A Winter Tale

Mar 6, 2023

A Winter Tale
By Susan Young Thornton

Words. Words can tell a story. Words can ask a question. Words can encourage deep reflection. Words can incite action.

Words for Winter 2023.

Plan. The plan was simple. Fly to Portland for an extended weekend to attend a grandson’s honors jazz band concert. Return in time to attend the February Presbytery Gathering.

Alternative. With one day’s notice the in-person meeting is moved to Zoom due to COVID illness among those who attended the Pastors’ Retreat.

Reaction: I can do this. It might even be better. I’ll be getting home late the night before. I can relax and be comfortable. Who wants to go to a meeting in the rain anyway?

Onward: Snow falling lightly all day. Driving towards the airport, we move into the face of the storm. Trucks put on chains in the middle of Interstate 5. Vehicles are stopped, perhaps stranded, by the side of the road. Snow. More Snow. No longer falling gently. We make it. As I run inside to get a bag tag, I tell my son, again, “be careful. Perhaps you should go to your sister-in-law’s house. It’s so much closer.” He wants to go home.

Surprise: Bag Tag Kiosk says, “See an agent.” Agent says, “Your flight is cancelled.” What! I have been checking the app all day, because I was worried about the weather. Now my son is out on these dangerous roads unnecessarily.

Interrupt: I’m rescheduled to a 3:30 flight tomorrow afternoon into LAX via Seattle. LAX… I was supposed to fly to SNA.

Panic: 3:30! I realize I’ll be in flight and will not be able to attend the presbytery meeting. How can I write the reflection on a meeting I do not attend?

OK: Colleagues tell me there will be a recording. I can do what I promised to do.

Fear: Uneasiness turns to fear as I think about my oldest out in this storm.

Pivot: I find out the roads were closed. He turned around and is here at the airport in baggage claim. I breathe.

Priority: He is safe.

Kindness: Knowing he cannot come up to the gate, I contemplate going to baggage claim. He insists I stay where there are chairs. A TSA agent offers to take him water and a snack. I am overcome with gratitude. Yes, Mr. Rogers, I found the helpers.

Patience: We settle in and wait.

Grace: My son’s ER doc brother-in-law in the big, heavy, all-wheel-drive, snow-tired vehicle gets home. His sister-in-law wants to come get us. Is it safe? She says it is and soon arrives. More roads have closed, more cars and trucks have stalled, but by the miracle of GPS, we arrive at her home.

Assurance: We are safe and warm and loved.

A New Plan: The rescheduled flight is cancelled. A new flight is arranged into SNA on Saturday. I attend the Zoom meeting. We are able to get home. The snow is beautiful. All is well.

By now you are probably asking WHY? Why is she sharing this personal account of a winter plan gone awry? Because, once I calmed down, settled in for what I thought would be an airport sleepover, I began to reflect upon this experience as a metaphor for the church… for what has changed, for our anxiety about what we have lost, for how we have responded, for what we have learned, for what we still have to learn, for who we are and who we are called to be….

Words told my story. Words will tell our story.

Regarding the immediate situation, our plan was no longer viable. We needed an alternative. The reaction was quick. Thanks to what we had learned during the pandemic, our skilled staff was able to pivot. We were able to act on the urgent business. The 2023 Moderator, Gail Stearns, and Vice Moderator, David Beary, were installed. Rev. Hyung Joon Lee was examined and admitted to membership in the Presbytery of Los Ranchos. Candidate Matt Moncrief was examined and declared ready to receive a call. After his ordination on March 12th, he, too, will become a minister member of the presbytery. Plans for the installations would move onward. People were approved for service on teams and committees and reports were received. Some may have been surprised at the interruption, but no one panicked. All was OK. We have learned well, adapted our way of thinking and doing. We have mastered the technical challenges.

Words ask questions.

Beyond the immediate technical issues, the church faces adaptive challenges. The church is at a crossroads. Author Phyllis Tickle “said that historically, the church ‘cleans house’ roughly every 500 years, holding what she calls a ‘giant rummage sale’ deciding what to dispose and what to keep, making room for new things.” (Jill Fandrich, westminsterauburn.org) It has been approximately 500 years since the Reformation rummage sale. Adapting requires honesty as we ask and answer tough questions and courage to make the inevitably hard choices.

Words can encourage deep reflection.

We are moving into a future that will be very different from what we have known. How will we respond? Will we be agile enough? Will we be able to pivot? What will we prioritize? Can we let go of that which no longer works? Will we recognize that which we must hold onto? Will we embrace the new, the innovative free from fear? Will humility, kindness, and justice be our guides? Will we be brave enough to embrace a vision that meets the needs of this new day? Will we be open to the Spirit’s leading? What new thing will spring forth?

At February’s Zoom Presbytery Gathering our watchwords were patience and grace. We will soon meet again to worship together and to consider the rest of the business on our original docket. We will be face-to-face at 4:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 16th, at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods. We will have the opportunity to embody what we practiced on Zoom. I’m wondering if those words – patience and grace – could become our 2023 watchwords, not only for our interactions with one another, but also for the way we approach the big questions before us – of who God is calling us to be and what God is calling us to do.

Words can incite action.

The work before us as congregations, as a presbytery, and a denomination is to live into a new plan that tells the old, old story in ways that people can hear and respond to, that reveals through our actions the radical, all-inclusive love of Jesus, that rests in the assurance that God is with us every step of the way.