August 1, 2016
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ here at Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church
Grace and Peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 1:2
2 Corinthians 1:2
As I write this I have just returned from a few days up in the Adirondack Mountains, Lake Placid to be specific, complete with scenic tours, mountain lake vistas, a visit to John Brown's grave, and some time just reading. This last was my favorite part. This trip was meant specifically to be a retreat, a time away not just to vacation and relax (although we all need to do a little of that!), but to read some material I had been wanting to explore and reflect on where we are as a church in this season of CAPC's ministry and mission.
What mountain are we called to climb and in what rivers will we find refreshment for our souls? Armed with the materials from our recent officer's retreat and echoes of the Global Leadership Summit still ringing in my ears, many things came into focus like they had not before. Important things for this church, for each of us and for this community.
The Church, capital 'C,' is struggling mightily. Attendance numbers are declining and many churches are making the difficult decision to close. Articles flash across my screen about the dire need to impress upon millennials that they truly do need God otherwise the Church (and they) will be in trouble. But it isn't only the millennials that aren't understanding why God is important (and might even be asking whose God, anyway?), it is much of our world. And yet, even in the midst of this reality, we still gather and worship, our doors remain wide open, and we continue to see God at work in our ministries and missions. Perhaps it is time for the Church to rethink its self understanding and role in God's Kingdom building. Perhaps it is time to shake out the skirts of her teaching and discover that the Holy Spirit is calling us to community and to church in a fresh way. The old wasn't bad, it just isn't meant for this time and for the time to come.
One of the issues that has been the topic of our goal setting during our officer's retreat has been one of adding to our numbers. church growth is seen as critical, and yet for all of the things we are doing, no significant growth has occurred. This has perplexed me some and I began looking for answers, but didn't find any that I thought truly captured why that is, until now. Over the past several months I have been reading about developing and growing multi-ethnic churches. The basic advice from church growth experts has been, 'don't even try it.' Statistics have shown that church growth occurs in churches that are monochromatic far faster than in churches that are racially and ethnically diverse. In addition, as we are an open and affirming congregation and you have called a woman pastor, you can just imagine where we might fall in the statistics. But that dynamic is changing in churches. There has been an increase in the number of churches that are choosing to be multi-ethnic and have demonstrated that growth is not only possible, but just may be the first sprigs of hope for future church.
I encountered a quote that said, 'If the kingdom of heaven is not segregated, why on earth is the church?' Or, as TD Jakes said in a talk at the GLS, why do we act like a tribe when we worship a God that is global? Perhaps this is part of difficulty churches are facing today. We in America are built upon the idea of freedom for all people's and that nations will come together here, on this soil, more reflective of God's love of all peoples than perhaps anywhere else on earth. How can we, who live in a diverse community, not reflect that Kingdom truth? God calls us to love and serve Him as a people united by faith, not by skin color or balance sheet. And as we come together as such a community we will be incredibly blessed because God will be here, in our midst, moving to draw us together as His people.
One of the books I read this past week was the history of this church. Innovation and forward thinking has been part of this church's DNA from the very beginning. Perhaps that has been one of its greatest treasures. CAPC is not bound by what has been but is enriched by the past to be prepared to meet the future head on. Dr. Moment referred to this church as the beacon of light and hope, and our message of hope, love, inclusion and faith is a light that shines through everything that we do or will seek to do here in this wonderful edifice. We can do nothing else, the seeds of courage were planted early on and continue to bear fruit.
We will grow as a community of faith as we clarify and build on this vision of Christ's call upon this church to be a sanctuary for all peoples who are united by their love of Christ and dedication to serve, and their willingness to see Christ in each other. We will grow as we break down walls that divide us because we do not understand each other's culture enough to communicate really effectively. We will get better at that as we intentionally learn that God's love is not bound by a particular culture, no one person has all the answers, and that we can all learn more about each other and discover God's depth of love for His people in the diversity of His creation.
This season, as we once again turn towards the fall and another program year here at CAPC, I do so with an open heart and assurance that God is calling THIS church in THIS time to an amazing journey of discovery and once again setting the bar higher for understanding what church, Christ's church truly is in this world. We are not afraid, but take courage from the great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us that whisper in our hearts, 'It can be done if it is God's will. And just wait to see what He can do!'
It's time. Our time to shine. Our time to invest ourselves in a work that is truly valuable and has deep meaning. Our time to live as Christ's church as brothers and sisters in Christ, bound by our love of Christ and for each other. I hope to see you on campus this year.
In His service,