I’m working two jobs right now: one as a cook at the Red Lion Inn and the other as part-time associate pastor at a UCC church in a nearby town. Together, the two jobs take up most of my evenings. In the past few days I have been a part of gatherings related to both my vocations, and both gatherings related to church life.
Monday night our church cabinet — about twenty-five folks — met to go over the budget for the coming year, but what erupted through the budget discussion was the ongoing hurt and anger that is swirling through our congregation — or parts of it — right now. The flashpoint is that some members are withholding their pledges for the coming year because things aren’t going the way they want, which has created a $45,000 gap between pledges and what we need to spend next year to be the church we want to be. The gap makes all of us edgy; the meeting moved from finances to frustration. Though the angry folks are in the minority, their venom is viral: the whole room was infected. I don’t think anyone slept well Monday night.
Our UCC area minister is coming to mediate a meeting next week to help us figure out where to go from here.
Last night, I got to be the chef for a “Cooking Class” for the women’s association of another UCC church in another nearby town. About twenty-five women gathered at one home, I cooked and talked about what I was cooking, and they — OK, we — ate and drank and told stories. When I told Robert, the chef I work for, I was doing the class he cautioned me that only about a third of the folks who come to such an evening are coming to learn; most come to eat and hang out with their friends. He’s right.
I had put together a menu I was proud of:
I also made recipe booklets for each of the participants. They brought the wine and the stories.
Most of them listened as I introduced the evening and put the salad together. Most were still listening while I put the soup together. By then, the house was full of good smells and good conversation; by the time we got to the entree they wanted to eat and be together. I had fun just watching the friendship swirl around me. I filled my plate and sat down to listen to them tell me where the meal took them.
In two nights I got to see church at its best and its most difficult. It makes me wish we were having a pot-luck dinner next Wednesday. At least it would start to tear down the walls. When you start to think about an upcoming meeting and you can’t eat because of the feelings, you know you’re in trouble.
Other than the food, the fundamental difference between the two gatherings was in the first meeting people kept talking about “not being heard”; in the second, people were mostly interested in listening. Therein lies the difference between community and catastrophe.
Years ago, I heard Tony Campolo speak and he said, “You have two choices in any relationship: you can respond in power or in love.” As simple as it sounds, his statement has held up in my experience. We either do what we do to get our way, or feed our fear; or we create the possibility of deeper relationship by trusting one another.
Faith is a team sport (even though there is an “i” in faith). There are always two or three gathered when it comes to figuring out how to be the people of God. We are called together to love and be loved.
Like Andrew Peterson sings,
After the last disgrace
After the last lie to save some face
After the last brutal jab from a poison tongue
After the last dirty politician
After the last meal down at the mission
After the last lonely night in prison
There is love, love, love, love
There is love, love, love, love
There is love
And in the end, the end is
Oceans and oceans of love and love again
We’ll see how the tears that have fallen
Were caught in the palms of the Giver of love and the Lover of all
And we’ll look back on these tears as old tales
I trust the anger of Monday night’s meeting is not the last word.
I believe with all my heart that the joy of last night’s meeting is the best word.