Between Two Worlds Day 18 (of 40)
Sharon H. asks the question, “Who are the people who would buy the estate?” referring to my blog on the The Great Estate Sale. I have decided to respond in a letter.
Thank you for your question. I can imagine that that would be the question of any person or organization preparing to let go their estate in the hope that someone would carry on their legacy. The truth is I don’t know exactly who these people are. I do have a hunch about what the shift is that our religious institutions are experiencing. Quite honestly, it feels so radically different than what I and we have known for decades that it is almost paralyzing. At the most basic level it seems to me that we are moving from “belief-oriented” communities to spiritualities that honor a direct experience of that which we call Sacred. If my sophomoric understanding of our religious history is right this means we may be preparing for the reappearance of religious mysticism.
You want to know who these people are. I think they are all around us. In fact, I think many of them are even in the church right now, but just haven’t had their spirituality validated. Diana Butler Bass in her book Grounded says that the big change has been that the “God out there” has come home. God is no longer a distant being that we have to believe in in order to have a relationship; God is right in front us in the checkout line, out in the garden, and singing to us through iTunes. A God who is that personal doesn’t need believing in; She or He only needs to be invited to share in the daily joys and challenges of everyday life. I can feel it especially in my preaching. People don’t want to hear about God; they want to experience God in that short 20 minutes!
But my point in my previous blog was not we should look for a good buyer before putting our estate up for sale. My point was that we may need to put it up for sale and see who decides to buy. My point is that we may be getting to the point where we no longer have control over who will carry on the legacy of the Christian tradition. We want to have some control over who carries on our name, our mission, and our buildings. But it seems the more we try to control our future the less attractive we become to those seeking a welcoming, faithful community of spiritual pilgrims.
From a practical point of view it seems to me that we have nothing to lose. We either keep doing what we have been doing while our churches dissolve away. Or we do something radical like putting out a sign that reads, “Estate Sale Coming–We Want Our Treasures to Become Your Treasures!”
I write this from the place of experience. I was pastor of a church in Portland that was heading toward closing. Three years before the fateful day they made a decision. Rather than just wither away until there was nothing left they decided to spend their final months putting in place the pieces to leave a legacy on the site. They invited the community to a meeting and they told them, “We have a commitment to serve the community. We have a commitment to ministries of compassion in Jesus name. And we have a building that is 50% unused. We want to pass our spiritual and physical assets on to you.”
Within a year the city and a local non-profit opened up a 60-bed family homeless shelter in our extra classrooms. A earth-friendly non-profit partnered with us to build a 100-plot, 3/4 acre community garden. And another congregation that wanted to expand its social justice ministries made an offer on the building and took over the site.
What made that work, however, was not trying to control their future, but by letting go the picture of their future. They named the values that were important to their legacy. The community sent those who best represented those values to us. Eastminster Church did close, but on the site is a worshiping community that is engaged and active in serving the community with programs that embody the compassion of Jesus.
Eastminster, in the end, left a legacy, not by planning and manipulating their future, but by letting go of their future.
Mike H. wrote yesterday about the community of AA and process of recovery. An alcoholic doesn’t really “let go” until they hit bottom. I am wondering if that time is coming for us as well. I love Phyllis Tickle, but I don’t think a rummage sale is going to be enough.