The Rev. Jeanne Pupke and the Rev. Cecilia Kingman led a team of presenters inviting participants to join them on a transformational ship. The sailing analogy was continued with the story of John Murray coming to the colonies after having lost so much in his personal life for preaching the idea of a loving God. Come join us and sail in this ship, the leaders said, not promising a specific tool kit for our congregations, but offering hope.
They went on to say that we are stewards by conducting the business of our congregations “in our roughest waters ever.” We find ourselves in the aftermath of what they described as a “casino economy” impacted by “consumerist” values in our society. Our economic focus has been on money and consumption; congregations have “money habits” that need to be changed. Our congregations need to engage in a conversation and work together to write a new story while learning together on this voyage.
The aim is to create a joyful practice of stewardship while transforming the culture in our congregations. How do we minister to people in these times? What is the old story that we are telling ourselves? What do we have in our history and theology to help us create a new story? How do we not only preserve our churches but minister in bold ways beyond our walls were some of the questions posed.
Participants were encouraged to write their own specific questions on index cards which were later answered by Pupke and Kingman along with Chuck Collins, Fariss Hodder, Doug King and Sherman Logan, the additional navigators on this trip.
Chuck Collins talked about our changing economy and acknowledged that economic sands are shifting and people are feeling deep anxiety. He said the work of stewardship is to hold one another in these bad economic times. A study he shared stated that 25% of adults have no one to talk to and another 25% of adults have only one person to talk to which leads to depression and social isolation.
This economic crisis, Collins said, was a “human created disaster” that could have been averted. There is, he conceded, no consensus about how we got here. “We are,” he said, “in deep shift.” We’re not going back. We have to come to grips and have to move into the unknown, Collins said. “We can’t go back to an economy based on cheap energy.” We are at a transition point, we don’t want to go back to an economy based on extreme inequalities, and, he said, we are heading into uncharted waters.
We find ourselves at a crossroads, having been living “in borrowed times” and can either head down the path of the individual or the path represented as the common security. We have the opportunity to tell a new story: to help each other, to prepare our congregations for the changes ahead, to move from a place of anxiety to abundance. Our old story was the “YoYo” economy which stands for “you’re on your own.” The new story we have to write is one of solidarity and the message that we are all in one boat.
The purpose of church is to transform ourselves so that we can transform the world. The survival of our churches has little to do with our yearly fundraising techniques and everything to do with whether or not we are participating in this shift, this telling of a new story. It is a shift in the story from consumerism to theology as evidenced by the theological term, “commodification” which was defined by Kingman as “turning beings or relationships into things to be purchased and consumed.”
Part of our new story will be congregations that are mission-focused. There are class barriers at work: people looking for a church require the following: time, internet access, private transportation (as many of our congregations are located where there is no public transportation), and the clothes that allow you to gain acceptance. We become what was described as “spiritually gated communities.” We, ultimately, lose out as we isolate ourselves; we also lose the gifts of a larger community.
What would a multi-class, multi-cultural, mission-focused community be like? Members of the audience volunteered to be in a facilitated “fishbowl” exchange as they were asked what their old stories were and to describe the vision of what their new stories might be. The church’s role is to help people move from the old story to the new one by crafting a new theology. Will we find ways to open ourselves up? Are we willing to learn something new and understand a greater wisdom? Are we willing to look to other faith traditions for help? Will we let go of our obsession with the annual pledge and getting caught up with numbers and budgets and instead teach people how to be generous?
The challenge of our congregations is to hold up the power of community while tamping down the power of money. We sail on in this voyage knowing that we are all, indeed, in the same boat.
Reported by Krissa Palmer; edited by Jone Johnson Lewis.