Monday, January 25, 2010

members of the Body

At the Annual meeting yesterday, I preached about Paul's long message to the church in Corinth about the many members of the body. It is in 1st Corinthians somewhere (chapter 14 I think) and points out that the 'members of the body' are equally important. That is something hard for parish churches to remember. Each of the 3 parishes I've served over 30 odd years have shared this one concept--there is 'the in-group', though they wouldn't call it that, I don't think, that does all the work that all the parish profits from. In all cases, the 'in group' feels overworked, beset upon and a tad resentful of the members who aren't 'doing' what they are doing.

It might just be that the in group are the brain and heart and alimentary canal of the Body and those further out in the concentric circles are things like finger-nails and hair and skin. Somebody has to be the vital organs of the Body, but that shouldn't mean the fingernails aren't important--like if you need to scratch an itch, for example, a fingernail becomes suddenly 'vital'.

Parish churches are NOT 'intensive communities'. There are 'intensive communities' of Christians--two I know of are The Church of the Savior and Sojourners--both in Washington, DC. In those gatherings of Christians 'everybody' is in the 'in group'. They are very efficient, effective and well oiled machines. But they cannot tolerate folks 'hanging around' or on the edges of their lives as a Christian community.

Parish churches not only invite those on the edges, those on the edges become the possibility for new members of the in-group if they can be moved, motivated and inspired...and most of all 'welcomed' into the inner circle.

One of the things I'm aware of, though I seldom say it outloud, is that people in the 'in group' in any community give lip service to wanting help, but the terrible truth is this: help in the 'in group' would involve the 'in group' in change--and one thing 'in groups' wherever you find them and you can find them in any business, organization, communion, clan, family--don't want to change. In-groups have pretty much worked out how to handle things and the last thing they want (unconsciously) is someone to tell them a different way to handle things. 'Consciously' and resolutely and honestly, they long for help and more folks to join them. The big problem is most in-groups I've ever observed are not hospitable to 'new thoughts' and 'new paradigms'. They do, sincerely and desperately, want others to join them...who are, it usually seems 'just like them...'

I'd have to think longer--though I have thought long and hard for years and years--about how to make 'in groups' truly welcoming to new folks with new insights and new agendas.

Perhaps it begins by convincing in-groups that the best way forward is to do things in different ways all the time. Go try to sell that concept to anybody--ice to Eskimos, warm breezes to Pacific Islanders...that would be easier.

I'll sit here under my withered Castor Oil Tree and ponder how to make the parish model accommodate itself to welcoming the 'new' into the inner circle. Give me a while...

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.