Covenant With Change
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. . .
In the lobby of a downtown Providence hotel, I once noticed a wall plaque soberly commemorating the Great Hurricane of 1938, when the city was inundated by a 15-foot storm surge. The plaque marked the spot where the flood waters had crested. It was over my head.
This image comes back to me these days as we experience a dramatic sea-change in our UCC churches. As current chair of the MBA Committee on Ministry, I serve at a particular convergence of local churches/seminaries/future leaders—a space where the tension between a hallowed past and an unknown future is palpable. Although large congregations like the Village Church have enough ballast to avoid sinking in these roiling waters, the scope and pace of change elsewhere is astonishing: institutions are drowning, shrinking, merging and rearranging right before our very eyes. How could this happen? Have we failed somehow to remain relevant to this culture? Is it our fault?
Well, no. Even as we naturally grieve what is passing away, we should take care to remember that change is both normative and formative in our faith tradition. A pattern can be seen throughout our Judeo-Christian history: (a) God does a new thing, (b) God’s people resist then follow, (c) the new thing becomes ritualized and institutionalized, and (d) . . . repeat. From Moses and the Exodus to Jesus and the Cross, our scriptures repeatedly offer stories of the status quo being completely blindsided by God’s subversive innovation. Our “still-speaking God” is also the “still-creating God”—a jubilant gardener endlessly planting and pruning and watering every square inch of creation.
Perhaps it is time to reframe, both in our individual and communal lives. Rather than viewing change as an outside force hostile to either the gospel or our preferences, we might consider seeking to be in covenant with change, binding our hearts to that which we so fearfully resist. This is an ultimate act of faith, submitting to the wisdom of that which we did not ask for nor expect. If we can open ourselves in curiosity and wonder, we might indeed perceive that Love is doing a new thing, which offers us new life.
Prayer: Creator God, we thank you for always calling us forward towards our best selves. Grant us, in your mercy, enough courage and vision to follow wherever you lead. Amen.