22 June, 2017

Ask the Question, Part 2

We ran out of time for a number of questions asked in worship on May 14th. Here is the second installment on responses to those questions.
Why do some people quote the Bible when it suits them but don't follow all the "rules" in the 
   I cannot answer for all people, but I can respond for myself.  Everyone who reads the Bible with regularity has their favorite scriptures; most of us interpret the whole of the Bible through the lenses of our preferred readings. This is called one's "Canon within the Canon."  It is the filter through which we understand the faith.

   In the constitution of FCCLG quotes Matthew 22:37-39 when it states our purpose and covenant to be:
We acknowledge our belief in Jesus Christ as our Lord and savior, and we take for our rule of life his great commandment: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." We believe it is our privilege and duty to forward this teaching by union with those of like mind. We covenant to unite in this great mission of faith and service. We agree to maintain the institutions of the gospel, to promote the orderly administration of the life of the church, and to walk together in Christian love. We shall endeavor to fulfill these sacred obligations, God being our helper.
It is likely that many who were raised within this congregation use the quote from Matthew 22:37-39 as their "Canon within the Canon."

  My Canon within the Canon is Micah 6:8:
God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
I read the rest of scripture and form my beliefs and practices around this verse.  That does not mean that I ignore other verses; I read them in light of this tenant: that we first do justice, love kindness, and be humble in all walks of life.

   The Old Testament books of Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Leviticus contain extrapolations and interpretations of the 10 Commandments; these number 637 laws.  

   Jesus knew these laws and realized they had become the focus of determining who was "in" and who was "out."  What was a simple code of 10 rules had become a millstone around the neck of people who sought to live within God's community and a source of exclusion.  He told people he had not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.  His teachings emphasize God's extravagant love and inclusion.

   When asked which law is the greatest (of the 637 laws!), his reply in Matthew 22:37-39 encompasses the heart of the 10 commandments. 

   It is human nature to seek simple terms to understand complex ideas.  It is also a good debate technique to quote respected sources.  The problem with the Bible is that in it one can find justification for a lot of behavior - especially is one takes single sentences and short passages out of their context! 

   The best way that I know of to deal with individuals who choose to quote certain passages while ignoring the basic guidelines of faith is for each of us to know the Bible, to read it with regularity, to study it with others, and to learn as much about the social, literary, political and contextual contexts as possible.  Only then can we know for sure what is being appropriately quoted and what has been appropriated for reasons of ill.  And the added benefit is that we are more certain of what we believe and why we believe it.

(Did you catch that subtle hint that everyone needs to be in Bible Study?) 

08 June, 2017

Ask the Question, Part 1

We ran out of time for a number of questions asked in worship on May 14th. Here is the first installment on responses to those questions.

  • How will our current budget deficit affect our future?
  • Where do we go from here? We have worked very hard to keep FCCLG vibrant and useful; where do we go from here? (There is so much good here now!)
Budgets are a guide and a plan. The old saying goes that when we make plans, God laughs! I've never taken a journey where I did not have to readjust my plans for one reason or another; likewise, we will readjust our plans and move forward with our ministries.

Where we've been:

In planning the income side of the church's budget, we use statistical data from a five year trend that includes member giving through pledges, unpledged income, and loose offering; the current property sharing covenants, and the previous year's investment income. This year, we overestimated what friends and members would pledge. Our estimate was based upon the growth of pledges in the previous years. While the average individual pledge did increase as anticipated, the total number of households pledging dropped. There are many possible reasons for this from a less aggressive pledge drive to members' lack of confidence in their economic future. Reasons aside, we misestimated what our members would pledge. Statistical data on giving and pledges is below.

Where we are: 

At the end of the first quarter, our income exceeded our expenses - primarily because we used our reserves and our allowed income from investments. 

  • A number of members have responded to the Stewardship's April letter by either increasing their pledges or giving one-time gifts to close the budget gap. To date, this totals just over $10,000.
  • As most are aware, our building costs are a very large portion of our expenses. Our building is really three buildings ranging in age from 57 years to 135 years old; it cannot help but to show wear and tear and requires ongoing maintenance as well as some expensive repairs. One of the goals of the Alban Plan is to strive to have the building pay for itself through property sharing - exclusive use office space and special events. While we have moved in this direction, we are not yet there.
  • Our ministries have pared down their spending to the lowest we can go without losing effectiveness and shortchanging our mission and values. There is little left to cut.
  • The office staff have made changes to how we operate within contracted services, are researching creative means to fund paper publications, and practice cost-cutting measures in the office operations. There is little left to cut without affecting the effectiveness of the administration of the church.
  • The church staff has been transformed into a lean, mean, ministry machine. Many of you are feeling the differences made by these cuts with less pastoral care, dependence upon volunteers for every ministry, fewer programs, and changing traditions.

So, building, staff, expenses, and ministries have all been cut. It's a tough situation!

Council has called together a team to examine the budget for 2017 and offer suggested cuts. They will report to the Council at 7 p.m. on June 14th at a meeting in the Drawing Room when we will discern a direction. Council meetings are always open to whoever has ideas to share or curiosity to feed.

Where we are going: 

We are journeying together in dangerous times. The world needs the message of a God who Accept All (no matter what), who Reaches Out (to everyone), and who Touches Lives (all lives). God is not done with us; we have much work to do. But, we must listen to where God is calling us and adapt our way of being the church to be effective in ministry in this new age.

Finances are not the end-all of our ministry. While we have a fiscal responsibility to be good stewards of what God has entrusted to us, if we focus solely upon the bottom line, we will miss opportunities to be witnesses to God's extravagant welcome, God's proclivity toward the poor, the outcast, and the downtrodden, and to make a meaningful difference in the world around us.

Our building is not the end-all of our ministry. Communities of faith who live solely for their buildings die of extinction. While the blessing of our building affords us comfort and familiarity, it is not the reason we exist. We are called as witnesses, as stewards, as prophets, as change-agents, as teachers, and as caregivers. Buildings don't do ministry; people do.

Our staff is not the end-all of our ministry. Paying people to do ministry is a creation of modern times. Every person who follows Jesus is called to serve - to put on the aprons of service and participate in the life-changing ministries to which each of us and all of us together are called.

The purpose of the community of faith is witness. Our witness is Accepting All, Reaching Out, Touching Lives. This requires neither staff, building, nor money; witness requires each member of the community to be active in their faith. Where we are going from here is into the future to which God calls us - and that is still unfolding. But we do know that it will be different than our present.

I tell people that I rarely get lost. I may not know where I am, but I most certainly can learn something from where I am and in finding my way to where I'm going. The road to our future is not clearly mapped out; but we will learn and grow from the turns and avenues that we take to get to where God would have us be.

Let's take this adventure together.