindled, and the support from numbers of volunteers to levels of contribution don’t appear robust enough for survival, according to these thirteen signers. The well-attended meeting concluded with a vote to reaffirm my call to serve you with 85% of the vote. I believe I speak for Judy and Sarah, when I say that I am grateful for the support I have felt before, during and after the vote.
I will not try to minimize how hard this was on all of us, but we believe this is a strong enough affirmation to keep me from thinking about moving on. We look forward to our continued ministry in your midst.
Nevertheless the concern that these members raised should be taken seriously. Indeed we have experienced continuing decline in membership. A recent study by the Pew Research Center shows that adult participation in so-called mainline denominations has fallen from 18.1% in 2007 to 14.7% in 2015.* We are certainly not alone in losing membership, though that truth is hardly consoling.
The debate that ensued at that congregational meeting was characterized as a problem of the “pulpit” or the “pews,” that is, is the pastor or are the parishioners “the problem”? But finger pointing, I suggest, won’t do us much good.
I ask us all to focus less on identifying our situation as a problem and more on who we are supposed to be as a church. I ask us, instead of pointing fingers, to consider where we go from here in faith. Our recent exploration into our strengths may well give us the right guidance as we press on to an uncertain future.
There is much that we all should learn about living in our present and projecting into the future. I certainly know that I have much to consider in light of this personal and professional challenge, and I believe we are already engaged in something that will help us through this hard time. “Appreciative Inquiry” holds much promise in this area. Also, our Moderator, Brian Place, and I have been in contact with Michigan Conference to explore other church vitality resources.
One other “must” comes to mind. Regardless of how you voted or the “side” you took on the motion of May 13, we MUST reaffirm our oneness as a congregation and faith family. The vote was taken, and we must accept the outcome and move on. Let us set aside any bitterness that may have resulted and “...run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” Note that by “us” the writer of the letter to the Hebrews proclaims that this is a team effort and not a competition between individuals.
God hasn’t terminated anyone’s call! Furthermore, God affirms each and every one of us. I fear that as a backlash of this meeting, some will no longer feel welcome or wish to participate in the “race” to follow Jesus at Second Church. This should give all of us cause for regret. I pray that the number of those who lose heart with us approaches zero. That means we have to leave the past behind and move forward.
Toward that end I invite you to read the articles by Brian Place and by me on the next page (p. 3). Let there be forgiveness, reconciliation, acceptance, all those things we should embody as followers of our pioneer and perfecter of faith.
*The following link will connect you to the cited study.