What is it about a calendar changing, a year changing, that inspires us to consider that our lives are reset in some way to begin anew? The clock strikes twelve as it does every other night. The morning dawns as it does every day. And yet the idea that something is new is so powerful that we truly believe we are at a beginning. The culture has embraced the "out with the old" concept so thoroughly that it permeates what we talk about, what we think, and for many of us, what we do.
I am among those, this year, reaching out not only for a fresh start but a transforming launch into the new year. I feel energy particularly as it pertains to my work. I have a clearer sense of my purpose as a priest "in charge" of a struggling congregation. A year of living with, in and through the bobbly rhythms of this small parish have revealed strengths and weaknesses (theirs as well as mine, though I am already fairly familiar with my weaknesses), and a sense of needed structure is emerging that I believe will help them claim their gifts and exercise the ministry to which they are called.
To help in that effort I spent the day yesterday outlining ministry descriptions according to the needs of the parish's common life. The list looks like that of a large church, and yet small churches need the same mechanisms to function in a healthy manner: communication, pastoral care, worship participants, education, a ministry of outreach, stewardship... The challenges are multiple when there are a small number of players with the energy, time and commitment to make things happen.
I'm thinking that it might be time to go to some of those we don't see often and yet call this place "home," and ask them to take on a specific role. They are needed. I recall a friend from another parish telling me that when she and her family moved to a neighborhood with a church just a block away, they spoke to the priest to offer their gifts for ministry. In essence they were told that they weren't needed. That family found their way to a small parish in a neighborhood far from their own and made that community their home. They were needed there, and the gifts they offered breathed life into a house of God that needed them.
This is far from being a new idea, this notion of matching people with their gifts. Yet somehow, as clergy, I think we fall prey to the idea that somehow that matching will happen with a minimum of effort. Announcing a need and expecting that an individual will claim their place to address that need rarely happens. It takes a conscientious effort to consider what people have to offer and unite them with a role to which they are particularly suited.
A year ago we went through a gifts and talents program that energized the participants and left us wanting to apply what we had learned. The failing of that program is that it offers no mechanism for application, nor does it provide ways to sustain the momentum it creates. We made an effort to gather and identify areas of ministry where we could apply our gifts. Individuals volunteered to take responsibility for moving forward with the ideas that were generated, knowing there were others whose gifts and interests could lend support. And then nothing happened.
So I struggle. As a leader I can empower and encourage and support until the cows come home. At the end of the day if the job doesn't get done what part of the failing is mine? Where does my responsibility end and that of the member begin? These are perennial issues of leadership, especially in the church.
So I pray. I pray that the opportunity to start anew is visiting not just me but those I serve. I pray that renewal will take place not just in my heart but in the hearts of others, and that the affect of that renewal will translate into action and, ultimately, transformation. It's not a lot to ask. It is a common hope. I will do my best to work toward its accomplishment.