I had a brief conversation with someone the other day that I can’t stop thinking about. It has been bouncing around in my head and will not go away. I’m still trying to unpack it and figure out why I can’t shake it. It was at our parish’s annual Jiggs Dinner (for those of you outside Newfoundland that’s basically a traditional meal with cooked veggies and salted beef . . . AKA yummy). It was getting towards the end of the meal and I was sitting at the front entrance to relieve the person who had been working the door all evening. By this point early comers were finished their meal and were leaving. A woman who is not a member of our parish started the conversation that has got me thinking so much. Here’s how it went:
“So, how much money did you make?”
“I don’t know, we haven’t counted the money yet. It was a great meal though.”
“Yes but you must know how many meals you served and how much you charged per ticket. You must have a rough idea.”
“Oh I’m not too worried about that.”
“What?? How can you not be worried about how money you raised? It’s events like this that keep the church going, keeps the doors open.”
“I don’t think that’s the case here . . .”
“Oh yes there would be no church if it weren’t for these types of fundraisers.” As she said this she walked out the door.
I wanted to chase her into the parking lot. I wanted to explain to her all that was wrong with her statement. I wanted to tell her about her flawed ecclesiology. I wanted to tell her that the God we serve is not limited to how many Jiggs dinners, fall fairs or bake sales we can pull off in a year. I wanted to challenge her vision of mission, stewardship and ministry. I’m still reeling from what she said to me and would love to have the chance to chat with her further about this.
Sadly too many people think this way. We get caught up in the vicious cycle of fundraisers to enable ministry. In reality all we do is raise money to pay bills, with ministry left undone.
It’s like we’ve created this huge religious machine. At one time these machines ran rather smoothly. We kept the gears and wheels greased. Sure there were some hiccups but by and large everyone did their part to keep the machine running. The machine was important and keeping it running was important to everyone. The machine served a purpose, perhaps even was the purpose. It made people happy to see the machine running smoothly and they developed a sense of purpose from it.
That was then, now is a different story. People don’t care about the machine anymore, at least not like they used to. People don’t derive their identity and meaning from the machine. They’re not interested in the nuts and bolts of the machine and where those nuts and bolts belong. Most people don’t see a purpose to the machine and view it as a big, hulking relic from another time.
Yet there are some, too many I think, who are content with keeping the machine going. We’re trying to tune up the machine. At best we’re trying to make it more appealing to a new generation, at worst we’re trying to relive the glory days. There has to be a better way. The machine has served its purpose but perhaps it’s time to let the machine die. Perhaps we need to move from the machine to something more organic, something more human; something beyond the status quo.
I don’t think this is just coming from me. The people I talk to are looking for something different from church. Clergy I talk to are tired of being event coordinators and desire to be mission coordinators. Lay people want participatory and experiential worship that is relevant to their life situation. Everyone I think, or at least I hope, is tired of the theological, ethical, and sexual wars of our fathers. We’re more interested in serving the poor, sick, lonely and disenfranchised of this world.
Over the next little while I will be sharing some of my thoughts, hopes, visions, prayers, and dreams for the church in the present tense but also peering into the future. Please disagree with me, argue with me, or dare to dream with me.