Monthly Pastoral Message

May 2017

For the last number of months, I have been enjoying completing the Bainbridge Island Police Academy. During each of the weekly sessions, we got to know the people who make up the various components of our criminal enforcement system on Bainbridge Island and our county. This included our city’s judge, our detectives, the coroner’s office, and the 9-1-1 call center. Besides providing a fascinating look into the inner workings of one of our communities, this course gave me a chance to get to know many key players in our community that I have not already met.

One thing that is central to what it means for me to be a pastor is to be deeply embedded in the community. Rather than being cloistered, just taking care of our little group, God summons Christians (including pastors!) to work within their communities. The early Methodists really understood this principle. Our founder John Wesley famously did not describe his “parish” (his local church) as one building. Rather, he said, “The world is my parish.” He knew the value of working deeply within his society. 

Think about a church like a circle of people. This circle can have two postures. One is facing inward. We care about ourselves, our needs, making sure the music and worship services and programs are exactly what I/we want. The other posture is facing outward. While we’re still in a circle—that is, we’re still connected, we’re still a group being church—our focus is external. We engage with our communities and work to make others’ lives better.

Over the coming months, we’re going to continue having discussions about what the future of the (capital-C) Church looks like. Because it’s going to be very different if it is to survive long-term. This is one aspect that is very clear: the future of the Church, if it will survive, will be externally focused. It will deeply engage its community. Christians (and their pastors) will become deeply embedded in their communities. We will partner with others to transform lives, individually and corporately—which after all, is the business of the Church in the first place.

February 2017

Dear all,

            This month, I’ve been doing a lot of research on church planting. Many of you know that I am being trained as a church planter. This is someone who is in charge of “planting” new churches—of starting them up and getting them running. It is a very challenging job for many reasons. However, it also holds one of the keys to the success of the church.

            See, as we’ve talked about before, our society is undergoing massive cultural changes. From the beginning, the U.S. has baked into its very fabric Christianity. It was the norm and we structured our whole society around it. However, we are currently undergoing a paradigm shift—not just rearranging our house’s furniture, but stripping the frame to the studs. As we well know, Christianity is losing a lot of our former social power. We’ve heard this lamented in all quarters of Christianity. The “creeping secularism” is taking over our country and destroying our values and religion, they say. I couldn’t disagree more.

            Rather, the death of Christianity is the salvation of Christianity. Christianity has never done well when it had tons of social power. As soon as Constantine legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire, people jumped on board because Christianity was the norm, and was how you got social status. We are just now starting to see that unravel. People are freaking out because they think that we’re taking on water. They think that without the Church as we have come to know it, the world will become a decrepit, Godless society.

            Really, God doesn’t need the Church. God will do God’s work in the world whether or not groups meet on Sunday mornings. And moreover, there will always be faithful people around willing to work with God. What we are witnessing in our lifetimes is the crumbling of a giant structure that we have built up. It served us well for quite a while, but it no longer serves its purpose.

            We have one of the most exciting opportunities happening right in front of our eyes. We get to figure out what the future will look like. We get to exercise our creativity, imagination, ingenuity, and talents to sculpt something from scratch. Just because the Church is dying does not mean that God will not be at work in the world. What we get to do is figure out how we are going to join in. There is so much potential that we’ve been unable to tap into it in previous generations, when we thought the Church was doing just fine.

            This is why church planters have some of the keys to this new thing. It is really hard to turn the Titanic when it’s going full speed ahead. Our inertia and momentum will make it very hard to change the course of our institutions. For example, I am not particularly confident that, at the end of my career, the Methodist church will exist to be my employer. There’s too much momentum to make the drastic changes that need to happen. Church planters, however, get to start completely from scratch. They don’t have to change institutions. They get a nimble speedboat that can easily swerve out of the way of the looming iceberg.

            As I’ve said before, I have a ton of hope for Seabold UMC. I really think that it is one of the maybe 10% of churches that could actually weather these massive cultural shifts. Granted, we can never thrive in our current form. Without adapting, we will certainly close within 10-20 years, if not sooner. However, I deeply believe that this church is one of the few that could make it! We have the potential to be nimble and flexible enough to make those tight turns in our speedboat.

            However, what it would require is discomfort. Nobody likes change, especially when you’ve had a whole life getting used to doing things a certain way. Change is uncomfortable. It requires giving up what we know and love for something uncertain. It involves risk—what if it never materializes like we hoped? And nobody knows what the end product looks like, precisely because it has never existed before. We in the Pacific Northwest are literally pioneers, trailblazers. Our exploratory work will set the groundwork for the rest of the country, as they start feeling the changes that we already are undergoing.

            It is precisely the liminality—the discomfort, the transition, the turning point—that holds so much latent power and potential. I would love to go on this journey with you. If Seabold UMC has been meaningful in your life, I hope that you will help us to be meaningful in people’s lives in 50 or 100 years.

            If we decide as a church to embark on this journey, we will begin exploring over the coming months just what this might look like. We will work as a community to discern who God is calling us to be.           

                        Pastor Colin

January 2017

Dear all,

    This time of year is always a little bit crazy and a little bit hectic. I certainly am no exception to that. Add onto that all of the insanity happening at a national and international level, and it makes for a recent past that is anything but normal. But even in the midst of this craziness, we are called to (in the words of the spiritual) “keep our eyes on the prize.”
    For me, the prize I focus on is being in deep, abiding community with our cities. Of course, we as Christians are called to be out and about, working faithfully within our communities—not to “save” them, but to be able to participate in the great thing God is doing through them. As Christians, community is baked into our DNA. In our church, we practice communion every week. We share with each other those things on our hearts. And we join together in leaving the world just a little bit better than we found it.
    One of the things that I recently did was an excellent in-depth training about domestic violence through the YWCA. Some of you will remember the recent conversation we had with Amy Sanford-Schmidt about the upcoming Morrow Manor transitional home. (If you don’t, the sermon is posted on our website.) We talked about how Domestic Violence persists in our communities and affects many of us. As Christians, living and working within our communities, this is the type of thing that we get involved with. We help take care of those most hurting.
    All throughout the Bible we hear this topsy-turvy message that the first will be last, and the last will be first. That the poor will be lifted up, and the rich cast down. That the ones that you need to take especial care of are the orphans, the widows, the immigrants. As Christians, that is what directs our work: helping to care for the least of these. Sometimes that means helping to bandage them after they have fallen. And sometimes that means going upstream to prevent them from falling in the first place.
    Remember: we as a church need to do something differently, because the (capital-C) Church is dying. We are in the position where our old models just flat-out aren’t working anymore. We need to invent new ways of being church. However, we do need some moorings to hold us as we invent new ways of being. And this is one strong mooring of the Christian faith: God cares deeply about the most wounded.
    As we keep pondering what we will be in the future, let us keep doing the good work within our communities.

Best,
Pastor Colin

December 2016

            This month has been full of a wide variety of activities for me. Some were continuations of things we had been planning for a while. For example, we successfully transitioned our Sandwich Sunday feeding program to Coffee Oasis in Poulsbo. It has been well received and is helping meet a need for homeless youth in our area. Another thing that has started in earnest is my working with students at North Kitsap High School. We have finally finished planning it, and I have been working with small groups of students on their reading skills.

            It has also been a month of a wide variety of meetings. This month, I met with three mayors (present and past), the district superintendent of schools, as well as dozens of other meetings that sound less impressive but were just as informative.

            This is one of the things about the Church as it will be in the future: if it is to survive, we must change from facing inward to facing outward. While taking care of our own is by no means a bad thing, we cannot allow our church to become insular. Us Christians are called to deeply engage with the entire world. We are not so much the light on the hill, bringing everyone toward us with our attractive glow. Rather, we as Christians go out into the world to find where God is at work, so that we can join in building God’s kingdom. After all, Jesus didn’t cloister himself up with his disciples, making a perfect little community. Rather, he worked in the rough and tumble of the real world. The future of the Church is not about belief; it’s about participation.

            Facing outward is a threatening posture, when we think about it. To be blunt, research shows us that those not already in Church aren’t interested in what we’re peddling. And the slice of society that is interested is declining more and more rapidly. This is a threatening realization, because it means that we need to change if we were to survive. Our response to this can’t be condemnation of “the world” for rejecting us. Rather, we need to learn from them. They can teach us a lot:

  • What is broken in the way that we do church?
  • Why are we drawn to this Church while many are not?
  • What are ways to faithful that we have never thought to consider before?

            When we are faced inward, we can hardly learn from these teachers. By facing outward, we can truly love our communities. That’s what I’m trying to do by deeply embedding myself in our communities. By doing so, we can together invent what the future of the Church looks like.

Best,

Pastor Colin

November 2016

Dear all, 

Here we are already, blazing into fall. The leaves have turned, the rain has come, and we’re getting used to the new rhythms of life. One thing that comes in the fall are our charge conferences. For those who aren’t so fluent in Methodist-ese, these are meetings that figure out church business. We had our business meeting after church. I was glad that we could all get on the same page. It’s important to me that everybody is kept in the loop of what is happening. The more transparency there is, the better we will be able to function as a church. 

One other thing I talked about was the future of the Church. The Church across the whole Western world is on hospice. We have ways of doing church that have worked pretty well for the past few hundred years. However, there has been a paradigm shift over the past few decades—a shift that doesn’t just rearrange the furniture, but tore down the whole room and rebuilt it. By the time I retire in 45 years, a full 1/2 of the churches in America will have closed. The majority of the ones that remain open will be on the life support of endowments. 90% of the churches that exist today will not be able to make the shift to a new way of thinking, of being community. However, I have an insane amount of hope for Seabold UMC. I honestly believe that, if we choose to, we could be one of the 10% of churches that survive. And not only survive, but thrive! I have an obscene amount of hope. And imagine the amazing privilege to be blazing into literally uncharted territory. No one knows what this new church looks like, because no one has ever done it yet. We have the potential to leave an amazing legacy for our descendants—a church that will change their lives like it has transformed ours! It’s natural to be scared. And I completely understand that. But I hope that you will join me in taking the leap of faith, to see what transformative things God can do with a little church at the intersection of 3 communities. 

One of the few things that we know about the new shape of the church is that it is not focused inside our four walls. It is living and breathing in the community, focused on serving others rather than cloistering ourselves away. One way that I am living into this vision is through an exciting (brand-new) program that I am beginning at North Kitsap High School. I will be a reading specialist with them. I will be working with those students who have fallen behind. When someone falls behind in reading, the whole educational process suffers, as do their chances at high achievement further down the road. I am excited to start working with the youth who are falling through the cracks to begin to get more fully integrated into our community. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke tenderly of the “Beloved Community”—the place where all are accepted as they are and works to shape a broken world back into the shape God originally made it. 

Beloved Community, may we forge on boldly. God is calling us to incredible things. It is up to us to decide whether or not we will take God up on the offer to be great. 

Best, 

Pastor Colin