By Rev. Scott Lumsden, Executive Presbyter
(Continued from the home page...)
Another reality that we’re living into is our changing demographics. A recent AP story informs us that “[F]or the first time, more than half of the children under age 2 in the U.S. are minorities...[D]emographers say the numbers provide the clearest confirmation yet of a changing social order, one in which racial and ethnic minorities will become the U.S. majority by midcentury” (Seattle Times, 06.23.2011). The New York Times also has an incredibly helpful interactive chart that explores the way these these trends play out in American households. (http://nyti.ms/nTikcj)
It has been said that we’re living in a post-denominational age. Those organizational groupings (denominations) that were so essential to support the work of the local church in our heyday are now struggling to adapt. There was a certain regional (and even national) familiarity that we could assume about our congregations. That homogeneity no longer exists. Every neighborhood, every community, every city has regional characteristics that take time to understand. By that definition, national structures of church organization are at best connective tissue or a resource network to help congregations in their mission and outreach. Issues of polity, though important, are no longer the main focus as they do little to address local mission.
This much change inevitably produces conflict within communities of faith, but even these conflicts have new layers to them. In the more stable church of the past, church fights were over the color of carpet, which budget got how much, or how we worship (“worship wars”). They were fights of division. The assets we had for ministry needed to be divided in ways that reflected the (internal) faith community. We still have these fights from time to time, but now with less to divide these conflicts have new dimensions to them because there’s more to lose.
As the complexities increase, so must our resources for dealing with them. The insights of polarity management help us better understand not whether something is right or wrong, but how things relate. Polarity management is different from conflict management in that it’s not asking how to resolve an issue but what kind of tension we are willing to live with. Not every conflict we encounter in the church today is solvable, sometimes understanding how two competing ideas relate to each other helps unlock new insights into what’s most important for us to live well as a community of faith.
change and the PCUSA?
Whether we’re talking about nFOG or new ways of organizing as churches (locally, regionally and nationally), we’re bumping up against more than just ourselves. How much we’re willing to acknowledge other factors both in our disagreements and our solutions may open up new ideas for us to explore. The good news is that we have reorganized before and we can do it again. What’s up for debate at the moment is how: Will we divide because of conflict or will we acknowledge our differences and try a different approach? Is it possible for us to listen and adapt to our new context together?
This summer will be a time of exploring the shape of our life together in light of these and many other changes. Congregants and pastors from Seattle Presbytery are already talking together about where God is leading us as a church. Let us pray God clarifies the areas in which we need to change, not to meet our needs, but to so work together that God’s love might be shown through us and God’s will might be done.