Writing in this space in 2018, we took a remarkably calm and measured tone:
A congregation of any size has within it those who do not agree with one another socially, politically, theologically. What does belonging to one another in a church mean when the headlines of the day are serving to confirm, agitate, delight, and divide? How can you build community and nurture trust not only in your worship but in your board meeting?
Oh, what a difference four years makes! Congregational fights have ballooned, and many churches have resolved these fights by making sure that the people who don’t agree with them (including pastors) leave. The healthy congregational mix of social, political, and theological viewpoints we imagined is evaporating at a rapid pace.
This only makes the task of building community and nurturing trust more difficult—and more urgent. As we wrote last week:
Someone – or some group – needs to step into this harsh landscape of division and model a different, healing way forward. At our best, faith communities are well-equipped for this hard task. … If the church of Jesus Christ is not one of the agents in our society right now to help actively heal our torn social fabric, why not? And who would we suggest instead?
The message remains the same. Churches need to step up and actively heal our torn social fabric.
This seems like a Mt. Everest challenge for churches in our society. So, how about if we start with smaller, more achievable steps? Most everything in life requires practice. Practice builds capacity. Capacity can fuel growth. Few, if any of us, come naturally to the work of careful listening, vulnerable sharing, and choosing growth over needing to be right. Consider this as the beginning of a practice regimen.
One step in the practice regimen is to start each church board meeting by reading and talking together about a short and complex text that opens up underlying questions that matter for the life of the church in the world.
Why short? So that you can read it together on the spot. This levels the playing field for discussion, allowing all to participate, not just the virtuous college-educated few who love to do their assigned reading in advance.
Why complex? So that you can encourage different viewpoints in the discussion. A good reading exceeds the understanding of any one person in the room. Whatever you look at together (a poem, a paragraph, a news piece, a scripture passage), ask questions that allow your church board members to see it differently, to disagree on the meaning, and to go forward together. We need more practice at reading reality differently and remaining in the room. This is true everywhere in our common life, but in the context of your church board role, this is an urgent responsibility for you to consider.
Our goal in writing Digging a Deeper Well is to offer resources for this kind of board discussion and reflection. We leave you, today, with two more.
First, from Kim Stafford (b. 1949), poet laureate of Oregon:
by Kim Stafford
At the dinner table, before the thrown
plate, but after the bitter claim,
in that one beat of silence
before the parents declare war
their child, who until now had been
invisible, but who had learned in school
a catechism, speaks: “Would you like me
to help solve the conflict?” Silence.
They can’t look at each other. A glance
would sear the soul. A wall of fire plots
this Maginot line across the butter plate
splits salt from pepper, him from her.
So their child speaks: “Three rules, then:
One—you have to let each other finish.
Two—you have to tell the truth. Three—
you have to want to solve the conflict.
If you say yes, we will solve it.
I love you. What do you say?”
And, from the gospel of John:
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another just as I have loved you. You also must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35).
Jesus didn’t say this so that, 2000 years later, it could appear on a church poster. The night before his crucifixion, he commanded his disciples to love one another. Precisely because he knew it was so hard to do, it had to be one of the very last things he reminded them to do.
Love one another. We have to start somewhere. What do you say?
Why is the child in Stafford’s poem ‘invisible’ at first?
What is the most important thing that the child says or does?
Where is the Maginot Line in your community right now?
What mediators are invisible but available in the life of your congregation?
What is the most important thing that Jesus says or does in John 13?