Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Change — Ambivalence and Commitment

By Rev. Kenneth Gordon Hurto

Imagine a world where nothing ever changed. Can you think of a better definition of hell?

Imagine a world where change is constant. That should be easy; that’s our world. Long ago, Zeno quipped you cannot step into the same river twice. The Buddha spoke of the impermanence of all things. Singer Carole King wondered if anyone stayed in one place any more. R.E.M. proclaims apocalyptically, it is the end of the world as we know it.

Ok, I’ll grant the premise. Change is a given; cope! But now and then, keeping up with all the change leaves me longing for some stability. Sometimes change itself feels hellish.

In a recent conversation with a congregational leader, we discussed all the huge structural changes affecting ministry today. “It’s all too much,” she sighed.

Here’s just a few changes: The undeniable decline in church participation rates across all faith communions — with men withdrawing even more so. The fastest growing “religious” group is called “The Nones” by the researchers. Church is becoming an also-ran among the competition for people’s time and devotion. 

Some truly wonder: Does anyone have interest in what we have to offer?

Well, yes. There is a great spiritual hunger across the land. People seek to understand the huge cultural shifts and the increasing polarization of our politics, the coarsening of entertainment, and the ugly resurgence of racism, replete with its violence and dehumanization. There is ministry here — a place for a safe, inclusive, respectful community conversation, learning, and service. There is a ministry for these days: to bring more hope, more joy, more love, more courage, and more truth to the world. The the way we do church, however, has not changed enough to address today’s questions. 

Nimbleness, resilience, flexibility are all required for success in all walks of life today — not just the church.

While feeling overwhelmed by the many changes taking place within our UUA and its structures, this leader did say:  “Did you have to do it all at once?” Well, maybe yes, maybe not.

The UUA Board has been reduced to a more manageable team of nine. Next year’s contest will be the first in we elect our President from two nominees recommended by a search committee.

Closer to home, we’ve reorganized our Southern field staff consultants into a team of ten serving the entire Region of twelve states and working closely with an appointed Advisory Council and the UUA Director of Congregational Life — rather than four separate governing Boards. Just two months ago, delegates to our four Assemblies voted to turn all governance of the Districts to the UUA Board and to have the UUA serve as a “home office” for the field service staff team. 

Added to that was GIFT — a new single Ask for the UUA Annual Program Fund and financial underwriting for the Districts’ program. As UUA President Morales noted, we thought it a simple change, but it is … well, complicated.

Each, by itself, is an understandable, even compelling change. But it has generated anxiety and confusion. It has all come at once, making it hard just keep track of it all. Living in the middle of it, I confess that I too wonder if we know who’s on first, so to speak.

Well, like it or not. Change is the constant. The good news is that we are stretching to think of new ways to share our good news to the world. This, at least, constant: Love and justice are the ministries of people, by people, for people (and our earth), covenanted to be stronger together than apart.

Summer’s here. I urge us all to pause for a bit. Take stock of how far we have come before we move headlong into the next moment. Keep the faith, we will live our way into a better day. Breathe!