People who are not from our neighborhood have ruined it. Absolutely ruined it as far as I am concerned. Years of work on my part have been made useless in a very short time because these outsiders came in. It is enough to make a person cry or scream in frustration. How could they do this? They did not ask me if they could come in. They just came along and acted like it was their neighborhood to do whatever they wanted to do in it. Everything I knew how to do is now useless. I will have to decide whether to just give up or if I have the energy to start over.
Have you guessed what happened? The “tree butchers” hired by the power company have come into my backyard and cut out so much of the magnolia tree that my shade garden is now a sunny spot. I have hundreds of dollars’ worth of hostas and ferns and astilbes there and have put in thousands of hours tending them over the 13 years I have had this particular garden. Nothing is the same in that corner of my yard now. What once had vibrant life is either already withering or soon will have leaves that look burned along the edges.
You see where I am going with this, I am sure. For many congregations, their neighborhoods seem just like this. The way things “have always been” has changed in the last few years. There are different forces at work in the neighborhood and different needs to be met. I am struck by this when I go to one of our huge, old church buildings and there is no parking. These beautiful buildings were built at a time when everyone walked to church and everyone who worshiped there lived in the neighborhood. That is not true in most places now. There are people around for whom English is not their first language. There are people who have needs far different from providing a lively Sunday School for their children and a quiet place to worship God as we listen to music written a century or more in the past and written, mostly, in Europe. For some people in our churches it seems like there is no way to carry on the ministry they have had in these drastically changed circumstances.
I panicked for a few hours after I discovered the “vandalism” in my back yard. Then I began to look around. I realized I had plants that needed to be moved. I had planted them in places that were sunny when I put them there. But the intervening years of growth in trees and bushes has put them in shade where they cannot flourish. I looked at the plants from the former shady garden that had been in the sun for several days by the time I got to them. Some of them were doing just fine in the sun—they had adapted already. It had looked like a complete disaster. I had even considered giving up gardening in that corner and just planting grass. But when I took a breath and slowed down and looked around, I discovered there was a way to still have a beautiful garden in that corner. It just needed to be different from the garden that had been there for so many years.
I wonder if our congregations that feel discouraged by all of the changes around them can do a little of the same thing. Pause. Look around at what you have. What isn’t functioning the way you have been doing it that might be able to be adapted to your new circumstances? What about your current ministry is doing just fine even though your neighborhood has changed? How can you devise a new plan for carrying out your same call to bring hope in the name of Jesus Christ?
Susan D. Krummel (Sue)
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago