You have undoubtedly heard the expressions about certain places having only two seasons. For instance, sometimes it is said that Minnesota has two seasons: shovel and swat. There are also the expressions about almost any place in the country having two seasons when it comes to road repair. After spending seven months driving around Chicago far more frequently than I have in the past, I would say that Chicago has two seasons: pothole and construction. (Although they are, of course, not mutually exclusive.) Both seasons give drivers and riders something to complain about. Either you worry about dodging the potholes without breaking an axle, or you worry about sitting in long lines of traffic while repairs are made. Just outside my office window as I am writing this, the Jane Byrne interchange is nearing completion. Drivers on the Dan Ryan and Eisenhower will be happy when it is done, as will anyone who wants to walk or drive across Van Buren Street. It has been fascinating to watch the various phases of construction. So many talented experts putting their knowledge to use in each phase of the project!
It occurs to me that many of our congregations are like the roadways around Chicagoland (and everywhere else in the country at this time of year.) The roads were planned and constructed by traffic engineers and craftspeople plying their trade in order to meet the demand of the time. When I used to drive in more rural areas, I was often on old stagecoach roads like the M & M trail that once connected Monmouth and Moline; or the Galena Trail that connected Peoria and Galena. All of those cities were meccas of population and industry at one time—in the early days of the state they were larger and more industrious than Chicago. Those old stagecoach roads were cleared of trees and brush when they were first used because they were in the best place to drive a stagecoach. Now that they are paved, they are still drivable but they are not the fastest routes. Very few people use them now. We have congregations that once had a vital ministry in a particular area but now see few people on Sunday morning. The population has shifted or moved away. Sometimes the church building is very hard to find. What once made sense does not do so any more.
We have other congregations that are more like the interstate highways in and around Chicago. They also were laid out in the place where traffic once needed to travel and still needs to travel. But the needs of that traffic have vastly changed. There are so many more cars. There are more and heavier trucks. There are people in a hurry. In order to accommodate this change, the roads need to change. They need to be wider. They need to be smoother. They need to have excellent signage. The toll plazas have changed from “stop and hand someone a dollar bill” to “have your transponder in the right place so that you can keep flying down the road.” These roads, like so many of our congregations, are still accomplishing the same basic task as when they began, but they need to be continually updated in order to meet the demand of the times.
Which do you complain about more—the potholes or the construction to fix them? Which annoys you more at church—the programs or facilities or worship that does not seem to be a vehicle for sharing the gospel for the 21st century; or the changes introduced by your pastor or your session or your staff? If the church is like our roads, maybe the choice is the same. Would we like to continue to creak along with a congregation that needs repair and updating because it is familiar to us; or would we like to go through the stress of changing so that more people can hear and believe the gospel? Neither path is easy. We are called as leaders to continue to listen for God’s guidance as we bring hope in the name of Jesus Christ.
Rev. Susan D. Krummel (Sue)
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago