Whenever I am able on three evenings each week, I go to a workout class that is in a hospital in the South Loop. The hospital is a big building—12 stories tall—and there are always people in the waiting area on the first floor. The person at the reception desk is one of two women whose shift covers the time I am there. They handle their responsibilities with grace, dealing with upset family members, people who are not sure where to go, and those who should have entered the emergency room on the other side of the building. I walk past and observe these professionals at work.
Then I get on the elevator and go to the top floor. Just off the elevators is a department that has never been staffed when I am there; it is after normal business hours. There are blank desks and computer monitors where I have never seen anyone working. In the last few weeks there is a sign up that the department that used to be there has been permanently moved to another floor. I guess I never will see anyone sitting there.
Next to this office area is a large lounge with a beautiful view to the west. You can see from miles up there. As in every hospital waiting area for the last several decades, there is a television in the corner. (I wonder how much longer public places will invest in tvs in such settings. Surely most people in such an area are now looking at their own telephones, not the tv over which they have no influence as to the content and whose content they have to share with everyone else in the room.) Here is the thing I have noticed about that tv. It is always on. I have never seen a single soul in that waiting room, but the tv is always on. I don’t know whether someone has had the job of turning that tv on for years and so they just go ahead and do it. Or, perhaps, it was turned on years ago and no one ever turned it off. I can see the screen when I leave from my class. It is always set to Wheel of Fortune.
How many things in any organization are just like that tv? It used to make sense for it to be on all day and all evening. It entertained people while they were passing the boring or terrifying hours of waiting in a hospital. Now it just fills up empty space with false laughter and challenge.
What in our presbytery is just continuing to function as if it were still fulfilling a purpose which once had meaning? What in your congregation just grinds on like a machine even though no one enjoys it anymore and, in fact, is something about which people complain? What in your ministry setting makes no sense to you but clearly is a sacred cow for someone else? Are we brave enough to point out that the emperor has no clothes, that we no longer have the volunteers to sustain a program, or that we are providing a service for which no one is asking? They are hard questions to ask, but it is also hard to move forward when we are dragging these things with us. Bringing hope in the name of Jesus Christ to a busy and burdened world requires us to be nimble.
Susan D. Krummel (Sue)
Presbytery of Chicago