Looking Ahead to 2018
I’ve been your pastor for almost exactly a whole year now, and the time has disappeared like the Winter’s ice melting in the Spring. I can’t tell you how glad I am to be at Trinity and how honored I am each day to be your pastor. The last year has seen us lose several members to the Church Triumphant and distance, as well as to welcome some new and returning friends and members. I can’t thank everyone adequately, and I’m deathly afraid of forgetting someone. So for now, please accept my deepest thanks for everything you contribute to our community at Trinity and beyond through the work of your hands, your spirit, and your soul.
In the following report, I want to look ahead to the year to come. As I sit in our old choir loft in the sanctuary typing this report, I am reminded of the beauty of our sanctuary as well as the age of our buildings. I pulled out the vacuum and took down some cobwebs and cleared some clutter up here. Sitting up here gives me a chance to see our holy space from another perspective, and that is the perspective that I hope to bring in the year to come as we listen for God’s leading, reach out to and for community beyond our walls, manage our resources wisely, and embrace the next leg of our journey intentionally, come what may. Because God’s hand is leading us and God’s love is supporting us.
Listening for God’s Leading: Prayer and Silence
God calls people, and God calls entire communities. You called me a year ago to be your pastor, and now we must, together, listen more carefully for God’s calling for Trinity.
It may seem like taking time to pray is like lying down to take a nap when the housework (or annual reports!) need to get done. But prayer is just this: creating space for God to speak. As a child, I would expect God to hear and answer my prayers, and their success would depend on whether or not God answered them in exactly the way I wanted. And did that ever happen?
Reaching Out for/to Community
No matter how wonderful any community is, including this community of Trinity, all communities need interchange with others in the wider community and world, interchange that brings new people, new ideas, and new opportunities to share of ourselves.
In the next year, you may see less of me at Trinity. I need to get out in the community more, and I need your help in helping me determine whom I should meet, who you want to have learn about Trinity, and how we will together come to know about the lives and ideas of those who will help us listen, see, and hear, the needs of our community. Park Forest has changed, and Trinity has stayed mostly as it was. We need to reach out to the community as much for our own health as for the health of the community. And I need you to hold me accountable for having those conversations outside our own walls as I will help to hold you accountable as well, because we cannot do this alone.
We will also collectively look into how we can grow our social profile electronically. I have been looking into some resources, both written and human, that can help us in this direction. I am not an expert at social media, but it is a reality of the 21st century that we need to embrace. I will help you if you have no experience or if you were an early adopter, and I need your feedback as well. Let’s think together how we can do this.
I will travel to Houston in about a month to learn the skills of a redevelopment pastor. My conviction is that redevelopment of a congregation is best conducted through developing a new life on the foundation of an existing congregation.
Trinity is generous financially. You must be if you can still support a full-time pastor on only 100 members; Trinity had nearly 1400 members at its peak, but never had more than 2 pastors. We have many financial needs that await us, particularly finding a more sustainable solution to accessibility than our Elevette. I feel putting more money into our Elevette after this year is throwing good money after bad. And however we spend money together as a congregation, I want us to be able to say that it was money well-spent.
Embracing the Future Intentionality
Trinity, we are aging. And yet we are alive. I don’t think God is done with our ministry yet, and neither do you. I can point you in the direction of being able to stay open for the next 15 years even if our congregation continues to lose members to death and distance; that would involve some pretty drastic cuts. Or I can help lead us into a leap of faith that may result in a stunning final chapter of ministry, one that might go on for three years of for three decades or more. Because I have seen how God can surprise a person, and God can surprise an entire community.
Whatever direction we decide to which God is calling us at Trinity, I want us to enter into that direction intentionally. I want us to embrace the future that we will have, that we will shape, that we will spend our energy and money and prayer creating, just as we would embrace each other in the hardest and most joyful times. Because these are just those times!
In closing, I can’t tell you where we will be come this time next year. I cannot promise substantial growth. I cannot even promise that we will all still be here. As the Psalmist says, “Our times are in your hands, O God,” and ultimately, that is where we put our trust and faith, in the hands of a loving God, who births us and takes us at our deaths, who wakes us in the morning and walks with us through the day, who watches over us by night and never slumbers nor sleeps.
Trinity, YOU are needed. You may not feel as sprightly as in years past. Our buildings may not have the fresh, glossy sheen of brand new builds. We may not have a thriving preschool or 500 kids in Sunday School. We’re going to have to take some risks to allow ourselves to be known and get to know new people, and that might not result in new members.
But this is what “freedom in Christ” means: No matter what becomes of us and our community and our buildings, the Church will survive, God will be worshiped and glorified, and we will remain safely in God’s keeping.
Maybe, maybe there is a song on a distant shore that is singing just for us in this time and place, a song that God deeply desires us to sing for the rest of a lost and burdened people. Listen for those chords, remind each other of the words, and keep open to the great, crazy wind of the Holy Spirit blowing through our house of worship. Emmanuel has come to us. God is with us. And now we must make sure everyone within our universe of contact knows that truth, and knows that we know it, and that we will not let our village, our state, our country, or our world go without knowing that Jesus is with us.