What is Needful?

TMC Digging A Deeper Well

We can only imagine the items on your church board’s agenda as you head into June. If/when/how to open the building and for what purposes. If opening, how to establish new cleaning and seating and singing and greeting protocols. Which programs to postpone, and which programs to start or end.  How to assess finances and create a budget through the rest of the year—and how to talk to the congregation about the state of those finances.  To say nothing of staying in touch with the most frail and vulnerable in your congregation who need the church’s attention.  So much to do, and so little Zoom time or energy.

We list all these items only so we can now say: none of them should be at the top of your agenda for your next board meeting.   Whatever your social location—but unequivocally, if your church board is mostly white—the most recent poignant and painful examples of racial inequity and injustice in this country are crying out for your board’s serious, faithful, humble, and prayerful attention.

In the very middle of Mark’s gospel, it says:  “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”  In that spirit:  what will it gain any congregation to re-open and resume and turn away from the very society to which we are called to preach, teach, care, and heal?  The way forward for churches in our culture will follow a theological path.  That is usually not the sweet spot for board conversations.  It is urgently needed now.  The way forward now is theological.

So, here are a couple of items that your board might use to move closer to what is needful now.

First, a passage from the theologian Elton Trueblood, courtesy of Plough. In the middle of the last century, this Quaker writer and theologian wrote:

The church is never true to itself when it is living for itself, for if it is chiefly concerned with saving its own life, it will lose it. The nature of the church is such that it must always be engaged in finding new ways by which to transcend itself. Its main responsibility is always outside its own walls in the redemption of common life. That is why we call it a redemptive society. There are many kinds of religion, but redemptive religion, from the Christian point of view, is always that in which we are spent on those areas of existence that are located beyond ourselves and our own borders.

Second, a poem from Ross Gay, courtesy of the daily podcast/email The Slowdown.

A Small Needful Fact

by Ross Gay

Is that Eric Garner worked

for some time for the Parks and Rec.

Horticultural Department, which means,

perhaps, that with his very large hands,

perhaps, in all likelihood,

he put gently into the earth

some plants which, most likely,

some of them, in all likelihood,

continue to grow, continue

to do what such plants do, like house

and feed small and necessary creatures,

like being pleasant to touch and smell,

like converting sunlight

into food, like making it easier

for us to breathe.

Introducing Gay’s poem in her email to ‘Slowdown’ subscribers, Tracy K. Smith wrote:

(This) poem leaps to envision Eric Garner’s life before he was the victim of police brutality. It reminds us of a job Garner once held. And it speculates about something small and beautiful, like working the earth, that he may once have done.

In this way, the poem’s behavior is in direct opposition to the behavior of the officers responsible for Garner’s death, people who saw a black man and treated him as inconsequential, up to no good, likely to start trouble, and unworthy of compassion. Gay’s poem, on the other hand, speculates about the good Garner did, and the gifts he continues to give the world.

  • How does Gay’s poem invite us to see Eric Garner’s life and legacy?
  • How will your next meeting agenda invite your board to see your church’s life and legacy?
  • What does Trueblood mean when he says that “the nature of the church is such that it must always be engaged in finding new ways by which to transcend itself?” How is self-transcendence essential to the church’s very nature?
  • What does self-transcendence mean for your congregation in this time?
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