Monday, July 02, 2007

You Mean...It's Working?

All of the nuances of what I'm about to try to say probably won't come through very well, but I hope that this makes sense. People in a similar setting may "get it," and I'm not sure about everyone else. So bear with me.

I'm scared that something I'm doing here is working.

It's still too early to tell, but there has been enough indication that people are interested and even energized by it that we could build on it quite easily, and even have it blossom into something wonderful.

Let me start at the beginning. With the approach of the summer months, I offered an open invitation to the congregation to join me in a few trips to local mission agencies to help out and learn about what they do. It was a very simple approach: "I'll wait for people in the parking lot, and we'll go with whomever shows up." It was initially to help illustrate that we don't need a lot of planning or church programs to do what God wants us to do.

My first trip was this past Saturday. I made a date with a UCC city ministry that runs a thrift store and a furniture store, and delivers food and clothing to area families. Five people ended up traveling with me, and we spent some time touring facilities and hearing the story of one family while enjoying an amazing spread of food. She loves to cook. We loved to eat. It worked out.

In the midst of this, the director of this program strongly encouraged us to begin a similar ministry at or near our own setting. She handed us brochures and gave us advice about how to get it started. Chiefly, she refrained, "make it ecumenical. Don't do it all yourself." We're blessed to be a part of a strong Ministerial Association that already has a food bank, so that was easy advice to hear. Furthermore, those who traveled with me had a lot of questions and comments: "So pastor, is there something you'd like to see happen as a result of these trips?" "Hey, you know that unused building on Such-and-Such Street? That'd be a great place for this sort of thing." I'd thought about pulling everyone together in the fall who'd traveled with me and asking them what they'd felt inspired to do as a result of these's becoming obvious to me that maybe those seeds have already been planted.

So why am I scared that this is working? Here's where you have to appreciate the nuances of what I'm trying to say.

Over the course of my 2 1/2 years here, the best work that I think I've done besides the usual preaching and visiting stuff has been our mission program. I have a part-time, always-threatening-to-stall-out senior high group, a young adult ministry that faded in its first few months, and limited permission for creativity in worship. When you experience lack of interest or resistance on several fronts, you begin to accept, however unwittingly, that every attempt at something new will be met with this sort of response. It may even end up defining your entire ministry. Can you imagine 25-30 years of just going through the motions because you've experienced so many good ideas that didn't work?

Apparently our mission stuff is a good idea AND it works. And with these trips arousing such interest already, I wonder where it's going. What were originally meant to be purely voluntary one-off experiences may be inspiring people to want to do more. That can be jolting for one who wasn't sure what sort of difference could be made initially. It means that there'll actually need to be follow-up, more planning, more building. Suddenly, something more is demanded. Suddenly there are signs of life and when it defies history like that, it's exciting but also strange.

Understand that this is not to rag on my church and it's not really to rag on any church. It's more about finally finding something that a place and a people want to get behind; being surprised and energized and scared by it all at the same time.

Suddenly there's an opening to do ministry and not just chaplaincy.

That's awesome.

And frightening.