Yesterday, my friend Rev. Jim Moss wrote a Facebook post which indicated he believed our denomination (PCUSA) is in its death throes. He shared his hope that at our most recent General Assembly, we would have spent time acknowledging that inevitable reality of oncoming death so that we could then “shift our focus to how to be witnesses to something new and very different God will do”. His call for us to think about death and resurrection was clear.
He made me wonder…
From my perspective, the rumors of our denominational death are not only exaggerated, but they are just wrong. What is happening across this denomination is quite simple. Change. While change is certainly not new (clearly we are not stuck in 16th c. Reformation mode), what is new is that the church is paying attention to and connecting the Good News with the world around it in more immediate and increasingly more relevant ways. We are changing at the micro and macro levels. And we are changing so fast it makes us dizzy.
And THAT is what makes it feel like we are dying. We even sing of this feeling… “time like an ever-flowing stream soon bears us all away…” Our worry is that as these relentless changes flow over us, we, like Isaac Watts’ lyrical dream, will be forgotten, too. I know it’s a tricky metaphor, but I like thinking about change as a flowing river. Rivers ebb and flow. Their currents swirl and bring life. But sometimes overflowing waters wipe out homes and livelihoods. Sometimes, in seasons of drought the water dries up to almost nothing. Sometimes water goes underground for a few miles and then emerges again outside city limits. Sometimes a fallen tree, a landslide, some excited beavers or some silly humans change the course of the stream. But river water always finds its way.
That’s what I think the Spirit does in the church – what I think the Spirit is doing in the PCUSA. We’ve seen the ebb and flow of energy; the emergence of what look like new streams of vitality; the swirling floodwaters of economic and demographic changes which threaten and frequently wipe out congregations; and too many of us are in situations where time, talents and treasure have virtually dried up. Some of us, like busy beavers, have tried to change the course of the church, too. And the water of the Spirit still manages to find a way – a way through schisms major and minor, a way through struggles theological and strategic. I believe the blessed, cleansing, healing water will always find its way.
And isn’t that what baptism is all about anyway?