Grow, Stretch, Crack, But Don't Break

Many years ago, in my efforts to engage the "Organ Committee" of the church I was serving at the time, I accompanied the group on a road trip to visit a church that housed a massive pipe organ.  

I'd only been the pastor of the church for a couple of years---two very difficult years. But I had just begun to feel as though the tide was turning, that the church was starting to move away from decline toward vitality.  

Then I went on that road trip and got my butt handed to me by one of the long time members.  

I remember admiring the TV monitors that were mounted on the walls in that massive old church, and I said something about how cool it was that they were integrating something new into their 150 year-old sanctuary.  

[The sanctuary of the church I served was 100 years old, for some context]

The long time member turned to me, and began a long rant about all of the changes that I'd enacted since I'd arrived.  She fumed about all of the new people who were coming who "didn't have any history at our church," and how things had been "just fine" before I got there. 

Then she said this:  "If you ever put TVs in our sanctuary, I'm leaving the church, and so will a lot of other people I know."  

I remember saying to her, "Well, if we don't change at some point... we'll die."  

She simply replied, "Then we'll just have to die then."  

I can't tell you how many conversations I've had like that over the last twenty years of being a pastor.  

They have been prompted by trivial things like changes in worship style, moving the pulpit, or adding TV monitors.  And they have also been prompted by important matters like serving the homeless, including LGBTQ people, welcoming refugees...  

It's sad how church, faith or religion become a hill that so many people plant their flag into, and decide they'll die defending as it is.  Even if it means taking the whole thing down with them.  

It's natural to resist change, especially when the change in question threatens things we thought would never change.  God knows, we've had more than our fair share of those kinds of feelings over the past six months.  

In his poem "Appropos of Many Things" W.H. Auden wrote this:  

We would rather be ruined than changed.  We would rather die in our dread than climb the cross of the present and let our illusions die. 

What I've learned throughout twenty years of ministry is that I often need to heed my own advice.  Change is hard... transformation is hard... embracing newness is hard...  but it's all necessary if we are going to withstand the tests of time, and keep growing.  

The poet Richard Wilbur wrote about this in his poem "A Black Birch In Winter:"  

Old trees are doomed to annual rebirth, 
New wood, new life, new compass, greater girth, 
And this is all their wisdom and their art—
To grow, stretch, crack, and not yet come apart. 

In Psalm 1, the psalmist likens a person who delights in a relationship with God to a tree that is planted by a stream of water, whose leaf doesn't wither, and who brings forth fruit in the proper season.  

A tree... that grows, stretches, cracks... and does not come apart.  A tree that is vital, and fruitful.  A tree that weathers the changes, and lasts... and keeps growing... 

May you come to know that the changes you are experiencing are opportunities for new life and new growth.  May this realization draw you closer to God, and to God's purposes for your life in the days and weeks to come.  

And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.  

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