I have a book I’d like to tell you about: A Change of Pastors, by Loren B. Mead of the Alban Institute, an organization which studies clergy and congregation life and offers them practical help. The title is telling, of course, and the reason I picked it up years ago, but the subtitle, And How It Affects Change in the Congregation, is more telling (and what the book is really about). It turns out that Mead means for this book to be both a practical help for congregations undergoing a change of pastor and an encouragement not to fear. Indeed, he expects congregations to flourish from it, even to be catalyzed by it, as a change in pastors opens them to other transformations in their life together.
Near the end of the book, Mead writes about change in congregations. He knows people care deeply about their congregations; they also, at the same time, have a gut feeling that things could be better than they are. He knows, too, that congregations resist any and almost all opportunities to change the ways things are. He says that there is good news and bad news in this state of affairs, both for congregations and for those who grow frustrated trying to bring about their things could be better than they are feeling to reality.
In my family growing up, my dad was the one who bought cards for special occasions, occasions like Mother’s Day. All I knew was that a few days before some card giving day, he’d call me to the kitchen table and pull out a selection of cards from a brown paper envelope and have me choose one of the cards, like one to give my mom on Mother’s Day. He was ever so thoughtful in not wanting me to fail in her eyes on account of me not having a card for her. You’d think I’d be an avid card-giver now as an adult; you’d be wrong. Despite being practiced at giving cards, I was never practiced at buying them—browsing the display, touching this one and then that one, pulling one out, reading it, slipping it back as my eyes scan for another. Consequently, I am a last minute card shopper, of the sort who rushes in on the eve of a special day and grabs whatever is most quickly appropriate. This is just to say that Mother’s Day is coming up, so . . .
On Saturday, April 21 from 1 to 4 p.m. at First United Methodist Church in Medford, United Methodists from across the region will participate in a Table Talk conversation as a way to engage the church’s current global discussion of human sexuality and the report of the Commission on a Way Forward, a commission of the Council of Bishops created at the last General Conference held in Portland, Oregon in 2016.
Bishop Elaine Stanovsky, episcopal leader of the Oregon-Idaho Conference of United Methodist churches will be present.
The Commission on the Way Forward has been working to help the Council of Bishops lead the church forward amid the present impasse over the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer persons, both lay and clergy, in the life of the church and the resulting questions about the unity of the church.
“Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”
—Mark 16:8 (CEB)
I’ll be completely honest with you and just admit I have a lot of sympathy for the Christian scribes whose job it was to copy by hand the Gospel of Mark from beginning to end. Who could believe Mark intended his gospel to end right here with this verse (16:8). So awkward. So unsatisfying. Distressingly incomplete.
You’ll notice in your bible, when you turn to the end of Mark, that, yes, his gospel does, indeed, end right there with that sentence. You’ll also notice two other endings, usually in brackets, a longer one and a shorter one, because some scribe decided to clean up Mark’s ending, adding to it what was in one of the other gospels. It is as if some scribe just couldn’t bear to let the story hang there the way it does.
I cannot pass up this opportunity to point out a strange juxtaposition of events which will occur over the next few months. The church calendar (the cycle of seasons and days we follow so we may both encounter and embody the story of Jesus) and the secular calendar (with its own seasons and reasons for naming special days) meet in two ways this year: Ash Wednesday, the day Christians have for centuries set aside to mark the beginning of the season of Lent, a season of solemn preparation for Easter, occurs on February 14, which is, of course, Valentine’s Day, a day our culture sets aside to celebrate romantic love; and, if this were not enough, Easter, the highest and holiest of days for the church, will happen on April 1, April Fools’ Day, a day our culture sets aside for practical jokes. I will leave it to you to make what meaning you may from this confluence of events.