What is New?

TMC Digging A Deeper Well

Late last spring (mere months into the pandemic, although it already felt like a lifetime in lockdown), Lake Institute on Faith & Giving asked its extensive network of religious and philanthropic leaders to look ahead a year. What did they hope would be happening with their organizations? 

In response, nearly 30 percent said they hoped to have achieved enough stability to survive organizationally and/or return to known patterns and continue their work. However, the majority emphasized that they were hoping for “some kind of lasting change—either a reset, significant growth, or meaningful innovation.” The crisis of 2020 had tapped into some deep well of longing for change, for a chance at reset, for something new.

As we enter February 2021 and round the corner toward a full year in pandemic mode, it might be time to remember those hopes and ask ourselves . . . “what is new?”

A significant number of congregations have either just had – or are about to hold – their annual congregational meeting.  The final statistics on a pandemic year of church are in:  attendance (pick the way you want to measure that), offerings, expenses.  And with that, budgets for 2021 are coming into focus, along with new officers, new worries, new plans.

Over against all this activity, “what is new?” is an important question.  We probably all have a different relationship with “new” than we did a year ago.

In the months since, we’ve felt “new” forced upon us.

Or, “new” has been avoided.

New has been feared.

New has been celebrated.

It has been resisted and welcomed, sometimes in the same week.

New has been built too slowly in some contexts, just as it has been slapped together too fast in others.

What is new has brought some congregations together while it has split others right down the middle.

If not before, now is certainly the time for church boards to come to terms – together – with what relationship you want to have with “new” for your congregation.

In her majestic poem for the 1993 Presidential Inauguration, “On the Pulse of Morning,” Maya Angelou asked a nation in transition the same question. (You may want to listen to it here, as you read.)


On the Pulse of Morning

Maya Angelou

A Rock, A River, A Tree

Hosts to species long since departed,

Marked the mastodon,

The dinosaur, who left dried tokens

Of their sojourn here

On our planet floor,

Any broad alarm of their hastening doom

Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.


But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,

Come, you may stand upon my

Back and face your distant destiny,

But seek no haven in my shadow.

I will give you no hiding place down here.


You, created only a little lower than

The angels, have crouched too long in

The bruising darkness

Have lain too long

Face down in ignorance.

Your mouths spilling words


Armed for slaughter.

The Rock cries out to us today, you may stand upon me,

But do not hide your face.


Across the wall of the world,

A River sings a beautiful song. It says,

Come, rest here by my side.


Each of you, a bordered country,

Delicate and strangely made proud,

Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.

Your armed struggles for profit

Have left collars of waste upon

My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.

Yet today I call you to my riverside,

If you will study war no more. Come,

Clad in peace, and I will sing the songs

The Creator gave to me when I and the

Tree and the rock were one.

Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your

Brow and when you yet knew you still

Knew nothing.

The River sang and sings on.


There is a true yearning to respond to

The singing River and the wise Rock.

So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew

The African, the Native American, the Sioux,

The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek

The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheik,

The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,

The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.

They hear. They all hear

The speaking of the Tree.


They hear the first and last of every Tree

Speak to humankind today. Come to me, here beside the River.

Plant yourself beside the River.


Each of you, descendant of some passed

On traveller, has been paid for.

You, who gave me my first name, you,

Pawnee, Apache, Seneca, you

Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then

Forced on bloody feet,

Left me to the employment of

Other seekers—desperate for gain,

Starving for gold.

You, the Turk, the Arab, the Swede, the German, the Eskimo, the Scot,

You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought,

Sold, stolen, arriving on the nightmare

Praying for a dream.

Here, root yourselves beside me.

I am that Tree planted by the River,

Which will not be moved.

I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree

I am yours—your passages have been paid.

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need

For this bright morning dawning for you.

History, despite its wrenching pain

Cannot be unlived, but if faced

With courage, need not be lived again.


Lift up your eyes upon

This day breaking for you.

Give birth again

To the dream.


Women, children, men,

Take it into the palms of your hands,

Mold it into the shape of your most

Private need. Sculpt it into

The image of your most public self.

Lift up your hearts

Each new hour holds new chances

For a new beginning.

Do not be wedded forever

To fear, yoked eternally

To brutishness.


The horizon leans forward,

Offering you space to place new steps of change.

Here, on the pulse of this fine day

You may have the courage

To look up and out and upon me, the

Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.

No less to Midas than the mendicant.

No less to you now than the mastodon then.


Here, on the pulse of this new day

You may have the grace to look up and out

And into your sister’s eyes, and into

Your brother’s face, your country

And say simply

Very simply

With hope—

Good morning.



How does the tone of this poem make you feel about facing the present moment?


Why does Angelou have a Rock, a River, a Tree speak to us about a “new hour?”


What do the Rock, the River, and the Tree say? What stands out to you?


In what sense does this new hour “hold new chances” for your congregation?


What work are you doing as a church board that says (simply, very simply) “good morning?”


To whom is your “good morning” addressed?

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