It’s snuck up on us again. Advent/Christmas, that is. On November 30th we entered, simultaneously, the new liturgical year as well as Advent, that time of preparation in anticipation of the birth of the Christ-child. It’s a magical time, filled with much busy-ness yet much joy. It is, in miniature, the gospel paradox of fulfillment and anticipation, the default perspective of the Christian life.
Among other things, we will be offering yet again our annual “Christmas Concert” on Saturday, December 6th (free to the public), featuring not only the choir but various instrumentalists. The concert, led by our Music Director, Marcia Hempel, will also include a narration of the Christmas story written and proclaimed by yours truly!
Amid this celebration and preparation I did want to mention two other important though unrelated matters. The first is the Study Group. Specifically, I’ve heard it said that this group’s purpose is “church growth.” But this is not quite correct.
The intent of the group is not to develop strategies to increase membership, but to help the congregation discern who we are and what God wants us to be, now and going forward.
One unfortunate image that tends to correlate with any “church growth” approach is that of our sanctuary filled with electric guitars, drums, projector screens, and my wearing jeans and a Hawaiian shirt! This is, in my view, a fundamental mistake some churches make – the “one size fits all” approach.
My understanding is that we are called not to become something we’re not, but to use the particular gifts God has given us, and in ways specific to us. Each church, in other words, has a distinct personality, and a specific calling. Our job is to figure out what that is, and to employ all its members in effectively living that out.
In the U.S., at least, we assume that bigger is better. Though that may be true in some instances, it’s not always the case. It may be that our strength is to remain small but with a deeper spiritual presence, for instance.
In Robinson’s book, he talks analogously about church budgets. He says we make a mistake in focusing on them, as if ‘meeting the budget’ is the purpose of the church! Rather, he insists, the budget is merely the mechanism by which the church funds its ministries. It’s the ministry that matters; everything else flows from it.
In the final analysis, the church is tasked with preparing the soil, while it is God who gives the growth. Our job, in other words, is to faithfully attend to God’s work. Numerical growth is merely its natural outgrowth.
The other matter has to do with our Memorial Garden. At present we are still having a go-around with the town. At the October Cabinet meeting, a position paper was approved and sent to the town’s Cemetery Commission as well as its Board of Selectmen.
The church’s position is that the current Memorial Garden should stand as is, while avoiding in the future the “excluded areas” with graves underneath. In addition, we have offered to build a memorial to those “known, unmarked” graves as a way to suitably honor their memory. Any other approach, in our view, fails to respect either these individuals or those interred in the Memorial Garden.
Peace and grace,
Rev. Thomas C. Leinbach, Pastor