Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What Do We Sing When the World Changes Around Us? (Dialogue Column 9.23.08)

The Dialogue is the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Joseph, MO. Often, I'll post here on the blog my columns for the weekly newsletter. I mention it just so that folks who read the snail-mail version can skip this post if they've already read it.

First Christian Church is changing. Change can be a frightening thing, especially when it occurs in something that means so much to us like our church. Although we know change is inevitable, we can choose to resist and deny it or we can faithfully embrace the positive aspects of change, even though that may involve loss.

In the last ten days, we have seen evidence of dramatic change in our congregation. On the one hand, Merle Gardner, a long-time member of First Christian, died last week. Those who have come to First Christian in recent years may not have known Merle. He and his wife Virginia moved to Michigan a few years ago to be closer to family as their health declined, yet for decades Merle was a faithful presence on Sundays and in most aspects of church life. On the other hand, we have had three new members join over the last few Sundays: Jason and Stacey Park along with their children and Nancy Ingram. The three of them have family connections at First Christian, but they have been involved in other churches as adults. As life circumstances changed for them, they were each looking for a new church and fortunately for us, they found First Christian.

In the foreseeable future at First Christian, we will continue to experience similar changes. We will continue to feel the grief that comes when long-time faithful church members must step back from volunteer positions and leadership roles due to health concerns and when other long-time members journey from this life into the next one. We will continue to welcome new members and seek to help them be involved and connected in the life of our church. Some of the new faces will be known to us as family and friends of current members. Other new faces will be strangers who find our church through our marketing campaign or by the movement of the Spirit. Change can be disorienting in a church our size.

If you are like me, when you contemplate the changes happening in your life, you can’t help but hum a few bars to a song. For some in our church who grew up singing “Que Sera, Sera” with Doris Day, decades of experience have taught them that although “the future is not ours to see” you can still do your best to prepare faithfully for it. Others grew up singing along with Sam Cooke “A Change is Gonna Come” or Dylan “Times They are a’Changin’” and have seen dramatic changes in their lifetime even as they wonder why some things have remained the same. Some heard David Bowie and Yes each sing about “Changes” and have accepted the ebb and flow of life. People of my generation gave in to the cynicism of U2’s words “Nothing changes on New Year’s Day” but still wonder if they can believe Rage Against the Machine’s declaration that “Everything can change on a New Year’s Day.” Those who are younger have heard Garth Brooks’ song “The Change” sung by the crooners on American Idol and seem to believe that although they may not change the world, they still can make a difference. Each of us sings our own song in response to the changes in ourselves, our world and yes, our church.

One of the reasons we gather as a community each week, however, is to sing the words of the Doxology which declares that all creation offers praise to God. This praise is due, among many other reasons, to our shared belief that God’s love remains constant in the midst of this changing world—and yes, even when our church changes. Our praises to God are offered as a commitment to do our best to faithfully serve this loving God, just as members of First Christian have done during the changes of the last 160+ years.

This commitment offered in song each week means that our church needs its older members to offer their wisdom, support and blessing as we seek to walk into the uncertain future. It means that we need our members of middle age to step up and take on the responsibilities of stewardship and leadership that have been passed on to them. It means that new members must jump in with both feet to share their gifts and talents, because unlike at a larger church, there is no reserve of members waiting in the wings to help out.

Changes are all around us and within us, but our song of praise each Sunday declares that God is with us in the midst of it. Together we must raise our voices as a community of faith as we face the joys and griefs of change at First Christian. The stakes are too high to do otherwise. Too many people stand confused and overwhelmed by the changes in their lives. They need what God has to offer them through First Christian. We must not keep our song to ourselves.

Grace and Peace,


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