As a congregation we faced tremendous transition. The good news is that so much change is bound to produce transformation. I am completely in awe of the commitment of our church leadership and dedicated lay leaders. We have a core group of people who provide their support by way of participation in outreach events and the funding of the overall mission of our church. We are a small yet mighty group of Christians who want the best for our church and the Church of Christ!
The Presbyterian Church (USA) has a long way to go in keeping up with the rapid pace of societal change in pursuit of diversity, representation, and inclusiveness. At best, we are struggling to keep our members in the denomination with diminishing resources. This sounds a lot like the First Presbyterian church of Levittown.
The sense of anxiety is heightened as the PC (USA) moves through shifting sands into a time that some are calling a new reformation in the history of the denomination. The PC (USA) is in the process of shedding the corporate bureaucracy and mindset that was established in the 1950’s – and that was effective in the 1950’s but doesn’t work so well 60 some odd years later. Like the denomination, the First Presbyterian Church of Levittown is in the process of rapid change.
An Interim Pastor has the privilege and responsibility to help a congregation live through the anxieties and stresses that naturally occur during the interim period. It is a privilege to help a congregation figure out how to proclaim the gospel authentically and effectively in a culturally diverse society that needs more than ever, to hear the Word proclaimed and to see the Word lived out. It is an honor and a challenge to do this amidst changing times. Many people are full of anxiety over the future of our denomination in an age that has been called not just post-denominational but post-Christian. Moreover, we are facing a difficult, even catastrophic, economic climate that is affecting our own congregations and many of our fellow Presbyterians. To survive, we have to develop a new way of thinking. We need a re-formed approach to ministry and church operations as we transform into a new type of church community.
It would be prudent to ask the question: “what are the challenges that are before us and how can we help to make transformative and effective change – happen?”
Obviously it begins with the pastor providing non-anxious facilitation and presence while the church is undergoing transformation. The congregation then has to begin to do the work associated with transformation. We must begin by remembering who we are as reformed people. Being a pro- test- tant (Protestant) was about protesting the status quo. The Protestant Reformation was about being re-formed, transformed into the image of Christ.
The first call of a Christian is to be Christlike; to live like Christ lived on the earth. Our Lord welcomed the outcast, healed the sick, feed the hungry and even raised the dead. Sometimes we may feel like our mission as a church is hopeless or that we are on our last leg. Perhaps our faith is small or our thinking is boxed in. When I think of a box, I think of containment or a casket, which leads me to think of death. If we choose to think out of the box, we are choosing life over death. Christ was the ultimate out of the box thinker; he got up out of the box (the grave) and was raised to new life. He set for us the perfect example. Christians never die; they are transformed from death to new life. With this mindset we can encouraged to get up out of our boxes of complacency and rise to the challenge before us, and yes, they are many.
It is my hope that we can take a serious look at our congregational and organizational needs. We should consider the following as we pray and discern our plans and hopes for the New Year:
- How can we support our struggling congregation with our financial resources, talents and spiritual gifts for lay leadership?
- What is the best approach to ensuring the economic and spiritual growth of our church?
- How can we stimulate and equip the youth to get involved and return to fill the pews in our church?
- How do we build trust, confidence, and integrity in our church community?
- How can we be good stewards in our various ministries?
While we are waiting for the answers to our questions we have to remain calm and sure, even if we don’t quite know today where the church will finally end up. We have to rely on our faith in God who will provide the strength, wisdom and the courage needed to face our many challenges. The Holy Spirit will help us to answer the lingering question of what legacy will the First Presbyterian Church of Levittown leave our children and community?
I would like to leave you with a reflection from scripture that takes into account the crucifixion of Christ. Our savior was hung between two thieves. One thief lived in his past (yesterday). He was so conscious of all that he had done; he could not repent and would not ask the Lord to save him. The other thief pointed the Lord to the future (tomorrow), and asked, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” Jesus’ answer was today you will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:42–43). Jesus responded to his request that very day! Even in the face of death, Christ was willing to give hope, even on the cross, a place of utter despair to these in need of answers to their questions.
As we reflect on this story we must beware of the two thieves in our lives. They are called “yesterday” and “tomorrow.” They will try to rob us of our present joy. Yesterday will remind us of our past mistakes and mire us in regret. Tomorrow will remind us of our upcoming challenges and try to drown us with worry and fear of failure in our planning. Let’s enjoy the gift of the present and live one day at a time.
I am grateful for your support this past year but I need more help. I encourage you as the year unfolds to think of new ideas and new ways to support the church. It is my prayer that every member of our congregation will support the church with their time, talent, and treasure. We are in need of funds to support our mission. We need your pledges and offerings to thrive. I pray that more of you will take major roles in leading our church into our own particular reformation and to lead us where God is calling us. It is a calling to transformation and to be re-formed by His grace! May God’s abiding love provide the foundation for our success.
Yours in Christ,
Reverend Terri Cissé