Back to Work

It’s Tuesday morning and the thermometer is reading 1 degree Fahrenheit. That’s one degree on the right side of zero and the forecast calls for highs above freezing today - perhaps as warm as 38 degrees. Except for a little while yesterday afternoon and overnight we seem to have missed the coldest temperatures by traveling. It is also time to knuckle down and get to work. The beginning of the year is a busy time in the church as we prepare for an annual meeting, which includes formulating the budget - a task that is always a challenge, but one that our church does well. This week will also focus on immediate pastoral concerns as we prepare for the funeral of a long-time member of our community on Friday. Regular meetings resume with a return to activities that were suspended for the holidays. And I haven’t fully adjusted to the change in time zones, which was only one hour, so it won’t disrupt my activities.

There is, however, a part of me that doesn’t want to just return to the usual. A new year deserves some new initiatives. Part of what keeps the church moving forward is visionary leadership that continues to discern God’s call to the future. The members of the congregation don’t want the same old, same old, but they also resist change. There is a need for a degree of comfort in the life of the institution while at the same time the community is continually adjusting to new conditions.

This week’s funeral is an excellent example. We say good bye to a seasoned church leader who for many decades served the church faithfully. But time passes and as she aged she was faced to withdraw from some of the church’s activities. She lived to the age of 99, but on Sunday, the last day of 2017, the time came for her to die. It is the way of life for all human endeavors. Our leaders become elders and our elders pass on. New leaders need to emerge, be supported and nurtured, and allowed to assume the mantle of leadership.

Even if we wanted to, it is impossible for us to do things “the way we’ve always done them.”

A new year gives us the opportunity to think carefully about which changes we want to make. Our annual meeting will be a time to elect new leaders and to give our thanks to those who have completed terms of service.

I was thinking about the ways in which change occur as we traveled yesterday. A century ago, when our church elder was born, the primary modes of long distance transportation were railways and steamships. A much smaller percentage of the population traveled. The idea that there would be busy airports on a holiday, requiring thousands of employees, was a foreign notion. The concept of airliners that could take up to 500 passengers at at time was not even a dream for most people. Even the 50-passenger plane that took us from Salt Lake City to Rapid City yesterday at nearly 500 mph, would have been an incredible marvel to those riding the train in 1918.

50 years ago, when we had the luxury of occasionally traveling by air, airports were places that were filled with people meeting their travelers. In the days before the intense airport security we now have, people went directly to the gate to wait for their loved ones to arrive. Airports would have banks and banks of phone booths, with phone books hanging by cables beneath the coin-operated phones. All of the maps in the phone books would have been torn out by travelers seeking directions.

Travelers 50 years ago would probably have been able to identify the Boeing 737 on which we traveled from Seattle to Salt Lake City. Although the Boeing workhorses have been substantially modified, made more efficient, and improved in cabin luxuries, the company will celebrate 50 years of producing 737 aircraft in February. 1968 travelers would not have known how to operate the touch-screen displays in every seat or what to do with multiple USB ports at each seat or known what the wifi icon in the overhead display meant, however.

These days it is nearly impossible to find a public phone in some airports and while others have a few of them, the vast majority of travelers carry their own phones and are constantly connected to the world. The state of communications in our time is so vastly different than anything we were capable of imagining 50 years ago.

But we have adjusted. Our ways seem normal to us. We complain about waiting in line at airport security a little bit, but it is amazing how many people travel safely and arrive on time in each day. 2017 was one of the safest years in the history of air travel in the United States.

It is impossible for the church to avoid the changes, either. Like the rest of society, we’ve become dependent upon computers. We need our computers to adjust the temperature in the building, to keep our communications flowing, and to maintain our church records. The days of a big church register kept in a fireproof safe have given way to electronic records stored in the cloud. We pay a monthly fee for our accounting and membership software and have an elaborate scheme of multiple back-ups to keep the data safe.

At the core of our life, however, are human relationships. When people are grieving, there is no substitute for being with them face-to-face. When a funeral is needed, a live worship service is the best way to show our support and share the grief.

So, it’s time to get going and to do the work of the church. And as we do so, it is appropriate that we take a little time to contemplate the future and imagine the changes that we would like to see. Time goes on. Change is a given. The future beckons.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!