Post Author: Jenny Lee-Maurer
This August, we are presenting a series of articles introducing our newest cohort of Writers in Residence. These young clergy women are gifted writers from a variety of backgrounds, denominations, and ministry settings, who will share their voices on Fidelia regularly over the next two years. We are so delighted to have the opportunity to share their work with you.
I was recently thinking back to my third date with Daniel. He reached across the table for my hand and asked, “What would you do with your life if you knew you couldn’t fail?” The question caught me off guard, so I paused before sharing a wild and intimate dream, feeling half embarrassed and half thrilled by voicing this fervent hope.
I’m not as exciting a date, but I’d like to pose a similar question: what would your church be doing if you knew you could not fail? I know you’re plagued with fear about how the church is going to pledge the budget. I know the ceiling in the back of the sanctuary is still leaking when it rains. I know that there continue to be arguments in your congregation about whether or not the church can be open and affirming to LGBTQ+ folks. I know that your church bully came to the office this week. And I know that you are exhausted with what the poet John Blase refers to as “the sheer unimaginativity of what passes for wrestling with angels or walking on water.” I know because I feel the exact same way.
My friend, I think you need reminding that the Church cannot fail. This beautiful, bedraggled Bride has a future more glorious than we could ever figure out in a planning retreat with our Elders. I think you have temporarily forgotten that all will be well.
I was talking with Zada recently. (Can you believe I have a ten year old now?)
“People are getting impatient,” she explained, in response to my question about why she thinks people don’t engage in churches in the same way they may have in the past.
“Well, if churches aren’t treating all people with kindness and respect, other people aren’t going to put up with it anymore, so they stop believing in God or at least stop going to that church.”
We are up against a truth that a ten-year-old can plainly see. Our churches have become apathetic and lethargic. I’m not sure that the scholars talking about the decline of church as we have known it use the word “impatient,” but it actually feels really accurate. Our congregations are impatient with a world that has left them behind. The world is impatient with a church that seems increasingly irrelevant and wrongheaded. The impatience is frustrating, hard, and sad, but it is not insurmountable.
Everything feels hard sometimes. There seems to be this idea that because are young, we will automatically bring young people into our congregations. The world of ministry is very different than how we were taught, and it is frustrating. Our culture is fraught, and changing day by day. All the decks are stacked against us. Please do not despair.
You were made for this. You are called to this and you are equipped for this. You cannot fail because the Kingdom is coming and there is nothing we can do to change or ruin it. You are a prophet and priest! You know how to love. Your voice can cast a spell of peace and grace that transfixes the congregation. Your healing touch during bedside prayer sends tendrils of hope into a body. Your prophetic advocacy pierces the heart.
I have been listening to the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat lately. I know, I’m like three years behind. I’ve been busy. I keep thinking about Washington’s lines “Let me tell you what I wish I’d known/When I was young and dreamed of glory/You have no control.” None of us can single-handedly save or destroy our churches. There is so much about keeping our churches alive that is completely out of our control.
And, of course, “who lives, who dies, who tells your story” is echoing our worst fears. We might not be able to figure out who lives or who dies. I do not know if your church will survive. I do not know if our endowments will hold out long enough for our church to pivot towards whatever is coming next. But we do get to determine the stories that get told about our churches. I hope that if our churches die, people will tell the story about how loving, kind, and welcoming we were. I hope that if we do not survive this, people will remember how we fought hard for all the right things.
Church may not ever look the same. We may be leading others into a blind leap, but I am confident we will find the landing to be graceful. Whatever comes next, there is nothing to fear. Reach out into the empty space with a smile. There is everything to hope for.
Grace and peace,
John D. Blase, “caveat…,” on The Beautiful Due
Jenny Lee currently serves First Presbyterian, Sanford, North Carolina, as the Director of Youth and Christian Education in 2016. She holds a BA in Religion and a MDiv from Campbell University. She has been in ministry since 2006, and has served churches in Raleigh and Asheville, North Carolina.
Jenny was ordained in the Baptist tradition (Cooperative Baptist Fellowship) in 2013. In addition to working at First Presbyterian, Jenny is pursuing a Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. She and her husband, Daniel, live in Sanford with their two children, Zada and Ashe. Jenny enjoys baking cookies, reading, and sharing sarcastic memes about the patriarchy with her friends.
Image by: sasint
Used with permission