Canoeing the Mountains
by: The Rev. Chasity L. Wiener
Every once in a while, I see these wonderful pictures on Facebook and in email that shows a picture of an antiquated object that are no longer in use today—but was most certainly formative in a particular generation. The “game” invites the audience to identify this object. For example, the pictures are usually things like extinct S&H Green Stamps, an old washer press, an 8-Track tape, and a toy from a certain era, like a Ms. Beasley doll. What usually happens is that that the younger generation cannot identify these items and the older generation berates the younger generation for being so unknowing (I have seen it happen countless times on Facebook). These wonderful artifacts are part of a history that once was, but is no longer. The wonderful artifacts become a “secret insider language” to only a few generations, leaving all the other generations scratching their heads…
…and, I would venture that we often do that in the (larger expression) of the Church.
It’s why so many churches are dying. They are desperately holding onto something that doesn’t exist anymore and then berating the proceeding generations for being so unknowing and inactive in the church. In those “glory days” of the church (which I would argue wasn’t so glorious in the first place, as so many were excluded from the table), it was a “build it and they will come” mentality, where we—the church—never had to leave the comforts of our sanctuaries. But now, we are apostolic people in a changing climate where the church must arise from their pews, abandon their comforts, and bring church to where the people are.
Yes, it is scary. Yes, it is something that we are not accustomed to. But, no, it is not a new idea. In fact, we read in the New Testament who the early disciples of the church had to do the exact same thing, in a post-resurrection world. Christianity was a fringe religion with no glorious sanctuary. We barely had any liturgy—we had baptismal waters, the word, and a meal. Christianity had to be built, which meant that the disciples had to go to the people.
I mention this for two reasons: 1) I am reading a fascinating book called, Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Unchartered Territory by Tod Bolsinger. The book uses the framework of the Lewis and Clark’s expedition of the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase. This expedition was based on a false expectation: that the unexplored west was exactly the same geography as the familiar east. They readied their expeditions with canoes, and instead encountered the mountains. Reluctantly, they had to abandon their canoes and original expectations to accommodate the unchartered territory: this was mountain country. They needed horses. I have been reading this book, wondering how we—as the larger Church—have come to this unchartered territory of the church and are still trying to “canoe the mountains.” We have come to this new chartered territory of the Church, carrying our oars and spending a lot of emotional energy, money, and time screaming at the mountainous terrain before us, trying to make it work using antiquated and wrongly fit tools.
Secondly, our church just participated in the insightful, Ministry Affirmation Review (“MAR”). At my invitation, our Synod’s MAR Team spent countless hours talking to ministry partners like the Fallston Animal Rescue Movement and the Sharing Table, as well as leaders in our church. They scoured the surrounding communities and learned about how residents of Harford County perceive our presence in Fallston (do they even know about us?). We looked, critically, at our missions and ministry. Overall, Church, we do great ministry together! We continue to be dynamic and balance well the changing nomenclature of church and sacred traditions. That said, we do have some growing areas. One MAR team member said, “My goodness! You are doing so much good work in the community, but the community doesn’t even know about it!” And, I agree. We forget to share it. We forget to leverage our best asset: YOU. With over 450 people in our church, can you imagine how—if we might share our events, stories, and experiences more (and better!)—how the news will spread about the reckoning force of love at HCLC? And then, we will hit them with the Holy Spirit and they will be affirmed in the Good News of Jesus Christ.
I am attaching the MAR’s Affirmations and Recommendations, for your thoughtful review. We will offer some “Coffee House discussions” in the coming weeks to build our vision (a recommendation of the MAR team). Grab your saddle and “saddle up.” It’s mountain country! Let’s BE the church in this changing terrain.