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.