For those of us who remember a time before cell phones tracked our locations down to the meter, we remember what it was like to be completely lost in an unfamiliar part of town. We’d drive from gas station to gas station looking for a huge map taped to the station’s window, and when we’d find one, we’d always ask the attendant the same question, “Where are we?”
The first step of getting “un-lost,” before you can even think about how to get to your new destination, is to locate where you are right now. This is true in one’s personal life, and it is true in a congregation and presbytery as well. It is important to identify where you are now, patiently and honestly, before you move on to the next thing, whether that involves vision formation, goal setting, strategy development, or implementation.
For us, as a presbytery, we are leaders of innovation in our denomination. We are among the first to adopt a leaner, more efficient mission design. We are at the forefront of the New Worshipping Communities and Fresh Expressions of Church movement. We are early adopters of the New Beginnings church revitalization program, with twelve congregations making new commitments about their future missions. Presbyteries call us regularly to ask us about our mission design and practices. Just this week, I spent an hour-and-a-half on a video conference with the leaders of another presbytery answering their questions about how to change a presbytery’s dynamic from a top-down regulatory agency to a community of mission practice. In multiple ways we are doing our part to transform our larger church into a disciple-making, church-planting community of faith. That’s all true.
But that’s not the most important thing about where we “are.” The most important thing, I believe, is that we are grieving. We are grieving the loss of seven beloved congregations with whom we have toiled and served and prayed and witnessed. We are grieving the loss of Steve Yamaguchi who was a wise, dedicated, spiritual mentor whose perspective and vision we treasured. We are grieving the loss of friends and colleagues and organizational structures that have been part of our spiritual home for many years. And while all that is going on, we know that there will be more losses ahead of us as we continue to unfetter ourselves from structures and ways of being the church that no longer connect people with the heart of God.
So, what I believe is important right now is that we slow down, take a deep breath, and grieve. Sometimes you have to slow down to speed up, and this is one of those times.
We saw this in Jesus’ earthly ministry at the end of his life. He gathered his disciples around the table and declared, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15). And then, in John, chapters 13-14, he washes his disciples’ feet and describes to them what is going to take place in the days ahead. Death is looming, betrayal is waiting, anxiety is churning, and yet Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me” (John 14:1). Jesus wanted them to linger for a moment with him around a common table so he could comfort and pray for them. It is a moment of deep intimacy and connection. It is a moment of crisis and promise.
Just as Jesus called his disciples together to linger for a while in the face of tremendous loss and transition, I think it is wise for us to spend some time doing the same. For all the work we have in front of us, the decisions we need to make, the tasks we need to perform, the network of supportive congregations we seek to build, the most important thing we can do right now is give ourselves a chance to say good-bye and to grieve. We do this by gathering with each other and listening to each other’s stories and by respecting each other’s space as we process what our losses mean to us. We do this by lifting each other up in prayer and by being Christ’s presence to each other, even as God reveals his will for our larger church. We do this by trusting in Jesus, the one who is sure to save and is leading us into a promised new day.