~ In Their Time ~
“God has made all things beautiful in their time.”~
These lovely days of autumn, with their golden hues and gathering leaves! It’s been a little hot, but fall is still a good time to reflect on time itself, to cast a backward glance over the years of your journey, to contemplate the path ahead, and to linger awhile in the fleeting moments of today. The first Sunday in August marked my seventh anniversary with you here at Bower Hill Church. Just today, a long-time member asked me if I’ve got the “seven year itch.” Like you, I’ve heard the expression all my life, but decided to look it up just to make sure I understood… Originally, the “seven year itch” referred to any ailment that lasted a long time. But it’s come to mean something else: the tendency to get bored with a relationship after just seven years. Of marriages that end in divorce, the median duration is about seven years. That has been the case at least since 1922, when someone started counting. When I was ordained, it was said that seven years was the average period of time that a minister stayed with a congregation. Today, the average length of most pastoral tenures has dipped to a mere three and a half years—no wonder churches struggle! But here at Bower Hill, with seven years to boast of, you and I together have more-than-doubled the average… And I hope you don’t want rid of me yet.
Hope lies in the future, but strength is rooted in the past. Cast a backward glance over our time together, and you will see seven years of growth and renewal. Sometimes we forget how far we’ve come. Average attendance in 2009 was somewhere between 90 and 100. Today it is 130. True, we’ve remained at 130 for a few years now, but in an age of rapidly declining church attendance, we are holding our own quite nicely. Not just that, but we’re getting younger. On a good Sunday in 2010, we got eight kids at the children’s sermon—which in those days was open to any child not yet in junior high. Today we average thirty at the children’s sermon, which is now restricted to third-graders and younger. That’s to say, those thirty kids represent only our very youngest children; there are many others who are too old for the children’s sermon. (We truly love people of all ages, but young families bring new energy and new ideas to the life of our church.) In my time here, we’ve never had a bigger crowd for Kickoff Sunday than we did this September. Also, we’ve completed an enormously successful capital campaign, which not only revitalized major portions of our physical plant, but which gave 10% of its total income to local and foreign mission. We gave this “tithe” to mission despite the loud protestations of Jeff Newlin, our capital campaign consultant. In the end, even Jeff had to admit that we were right to do it, for this outward focus is just…who we are.
Some longtime church members recall filling out “Holy Cow” questionnaires, in about 2007, asking about your experience of this church. These questionnaires were used to determine the vitality and growth potential of the congregation. The end results were pretty bleak. 87% of church members agreed with this statement: “It seems like we’re just going through the motions of church; there isn’t much excitement.” Holy Cow depicted a church where people were dissatisfied, worn out, bored, and discouraged about the future. The only high ranking in the Holy Cow assessment was in the area of mission. People loved the church’s outward focus. Together, with God’s help, we have retained (even expanded) our mission commitments, all the while witnessing a complete rebirth of excitement and good energy. Thank you for your part in the renewal of this church! With your help, we’ve re-charted this ship’s course to becoming again an openhearted community of faith, anchored in tradition, but socially-engaged and hard at work healing the wounds of our world. And somehow we do it now with joy.
Has God not “made all things beautiful in their time”? Some of you have seen dark days in the life of this church, and some rightly worry about future challenges—which are real. Join me on October 29, following worship, when a brunch potluck will take the place of all adult and children’s classes. At this intergenerational “Talking About Tomorrow” event, we will cast a brief glance over the past, but mostly we’ll strategize for our next seven years—or seventy years—as Bower Hill Community Church. It’s a privilege to serve beside you.
In Christ’s Peace,