I’m a Bears fan. I’ve been one since my early youth as I watched the Chicago defense led by Dick Butkus playing linebacker. Nothing is like seeing Walter Payton punish the tackler as the tackler is trying to make a play. I took the heat of being a Bears fan while in Wisconsin surrounded by Packers followers. I wear my Bears sweatshirt in St. Louis, even though they don’t have a football team and expect everyone to bleed Cardinal red.
But I’m not a fan because the Bears win. Following the Bears is an experience in hope. Hope doesn’t depend upon victory but is committed to the struggle. Hope doesn’t count the score but looks for movement, direction, and a path opened by the Holy Spirit.
Although it might be a leap to jump from hope as a Bears fan to the hope I have in the life and future of the church, there are helpful similarities. We are living in difficult times. We are in the shadow of the pandemic, while still struggling to be an antiracist church. The political world appears to be turning against the climate, the poor, the immigrant, and people of color, just when small success was so close. Many pastors and leaders are exhausted from exceeding the limits of their emotional bandwidth. Meanwhile the decades-old denominational decline persists as the faithful members are being outnumbered by those who struggle to find meaning in the traditional and historic church.
Yet, I have hope in the future of the church. It is a hope not dependent upon immediate results. We are engaged in a long-term moral struggle for what is just and right. In her book, Hope in the Dark, Rebecca Solnit quotes Václav Havel saying, “Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but, rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.”
It is okay to keep a scorecard, but it is more important to invest in long term results. Hope is what allows us to stay in the current struggle and take the blows of this fight because we know there is something greater coming. We are in the business of faithfully planting seeds of hope for a harvest we may not live to see.
Creativity is needed to mine this hope. We are challenged to imagine new ways of thinking and different ways of being the church. The presbytery is challenged to lead and model this type of hopeful and creative ministry.
A first step is the Leadership Summit we are convening on Friday, January 28th via Zoom for all moderators and co-moderators of entities in the presbytery. Rev. Mathame Sanders will be the keynote speaker and will spark our imaginations through improvisation, opening us to creative ways of thinking toward a hopeful future. I’m asking all moderators and co-moderators to join me, the presbyterian council, and staff in this Leadership Summit. You will receive an invitation this week, along with the book, A Beautiful Constraint.
May this year be one of faith, hope, and love. May we rejoice and be happy together; may we grieve and hold one another in sorrow. May we live this year in hope, believing beyond results as we live from our Christ-centered hearts. Amen.
Rev. Craig M. Howard