She talked about Christian community and asked us to consider ourselves a sacred community where none of us is perfect. We should not give up on people who have stepped away, we should not give up on ourselves. We should not “natter”, which is that speech which does not uplift. Nattering kills a church. We will be best served when we talk about things openly, when we hold each other up, and when we don’t take it personally when someone else doesn’t agree with us.
First, Diane’s departure. Sue asks us to talk with each other about whatever lingers, whatever hurts, whatever still makes us angry, whatever needs to be finished, so we can then move on with health. It does no good to bury those feelings, as they will come back in harmful ways. Don’t let the bad feelings fester. Sue repeated the idea that Diane may have been called by God to only serve us for a short time, to do whatever it was that God called her to do. Maybe the parting is harder than we would have liked, but it may turn out to be exactly what we needed. God’s will will come forth in its time.
Second, Interim Minister – we must begin writing up a “small” or “mini” interim profile. This is the work for the coming days. Don’t leave out the negative things we may be doing or feeling or going through. The clearer we are on who we are, the better chance that we will get the right person for us. We will be an appealing church because of our location, but the clearer we are about us, the better off we will be.
Some of the finest pastors Sue has known have been LGBT, and she would ask us not to close off that opportunity without at least considering it very carefully. Our #1 job right now is to pull together as a community and to listen to one another. If that listening says, “This is not the right time,” that’s okay, but maybe the listening says, “Maybe it is the right time,” and we need to be open to that. This should be a consensus decision – “Through a voice of discerning and listening to one another, are we ready for this?” Votes with winners and losers divide us. Sue encourages us to continue conversations about who we are. We want to try to shape a sacred community.
Sue will be on the lookout for good candidates for our interim. We should not consider this a search process, but rather we should carefully consider whether the candidate meets our needs at this time. Our interim may be with us for a year or even two. We need to focus on building our sacred community, need to reflect on what has not worked well in our past so we can learn from it.
Steve asked about an “intentional interim” who has extra training. These are “professional interims”. They can sometimes be “awfully direct”, will tell us exactly how they see us, understand the process of “unpacking” the past. Sue does not know if she can even find us an intentional interim, and even if she can, not all pastors are alike, so a pastor with the “IIM” designation may still not be the right fit for us. But she will look for one. Sue recommends that we put our search committee conversation on hold until at least 2017 to give us time to do our internal work. God’s time is always a slower pace than our own. So we should not think about assembling a search committee until early 2017.
Sue understands that we have a lot of interest in building an inclusive church. In the UCC, we call that ONA – Open and Affirming. We would write our own definition of what that would look like for us. But the shorthand ONA means we are open to all people because we believe radically that God created people in all sorts of diversity. And we honor every aspect of God’s diversity. All of it. We not only honor it, but we affirm it. Here’s the distinction – Some churches say they are “Open and Welcoming”. It’s not the same. If you cannot affirm that a gay couple is gay by birth and not by choice, you’re not affirming who they are. When Sue was growing up, there were not many, if any, gay or lesbian people in her community, that she knew of. It wasn’t until she was in seminary that she came to know gay and lesbian people, and heard some of their horror stories. Sue says, if we are not including those people exactly where they are, then we are not affirming. ONA means we love them exactly where they are.
The process of being an ONA church is like this – we change the world by changing one heart at a time, and the task before us is of sacred community. We need to start understanding each other unconditionally. It takes not weeks, not months, but years. Talk first about sacred community, and recognize that we need to love all. All of God’s children are welcome. One fact we don’t want to get lost is that this is not just about LGBT – but it needs to be about everyone – race, sexual orientation, sex offenders, etc. So as we go into this process of talking about how we can be more welcoming and inclusive, we need to hold ourselves together, and engage in that sacred conversation together. If we encounter people who aren’t there yet, love them anyway, and tell them we love them, and stay in community. Love each other, stick together, be an inquisitive community. Take it slow. If we try to run before we can crawl, we will fall. Don’t fracture this church by trying to run too fast.
Typically Sue would want to see a pastor here before we did the ONA process. Moving too fast on the ONA process will put us in peril of losing people along the way. Sue usually suggests a church wait until it has a settled pastor to start the process. We have already started, but we need to go slow and be careful and be ready to back off if we start losing people or seeing “cracks”. We don’t get the harvest the first day. It takes months and months of work to create something that can be harvested. Some of us are ready to do this now, but it’s not our time that matters. We are already starting on a conversation. Sue would not have wanted us to start the conversation without an installed pastor. Go slow, is the message Sue keeps repeating. Typically Sue tells churches that in the period of time we are in now, holding the community together is the most important thing. God will create a time later to go into a faster pace. We need to love one another for who we are – even when we disagree. Go slow now so we can go fast later.
Perhaps after our lay sermons, have one or two people get up and speak about the sermon, particularly if they have a different view. We need to learn to talk about what is real. Don’t push so hard that we break our community. Helping people feel safe with what is real. Recognize that there are generational differences in how open people are willing or able to be. Different people have different barriers, born of different sources. Try to help people get past their barriers.
The Welcoming Committee has met twice, and the biggest thing they have talked about is bringing everybody together, getting to know people better. They have talked about getting to know people more before they get too far into the process, to help them see where to go. Sue felt that if you spent a year on that, you would well serve the process you are trying to put forward. If you spent a year doing that, and you got an interim on board who says “I think you can do this,” – and I will try to find you the best set of skills that I can, and if they tell you, “It’s too fast to do this this way,” I ask you to honor that. If you invest the time right now to do this well, you will have a vibrant church in ten years. If you run ahead and you end up fracturing the church, in ten years this will be a Walmart. We need to be thinking beyond our own scope of “what matters to me” but rather be looking ahead to generations ahead. In the tyranny of haste, we can lose what we are trying to build. Quality of community is what we need to build.
If we can create that spirit and energy of sacred community, we will have a vibrant church in ten years. God's time, not our time.
Excerpts provided by Steve Murtagh. Thanks Steve!