This Week at Trinity, Beamsville
Friday, April 30, 2021
This week I registered for a course that starts in June. That’s not the most exciting news with which to open, but it seems worth noting. Called ‘Religion and the Spiritual Crisis: Ministry in a Secular Age’, it’s to be co-led by Andy Root and Tripp Fuller, which all but guarantees conversations both challenging and thought-provoking. The course graphic alone, with an upside-down cathedral, tells me I’m going to have lots to think about, again. The fact that Tripp Fuller invites us to spread the word with these words is also promising: “Nothing says friendship to a theology nerd like sending a message saying, “you are so smart and cool I want you to hang out on the internet with me.” He also signs off his welcome email with ‘Rock On’. I’ll do my best, Tripp. I’ll do my best.
Some will say the course title and content are old news, or at least news that’s been in play for a long time with varying degrees of acceptance. I agree. I think what propels me to this course is its timing during this predominantly online space in time. Especially now, spiritual crises are articulated in new forms with new ways to respond. There is always more to learn and do.
Ironically (or so it seemed to me), my course registration confirmation arrived about 20 minutes before another email in our home inbox: a note from a family in our settlement charge, just south of Woodstock. Settlement is a rather UCC churchy-term for a bygone system where the national church matched new ordinands with a faith community. For us, it was challenging, like a crash course seminary could never conjure, but it also brought enduring connections we treasure.
And so, you can imagine my sadness at learning yesterday that this beloved congregation has made the painful decision to close. They’ve survived generations of hardship and heartache, and a tornado that tore off the roof and left dents in the pulpit, but for reasons neither offered nor enquired, they have accepted this is the end of their congregational story, at least in that building. I can’t imagine the community without that church, but then my world revolved around it in ways quite foreign to many others. As I said to Clare, things change constantly, with or without my wanting. Their decision is brave, realistic, and honours the place of God and faith, far beyond a building.
With all that in mind, the fact that this Sunday’s theme is ‘Growing’ might prompt thoughts of church growth strategies. Nope. I just can’t go there right now. It’s not that I don’t value them, but I also resist the industry they have become, in ways that don’t always align with the Jesus I follow. What I embrace, and what I hope you’ll consider again with me, are the profound ways that we can grow together in our faith, with vulnerability, authenticity, and trust. In ways we all underestimate, there’s nothing so challenging, thought-provoking, and downright nurturing as the example of our life stories. They aren’t the panacea for congregational survival, with complicated circumstances beyond our control, but in sharing where we’ve been, what we’ve learned, and how we’ve grown along the Way, they are an exceptional means to be church together, for as long as we’re privileged to be here.
Rock On, my beloved friends. Rock On.
“When we hear someone else sing about the jagged edges of heartache or the unspeakable nature of grief, we immediately know we’re not the only ones in pain. The transformative power of art is in this sharing. Without connection or collective engagement, what we hear is simply a caged song of sorrow and despair; we find no liberation in it. It’s the sharing of art that whispers, “You’re not alone.”
(Brené Brown, ‘Braving the Wilderness’, 44-45)