Saturday, September 1, 2007

Pastor Erik--September 2007

Transformation for our Doors!

As part of the Transformation process that we are undergoing, we will be focusing on three things over the next several months: 1) recognizing God’s mission in our neighborhood and in the world, 2) our vision for the part we believe we are called to play in God’s mission (aka our purpose), and 3) the guiding principles we hold that will shape how we seek to live out both of these together. This is not an easy task, and will involve a great deal of prayer, Bible study, and conversation together as we try to discern what God is up to among us and how we are going to participate in it. But thankfully, God does not wait for us to get our act together before transforming us (we call this grace) and I believe God is already putting us to work on what will probably be one of our guiding principles. And we can see it in one of the most mundane things about our life together as the people of God—our old, broken front doors.

The guiding principle I’m talking about is something along the lines of this “Bethlehem Lutheran is a welcoming community.” Now, we may not always live this out as fully as we might, but this principle seems to be central to how we see ourselves as a community, as a church, and as part of God’s mission in our neighborhood and the world. We live this out in various ways, from kind words to newcomers at worship, to bountiful feasts at funerals, to keeping an attractive sanctuary and fellowship hall so that when you step inside our church building you can feel “right at home” and know that we are a welcoming community. This connects to what we have read and heard together in the Bible: that God’s Good News is for everyone, that Christ welcomes all people to his table, and that we are meant to embody this in real ways in service to our neighbors.

Sometime this past winter, when the front doors had once again stuck open in the cold, I heard someone say a prophetic word: “You know, Bethlehem is very welcoming once you get in, but you kind of have to overcome these industrial doors to get there.” And suddenly the truth was before us—not only were the doors broken, they were communicating something to all who entered and also something (maybe even more loudly) to those who never entered. But it wasn’t until we were able to put our doors in conversation with this emerging guiding principle that things actually started to happen. When enough people started to say “Hey, Bethlehem is a welcoming community, and these doors just plain don’t reflect that!” the Holy Spirit grabbed hold of us, and something pretty amazing happened. Rather than a 6 month drone of “the doors are broken, please give more money” to which endless committees added the monotone base note of debate of endless possibilities resulting in yet another winter of not much changing—we saw transformation. People were motivated, visions pursued, doors found, money raised, and (hopefully by the time you read this) new doors installed—in weeks rather than months.

I believe the difference is that we looked at the doors in light of our guiding principles. We, as the people of God in this place, are a welcoming community. These old doors don’t reflect that, and are in the way of God’s work through us here, and so they have to go. When the criteria is “how do we best communicate this” rather than “what do we want, what do we like or dislike, what do we think we need to do for ourselves” we put the project of new doors in another framework. The doors become not about us, but about God’s mission in the world.

I have yet to talk to anyone who has not been utterly astonished at how quickly this has come together—in our experience “church business” usually gets bogged down, discussed and re-discussed, often so long that everyone just gives up. But this project was not just about “church business” it was about “God’s business” and we found ourselves responding to a call and all the pieces (together with a bit of hard work and great generosity) all fell into place. And this is just one project, with one guiding principle. Can you imagine what God will do with us when we are able to figure out a few more? Isn’t Transformation fun?
Pastor Erik