Stewards of the Why
Last week I attended a seminar for governing boards of theological schools (yes, I know how to have a good time!). Meadville Lombard Theological School, where I serve as Board Chair, is part of a ten-school cohort of the Wise Stewards initiative of the In Trust Center for Theological Schools (yes, it’s a mouthful!), and this gathering was chock full of helpful information about best practices for understanding the current landscape of religion in North America and ways to consider purpose, sustainability and strategy given the changes and the challenges we face.
Spread out in a Hilton conference room alongside Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians, we got the sobering news that not only are faith communities shrinking but the pipeline of people interested in serving them is dwindling. We commiserated about this state of affairs at every opportunity: weeping imperceptibly into our overcooked vegetables from the buffet, wringing our hands before grabbing more snacks from the bottomless baskets. Each denomination represented had their share of frustrations with their own organization; each had a list a mile long of the ‘if only’s’ that should have been done decades ago to change where we are now.
The seminar began with an engaging speaker who encouraged us all to get in touch with our ‘why’ (a la Simon Sinek, perhaps have read his book or watched his TED Talk “Start with Why”). Why do we exist? What is the purpose of our institutions in the world, regardless of how they are structured? What would the world be missing if we were to go out of existence?
Around a table of strangers late in the day, we were reflecting on the ways congregations and denominations emphasize the history and theology of their group as the reason for the church. Yet our lived experience of the real value proposition of congregations was that the community kept faith with one another through the twists and turns of life. No one mentioned the requisite of belief, but rather the commitment to an ethic of care, a practice of actively taking on the concerns of fellow members. That is the why of faith community, and the thing that you can’t get when you drop in to a yoga class or download a meditation app. The soothing voice in your headphones isn’t going to bring you a casserole or show up at the hospital. It isn’t going to ask about your grandchild’s diagnosis or pass along a well-timed bit of wisdom about navigating the loss of a spouse.
As we consider the reasons we give to this faith community, what if we prioritize the value of being stewards of that sense of abiding with one another over time? It’s what I hear consistently from you as FUUSN members, and what I know has made this congregation thrive for these nearly 175 years. What is that worth for you now? What is it worth to make sure it is here for your children’s children, no matter how little they may know now that they will need it in a decade?
As we consider our theme of JOY this month, I hope you’ll continue to share the stories of how you have been held and lifted up through the many seasons of your lives, by the unlikeliest of characters, and come to call this congregation your home.