God has a sense of humor. After 35 years of cross-cultural and urban ministry in southern California, my wife, Debbie, and I recently loaded up our SUV and drove across the country for me to invest this year as the intentional interim Lead Pastor at Blooming Glen (PA) Mennonite Church. As an urban missiologist, this year will be a deep dive into a new sort of cross-cultural ministry.
In the 2 ½ weeks we have been in Bucks County, PA, I have learned some important lessons:
1. Everyone seems to be related to everyone else in the church. Now, this is not a bad thing. Family is an important dimension of the kingdom of God. People at Blooming Glen have formed a resilient community of faithful disciples by being family together.
Being family, however, has some inherent challenges, such as being transparent in communication. It’s hard to be transparent with family members. But it is also sometimes difficult to be transparent in communication among cultural groups where one should not lose face. I’m learning that being bluntly transparent doesn’t work at Blooming Glen any more than it works among the new immigrant congregations in California.
2. In the church, food can be a powerful tool to unite us. COVID has wreaked havoc on our capacity to sit at the table and fellowship with each other. And it shows. The frayed edges of community require time invested around coffee and funny cake at Blooming Glen…or puff balls and tea at Los Angeles Faith Chapel.
After 2 ½ weeks, I’m even more convinced than ever that the church that eats together will begin to pray together and then will heal together. Food, of course can challenge us…vegan or vegetarian? Gluten-free or not? At the end of the day, what matters is that we sit together and digest our relationships.
3. People in the church “are not afraid of change, they are afraid of loss.” Dr Tod Bolsinger, in his book, Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory (IVP Books, 2015) suggests that change is not what makes us fearful. Rather it is our sense of loss. Loss of control. Loss of the familiar.
For much of the past 35 years, I’ve worked with congregations and pastors who have lost their sense of home and their privilege in their cultures. Most times, these pastors find a new resiliency by collaborating with a conference of churches, like Mosaic Conference. In times of instability and loss (like the last two years), it is our life together as a Conference that brings together diversity and helps us all see change, not as loss, but as opportunity.
God has a sense of humor. As I continue to minister with my friends and colleagues in California, I am learning how to better minister by spending some time looking out over the rural landscape of Upper Bucks County, PA, and walking with good, honest, holy, and faithful Christians here.
Yep. I’m grateful. For family histories grounded generationally to the land. For tables of fellowship rich with coffee and laughter. For change in the midst of these days reframed as opportunity rather than loss. It’s good to be out east…