It is a privilege for a pastor 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 that is creating anxiety over the future of a denomination in an age that has been called not just post-denominational but post-Christian, and a difficult, even catastrophic, economic climate that is affecting our own congregations and many of our fellow Presbyterians.
An interim Pastor has the particular responsibility to help a congregation live through the anxieties and stresses that naturally occur during the interim period. The sense of anxiety is heightened as the PC (USA) moves through shifting sands into a new time into a time that some are calling a new reformation in the history of the denomination.
Change is all around us, in the church and the world. 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 is especially true for churches in Presbyterian Churches in Nassau County. This sounds a lot like the First Presbyterian church of Levittown.
The good news is so much change is bound to produce transformation. The PC (USA), is in the process of shedding the corporate bureaucracy and mindset that was established in the 1950s – and that was effective in the 1950s but doesn’t work so well 60 some odd years later. We as are church are in the process of rapid change and must see ourselves as a new church development. There has to be a new way of thinking out-of-the box approach to ministry and church operations during as we transform into a new type of church community.
What does it mean to think out of the box? 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 that 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 are encouraged to get up and out of our boxes of complacency and rise to the challenged before us, and yes, they are many.
It would be prudent to ask the question: “what are the challenges 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 transforming by remembering who they are as reformed people. The Protestant Reformation was about being re-formed. It is no wonder that complacency does not work in our framework. Being a pro- test- tant (protestant) was about protesting the status quo. It is in our very DNA to think out of the box. When was it ever safe or the conditions ripe to be a Reformed Protestant? Let’s look back at our heritage and the first reformers that paved the way for our present day church.
Martin Luther certainly didn’t know where he was going to end up when he posted his 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. John Calvin didn’t know where he was going to end up when he was unceremoniously booted out of Geneva. Calvin’s security was based not on knowing what was next on his agenda, but on an abiding sense of God’s providence. In other words it was their faith in God that encouraged them to think out of the box and to leave an inheritance of faith for future generations. Faith says that even if we don’t know exactly what’s next on the agenda, even if we don’t know exactly where we are going to end up – we are going to be alright.
Once establish where we have come from we can begin to ask the questions to help us assess were we are as a congregation. I ask that we take a serious looking at our congregational and organizational needs and our mission. The Session and the steering committee will be will be working with the Committee on Ministry to examine these questions further.
When we have asked those questioned and grappled with the answers then we can prepare to move forward. While we are doing the work and asking the 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 and to help us to answer the lingering question; what legacy will the First Presbyterian Church of Levittown leave our children and community?
I am grateful for your support this past year but I need more help. I encourage you as the New Year unfolds to think of new ideas and new ways to support the church. It is my prayer that every member of our the congregation will support the church with their time, talent, and treasure and that more of you will take major roles in leading our church into our particular reformation – to lead us where God is calling us, to find innovative way of making our church work. May God’s grace and love provide the foundation for our success.
November is the time of the year that we set aside to give thanks. Of course, we need to give God praise and thanks throughout the year but we are especially mindful at this time of year. I am particularly thankful for the journey that I have shared with you as Interim Pastor of this blessed church. We are embarking upon 65 wonderful years of ministry in this community. It is a great accomplishment for a church to be able to withstand the shifting sands of culture and time. But alas, we are still here, you are still here. I am glad that our church is still standing and still serving as a light of the gospel in an ever increasing dark world.
The changing times are providing churches with a challenge to reexamine the way they do ministry and how they will function in a world that is markedly different from when some of our churches were first built. I am confident that the Levittown Presbyterian church is up to the challenge of change. Our elders and deacons are doing the work of reflection and discernment to determine where we need to go as a congregation. I am happy to report that we have completed 4 stages of the Interim Ministry Process which are; 1) Coming to terms with history 2)Discovering a new identity 3)Managing shifts of new leadership 4) Rethinking denominational linkages. We are now entering stage 5 which is commitment to new leadership and a new future. During this stage we will begin the process to complete a CIF (Church Information Form) necessary to call a new pastor. In reality, given our financial situation, it would likely be a call for a temporary supply pastor or part time stated supply pastor. The good news, however, is that there are many possible models for ministry that our church can examine going forward. One of them is to look at the possibility of entering into shared or yoked ministry with another church.
The Presbyterian Community Church of Massapequa has extended an offer for us to consider the possibility of entering into shared ministry. In that both of our churches, (Levittown and Massapequa) recognize the same issues; decreasing membership, financial support, and Sunday morning worship attendance, it would seem advantageous to open a dialogue for very preliminary discussions concerning a possible mutual ministerial presence and shared mission and outreach. This of course is truly the basic question that must be addressed before any other discussions or actions can take place. Do we want to create a new realm of ministry in our communities? Members of our session and deacons were asked to meet with the elders and deacons of the Massapequa Church along with a representative from COM and our General Presbyter to moderate the combined meeting of the respective boards and to answer basic questions and to confirm the willingness to unify ministry.
A meeting was held on October 20th to examine and discuss how we can best decide among the leadership of both churches that a new unified ministry is to be considered. Once it was established that we did indeed want to explore the possibility of mutual ministry we took time to discuss issues and concerns as well as opportunities that would arise if we undertook such an endeavor. Most agreed that shared ministry would be cost effective and may present an opportunity for increased membership and help with the churches overall mission. As expected realistic concerns were raised about the future of both buildings and nursery schools if we decided to merge. We were informed by COM that we have a long way to consider a major merger of ministries but we were encouraged to begin thinking of ways that we can share in ministry through various means such as pulpit exchanges, shared Bible studies and the like. It was decided to form a combined committee will be formed and made up of three members from both Levittown and Massapequa to initiate the process of working together towards a plan for shared ministry. When the committees meet and come up with a plan of action we will follow up with a congregational meeting to keep everyone in the loop. The Presbytery also offered to serve as a resource and to help us once it is determined how we decide that we will work out this mutual ministry.
I am excited about the possibilities that await us. I think it is a win – win situation for both churches as we will benefit from collaborative leadership which is sure to bring new ideas and renewed energy in addition to saving money on clergy costs. The elected leaders of our congregation will lead the way in determining how we will go forward but it will be important for them to hear your feedback and for you to participate in the process as it unfolds. Of course, any, thoughts, ideas, and plans for ministry must be supported by prayer and participation in the process. I ask that you continue to pray for our church and how God might be leading us in the near future.
Yours in Christ,