Every discussion about church in our current context eventually circles around to the issue of change.
At our recent Diocese of BC Clergy Conference, change was the fundamental text at the heart of our discussion. Our conference leader Janet Marshall made it clear at the outset that we were gathering to address the issue of change. She said at the beginning of our first session,
The theme of our time together is change leadership. What’s happening? Who are we in all of this? How can we find our feet in the midst of such profound change?
My exhaustive (some might say exhausting) notes from our clergy conference amount to something over 4,000 words. In those many words, the word “change” appears at least 77 times. We clergy talk a lot about change.
But, after all that change talk, I remain puzzled about our attitude towards change. We seem confused and ambivalent in our feelings and thoughts about change.
We manifest at least three incompatible attitudes toward change:
1.We believe we are to create change. As leaders in the church it is our job to be change agents, to shake up the institution in which we are leaders and open the way to a dynamic new future that will look almost nothing like the past.
2. We fear change. We are threatened by the possibility of change and feel frightened and uncertain about what direction the changes in the church are going or where we should be coaxing the church to turn for new life.
3. We resist change. We feel compelled to maintain the status quo. We resist the fickle winds of popular opinion and preserve the traditions of the past that have stood the test of time and served well as the vessels for eternal unchanging truth. Our job is to care for the people for whom the venerable traditions of the past remain meaningful and comforting.
But perhaps there is another option.
Is it possible to find an alternative to the paralysis brought on by our fear of change, or the temptation to embrace change simply because it is different from the past, or the determination to resist change at all costs?
Perhaps we can learn to see the undeniable changes that are taking place all around us, and discern what it might mean for us to preserve those things that are essential to our identity as a Christian community while at the same time accommodating ourselves to the changed reality of our present situation.
Regardless of what role we choose to play in relation to change, change is happening. We can refuse to see it, try to control it, or resist it til our dying breath, but we are in the midst of change and it is happening more and more rapidly every day whether we like it or not.
Perhaps rather than trying to create change, fearing change, or resisting change, we should stop and listen to the changes that are unfolding all around us.
What do the changes in the world around us say about the purpose and function of church? What form does church need to take in order to be able to be support all people in opening to the divine Presence at the heart of their lives?
But the most important question of all for the church is the most difficult. Given the realities of the changes taking place in our current context, what may we need to let go of, in order to make church accessible to people who are unfamiliar with our practices and for whom some of the things we do may be obstacles to experiencing the heart opening that is our goal?