In his wise and insightful New York Times piece titled “The Unsettling Power of Easter,” Esau McCaulley recalls an Easter of his youth.
I grew up in the Southern Black church tradition, where Easter was the opportunity to don your best outfit. The yellow and red dresses and dark suits set against the Black and brown bodies of my church were a thing to behold. The hats of grandmothers and deacon’s wives jostled with one another for attention. The choir had its best music rehearsed and ready to go. Getting to sing the solo on Easter was like getting a prime spot at the Apollo.
I watched rather than participated in these festivities during most of my youth. I didn’t have the money or social standing to attract much attention. Then one year my mother cobbled together enough money to purchase a navy blue three-piece suit and a clip-on tie. Without my father around, neither she nor I could tie the real thing. I thought I had joined the elect when I showed up fresh and clean for Sunday service.
The feeling didn’t last long. During a song, a woman sitting next to me with one of the aforementioned hats got excited. Our tradition called it “catching the Holy Ghost.” In her ecstatic state, she kicked out, hit me in the leg, and ripped a hole in my brand-new pants.
McCaulley’s article goes on to make several profound theological points. But for church boards, that image of a Holy-Spirit kick ripping a hole in his brand-new pants deserves our lingering attention. In churches right now, congregations are working hard to cobble together their own brand-new suit of clothes. New protocols, new air filtration systems, new websites, and improved streaming, new gatherings, new programs, new outreach to the immediate neighborhood, new LED screens … church boards are feeling the call and the pressure to re-open and be fresh and new.
Holes are going to get kicked in those new things. Disruption of our plans happens all the time, making faithful adaptability a key skill for church boards. But how can you tell when the disruption is destructive and when disruption is the work of the Holy Spirit?
Please talk about the Holy Spirit in your church board meetings right now. Please try to describe to one another – and to your faith community – your (individual or collective) experience of how God’s Spirit has worked in your lives, both to comfort and to disrupt, both to mend and to kick holes wide open. When has the Spirit of the Living God caused you to change course, to stay the course, or to find your way back to your true path?
How can you tell if it is just a regrettable hole or the work of God? Pay attention to where the Spirit leads.
Growing up in Edinburgh, Scotland during the nineteenth century, author Robert Louis Stevenson was intrigued by the work of the city’s lamplighters, who went about with a ladder and a torch, setting street lights ablaze as night came on. One evening, as young Robert stood watching with fascination, his parents asked him, “Robert, what in the world are you looking at out there?” With great excitement he exclaimed, “Look at that person! He’s punching holes in the darkness!”
Holes can be disruptive, even destructive. They can also be the inbreaking of the presence of God. How does your church board discern the difference?
Near the close of McCaulley’s article, he sums up his reflections on the gospel accounts of Easter:
As we leave the tombs of quarantine, a return to normal would be a disaster unless we recognize that we are going back to a world desperately in need of healing. For me, the source of that healing is an empty tomb in Jerusalem. The work that Jesus left his followers to do includes showing compassion and forgiveness and contending for a just society. It involves the ever-present offer for all to begin again.
In what ways is your congregation putting on brand-new clothes right now? For what and for whom?
When can an act of disruption bring light? Can you think of such acts in the life of your congregation?
How can your congregation punch holes in the darkness in a world so in need of healing?
How can your church board lead your congregation to begin again?