Thursday, January 05, 2006

Diversity, Change, and Setting a Course

In prior weeks, I have been processing a bit of the history and struggle of an iconic church in American evangelical history.

About 10 years ago, our prior pastor retired from Hollywood Pres, as he had been appointed as Chaplain of the US Senate. As a part of the transition, the church was charged with the task of completing a Mission Study. While our church has had a remarkable past, the present seemed a bit frightening, and the future was far less certain. And so began the Mission Study task. The process was lengthy, and involved interview, study, listening to the congregation, prayer, reflection, and thoughtful course-setting for the future.

At first glance, the concept of a "Mission Study" could sound like "churchianity" in its worst manifestation. Yikes - committee meetings. Run away! The bane of Presbyterianism! Imagine gaggles of elderly folk seated around a table, sharing lovely pastry snacks or potluck, and discussing under their breath, to one another, the evils of the new worship band at "that hippie/contemporary service" and "their collection of bar room instruments, and all the racket they make!"

Turns out, our Mission Study group was far from that. Members included a retired school teacher/mystic sudo-catholic, a gregarious real estate developer, a focused Disney executive, an energetic high school vice principle, a US Appeals Court Judge, an affable young entertainment business professional, a utility company real estate officer and father of three teenage girls, a younger seminary grad and family therapist in training, a retired nurse from the Deep South, a post college urban missionary (see HUP), a professional church consultant, and a real estate appraiser (yours truly).

We had a big responsibility, defining the future course of a large urban church populated largely by suburban members. In many ways, the task was enormous. How could we accurately communicate the mission and vision of such a diverse and unique place?

All told, four men, and seven women, ranging in age from 24 to nearly 80. I recall it seemed like an eclectic group, but in large part, that is what Hollywood Pres has always been like, hard to define, hard to categorize. And we got in fights too, just like any family does. I can remember rather terse discussions between the "process oriented" educators (one one side of an issue) and the "get the job done" executives and the judge (on the other side). The process people were happy merely with everyone just "saying their feelings", while the task-oriented folks just wanted to make a decision and stop all the talking. Welcome to family!

I can also remember one thing - laughter. While faced with a task as large as we had, our group was place of joy, fellowship, encouragement, and belonging. We laughed a lot. Even in a big church, we took the time to know each other well, love each other, ask after friends and family, and to enjoy the diversity of our bond in Christ.

For me, hidden in this memory is the primary strength of a healthy church - acceptance, joy in the task, a sense of common purpose. The love of Christ expressed in service. I also think of this, when I remember my Mission Study friends of more than 10 years ago.

Coming soon - setting the course....and loosing our way.

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