31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
August 19, 2018
1 Kings 2:1-4, 2:10-12
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Change is coming….to the Connecticut Conference of the United Church of Christ. Last June 16th, at the Mass Mutual Center in Springfield, the delegates of the Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island conferences voted to become a new conference. An as yet unnamed new conference.
Before the vote, there were lots of positive statements about why the three Boards of Directors were recommending this step, about how together we can be bold witnesses to Christ’s love, agents of God’s change in the world. There were testimonies about how coming together, as one, would help all of our churches.
It was all very inspiring, and at the same time, this little voice in my head was saying ‘I hear them saying “new conference” but it sounds like “merger”. ‘I hear them saying boldly moving forward but it feels more like down-sizing.’ And I wondered, would we need this change, this new conference if our churches had enough people, enough money?
For more than two decades, I have been hearing people give their reasons why our churches do not have enough people, enough money. Usually, people blame youth sports. Having just spent the last seven Sundays going where people who do not go to worship go on Sunday mornings, I can tell you that not everyone is at a soccer or baseball field.
From my very “scientific” study, I can tell you that people are just out. They are at the sports’ fields, and they are also at Target. They are at the gym, the movies, and out to breakfast. They are stopping through Starbucks on the way to the beach, a hike, or to hang out at home. They are grocery shopping and getting their errands done. People are simply out and about living their lives, just as they are every other morning of the week.
This change in our society has created change for our congregation, for our conference, for the entire Church of Jesus Christ, and those changes feel painful. It feels like we have failed in some way; however we have not failed. There is nothing we could have done to have stopped this change. Change is coming to the Church because it is time. Change is coming because it is time.
In her book, The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why, Phyllis Tickle quotes the Right Reverend Mark Dyer, an Anglican bishop, writing, “every five hundred years the Church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale. And… we are living in and through one of those five-hundred-year sales [right now].” (Tickle, 16)
Tickle details how around the year 500, 1000, and 1500, Christians looked at the Church and found that the institution needed to be essentially shattered “that renewal and new growth [could] occur.” (Tickle, 16)
The good news is that each of these reformations led to a “new, more vital form of Christianity” and that Christianity spread dramatically, both demographically and geographically. (Tickle, 17)
For those who studied the Great Reformation in school, you will remember that it created Protestantism and it’s many forms and churches and that Christianity became more vibrant and spread.
This reformation time we are in, this time of the Great Emergence, has been going on for 150 years already, and it did not start with youth sports. The car is actually more to blame for people not attending worship than any activity that happens on Sunday morning, because the car gave people the ability to easily leave their communities and thus their local churches on Sunday mornings, to make a choice other than grandma’s house for dinner on Sunday afternoon.
Our current reformation began long before the automobile though. It began with Darwin and Faraday, with Freud, Jung, and Campbell and all the other scientists that questioned the foundation on which Christianity currently stands – just as the “Reformers” Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Zwingli questioned the foundation on which Christianity stood in their time.
It isn’t good. It isn’t bad. It just is. Every 500 years, the church has a giant rummage sale, and things change. God’s Holy Spirit blows through the church and some traditions and ways of being Christian get carried out the door, and new traditions and ways of being Christian take their place. It isn’t good. It isn’t bad. It just is.
But we don’t like change. Change makes us anxious. Even good change, even holy, willed by God change, makes us anxious. We see change as failure. We resist change at all costs.
For one hundred and fifty years, we have been going through a time of reformation, renewal, and transformation – and according to Tickle, we have a hundred more years to go. One hundred years before it all shakes out, and this new more vital and vibrant form of Christianity is established and shared. Which means that for every single one of us, the Church will be in transition for the entirety of our lives.
Did I just raise your blood pressure? Then take a deep breath of the Spirit and also hear this. We are not the first of God’s people to live through a time of transition. In 1 Kings, we heard about King David handing over his throne to his son, Solomon. The end of one era and the beginning of another.
It sounded pretty neat and orderly. “I am about to go the way of the earth. Be strong, be courageous, and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes….so that you may prosper in all that you do.” (1 Kings 2:2-3) “So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David; and his kingdom was firmly established.” (2:12)
Sounds like an easy change, a smooth transition, if you discount that Solomon was not David and would naturally do things differently. If you discount that despite being wise, Solomon would make mistakes throughout his reign. And if you ignore that two of David’s sons, Solomon’s brothers, had already tried to usurp the throne.
Transition, change is never easy for anyone at anytime; however God is always with us. God’s Spirit is always leading us, and calling us to make “the most of the time” or as it is written in other translations of this Ephesians passage, to make ‘the most of every chance we get, the most of every opportunity.’ (Ephesians 5:15, NIV & The Message)
We can resist changes in life, resist changes in the church, or we can be filled with the Spirit. We can drink deep breaths of the Holy Spirit and make the most of every opportunity God blesses us with, seeing life as not only filled, but crowded with the blessings of God.
Before I went to the Tri-Conference meeting in June, I was not totally sold on the idea of a new conference. I was open to it because I trust my brothers and sisters in the Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts conferences, but as I said, it felt like merging to me, down-sizing, maybe even rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
Is this new conference going to save the church? No one knows and probably won’t for a hundred years. What I do know, what I became convinced of, is that this new conference feels like an opportunity, an opportunity to breath deeply of the Holy Spirit and listen carefully for the will of God.
This new, as of yet unnamed, conference is calling all of us, churches and Christians, to not focus inward on more people, more money, and instead to focus outward on more acts of love, on being agents of God’s change in the world.
To not be trapped in institutional patterns of what the church has always looked like, and instead be open to the new ways God is calling us to be in Christian community.
To expand our vision of what a ministry partner looks like beyond the traditional church sanctioned groups to anyone and everyone who also wants to transform our world into a place of peace and justice for all.
This new, as of yet unnamed, conference is calling us to walk faithfully with God, listen to God’s still speaking voice, be open to God’s ever moving Spirit, and make the most of every opportunity to share God’s unconditional love, as made known to us in Jesus Christ.
And we will do it – together with God, together with each other, together as one.