Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Adapting to Change

I have had a Hotmail email account for over a decade. I love my Hotmail account. It is where all my personal email arrives. It is an account I use and check regularly. Hotmail changed the look of my account yesterday, however, and I don't like it. They tell me that they are working hard to clean up my account regularly and that I should love the new features. Yet, I miss the old look. I knew where to find each feature so well, and it's all changed now. I like the previous version no matter how good or helpful the new version might be.

A week or so ago I noticed a comment posted by one of my Facebook friends. She had been to a Dave Matthews concert at Nationals Park and was complaining about the music. She expressed how much the band had changed and then stated how she wished he had played more of the old stuff. It was clear that she does not like the new music but much prefers the sounds of the past - the music that came from Dave in the good old days.

The comment about music is one that every church hears often. "Why don't they sing more of the good ol' hymns?" "What's wrong with the Cokesbury hymnal?" These are the comments that come from some of our older members. At the same time, our new members exclaim, "I just don't like the music." "Can we please sing something that was composed in this decade?"

It does not matter how much the new might help us or benefit us, we don't like change. We are not quick to adapt to change but find it easier to resist change.

I am blessed to serve a church that is changing. Five years ago, our congregation had an average age of 82. Our chair of staff parish relations was 97, our finance committee chair was 93, and our lay leader was 90. We had one person in their 20s and I was the only person in my 30s. Our young people were the ones in their 60s and 70s, and there was only a handful of them. Today, we interviewed several candidates for our nursery worker position. We have 10 children under the age of two with at least one more on the way and a few that are older. We have many young adults, several families, and many new people. The landscape of our church has changed.

Our building has also changed. Five years ago, our historic building was in gross need of repair. About 1/3 of the building had become unusable due to water damage, mold and decay. Asbestos covered each floor. The stained glass windows were attached with lead that was becoming brittle to the point that the windows were literally bulging and cracking. The toilets worked on some Sundays and other Sundays I would walk in and see water all over the floor. The roof was the original 1917 roof. I could literally poke my fingers through some walls that were crumbling. It was a "leak a week" building that was consuming a ton of time, energy and resources.

Today, this very building has been completely restored and is ready to serve whoever walks in for the next 100 years. At the same time, we have multi-use space in a new building that is being used for all kinds of stuff. Tomorrow, we'll host our current mayor and the city council chairperson for a debate. We have hosted countless weddings, many conferences, several seminary classes, training sessions for local groups, and other meetings. We are the home for several nonprofits who tell me each week how grateful they are for their office space. We have a growing relationship with a seminary that houses students upstairs and faculty downstairs. We have two bakers who are making their small business dreams come true through the use of our kitchen. At the same time, we have a great fellowship hall for potlucks and large meetings and really wonderful offices and meeting rooms. The space is a gift from God. There are so many things about it that should have gone wrong and started to go wrong. But, they didn't.

However, not everyone is content with the space. One person shared with me this week how he wishes so much that we were still the 50 member congregation worshipping across the street in a borrowed library. Others point out how much money was spent on the building - something I also struggle and wrestle with. Still others question certain decisions that were made - things that were completely out of our control that were dictated by a historic review board that told us what we could and could not do with the building.

God has blessed us with so much - so much - but we find it easier to complain sometimes than see the goodness in it. God is bringing new people into our midst each Sunday, and we are surrounded by thousands of other unchurched people but we sometimes wonder why we can't be the little community that we first fell in love with. God is leading us to new places and new possibilities - but we would sometimes rather go back to where we were. Lives have been changed but we sometimes would prefer to be the community that does not have any room for additional lives to be changed.

I learned in a church leadership class that every church has a "Let's Go Back to Egypt Committee." Each church family has some people who no matter how good the future might be, always want to go back to what it once was. The Israelites were being led by God who promised to lead them to a land flowing with milk and honey. Still, they complained and wished out loud that they would have died while being enslaved in Egypt. God gave them bread from heaven and water from a rock and they still questioned God's motives and existence. They could only look back instead of looking forward.

I am tempted to look back often. I wonder all the time why my husband and I both bought one-bedroom condos at the height of the market before we met each other. I wonder all the time what decisions would have been made had the congregation that is here today been here five years ago to dream and make plans for a new building. I wonder all the time what would have happened had the property never been sold - or had we been delayed and stuck with a hole in the ground because of a changing landscape. I also wonder what would have happened had our longtime members not had the courage and the vision to sell the property, trusting that something new could happen. Had they not done this, I am pretty sure that I would not be here today. I am also pretty sure that the majority of our newer members would not be here today. Was an enormous amount of money spent on the building? Yes. But it was spent with the hope that countless new people would find their ways through doors that lead to a remarkable community called Mount Vernon Place. They were spent with the hope that this church could again be what it once was - a place faithfully seeking to serve the needs of the community, a place where all kinds of people could come and experience the gift of real community, a place where no one had to be alone in life, a place where the Gospel was being faithfully read, proclaimed and lived.

Things have changed. Things are continuing to change. We serve a God who is always on the move. We do not always keep up with God, and sometimes we go way too far ahead of God. My prayer, however, is that we can always sense God's presence - not in the past, but in the present and the future. May we look ahead - dreaming together for what tomorrow might hold. May we let go and trust God.

Oh, and if you are looking for a church family, please come by. We would love to have you. We have plenty of room for you. We have just done something crazy, something risky, something extravagant, all in anticipation for the day you would join us.


Katie Olliff said...

Lovely post Donna, as always you have given me sustenance for learning to live with/in this crazy thing called the body of Christ. Have you read Chip and Dan Heath's Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard? It's been helping our team at the FTE to adapt and grow our work--which despite our great (even comical) love of process, is very hard to actually do.

cheryl said...

LOVE this! Thanks, Donna! And how ironic that I wanted the old Dave Matthews stuff but new church music! Go figure!! :)

You've made me realize that I've strayed from God. When my world becomes too complex and sad, I tend to retreat, and while sometimes I think that's ok, this was a wake up call to come back. Thank you & see you Sunday! :)

Kevin said...

Well said! Very Inspirational!