Re-Firing the Vision

On his November 29 (2012) blog posting, UCC Moderator Gary Paterson wrote about his worship participation and leadership at the St. Giles anniversary service on Nov 18. He talks about Centenary and First-Pilgrim and St. Giles— encourages us to plant something new!

Here is a link to his post: re-firing-the-vision. There are some interesting comments. The text of his post is reproduced below:

As Moderator, I receive dozens of invitations to preach at church anniversary services all over the country, and I would like to be able to say “Yes!” to all of them, but can’t.

Anniversaries are important, a hinge moment in time, when we are invited to look backwards into our past, affirm, be thankful, learn—and then to look forward, leaning into a new future that will be shaped by what we bring from the past but that will also be completely different, and to do so with a mixture, perhaps, of excitement, apprehension, and faithfulness.

On Nov. 18, I preached at the 104th anniversary of St. Giles United, a downtown church in Hamilton, Ontario. I was told that it might well be the last anniversary they celebrated—numbers down, membership aging…you know, what’s happening in so many places across the country for the United Church. This congregation is in conversation, however, with two other downtown congregations, Centenary and First-Pilgrim.

They are wondering about the possibility of joining together, and have even developed a vision statement for a new “Main Street United”: to be an inclusive, affirming congregation, offering radical hospitality, drawing upon the wisdom of history but moving into a new future, where money would be spent on ministry and mission and not buildings, so that the new community of faith could meet the spiritual needs of all generations and engage in a seven-days-a-week ministry of outreach in the community.

Both Centenary and First Pilgrim cancelled their Sunday service, and everyone gathered at St. Giles. My preaching task was to inspire the community, to help re-fire the vision, which was in danger of fading away. A bit of a challenge for any sermon, but there was some help in the last sentence of the gospel reading, “What I say to you I say to all: KEEP AWAKE!”

You might remember that the lectionary scripture readings for the day start with the story of a barren Hannah who gives birth to Samuel (was she, like St. Giles, 104 years old?), but only when she promises that the child (the new church?) will be dedicated to God (and new ministry?). Then the gospel reading launches into the mini-apocalypse from Mark, where Jesus predicts that “not one stone will be left standing on another”—which sounds frightening to any number of our big downtown churches, although these dire predictions come with a promise of the Spirit’s presence in our midst, with the possibility of something new emerging. Jesus then offers a warning: be attentive to the “fig tree sprouts of new life” (is that something like “the emerging church”?)!

Be alert, be awake—you do not know when the opportunity for transformation will arrive. Maybe this 104th anniversary is the moment. And what will any of us say when the Master returns, when we recognize that we are simply stewards, good or bad, of Christ’s church, not our church?

Amalgamations are hard, I know. We are often wedded to a spirituality of place, church buildings rich with memories, where we truly were encountered by the Spirit. But we also know that the Spirit keeps moving and transforming, and we need to do the same. I wonder if these three Hamilton churches might all be willing to sell their buildings and bring the wisdom of their history and the power of their vision…and with God’s help, create a new church, a new mission.