I really do need to be better at documenting all the advice/reflections/anecdotes pastors share with me while I go through my journey towards ordination. It is getting to the point where I’m forgetting things. That doesn’t mean that all the advice that I get is any good but there are a few bits that have stuck with me.
Last week, in a one-on-one supervision session with a former Metro-New York Synod Bishop, we were talking about change in churches. Actually, we were talking about an article that was forwarded to him by Brian McLaren called “Seminary is Not the Problem.” It came out a month ago and we chatted about it. I’m sure, if I look, I would find all the things that other people have already said about the article and that I’m not necessarily sure that I could add anything to the conversation. I don’t necessarily agree with his conclusions (and I think part of his conclusions could be theologically unsound) but I understand where he is coming from. In my Church and Conflict class, half the students were currently ordained and in parishes that were struggling with conflict. Some were taking it again as a refresher. The issues that McLaren pointed out are real.
In our little one-on-one, the Bishop told me his story. He mentioned a church he took the helm of once in Brooklyn. It was an old, proud, Norwegian, located in a neighborhood that had changed, and it had three services in three different languages. When he came to the church, he did what our current Bishop informs all pastors who end up somewhere new: don’t change anything in the liturgy for at least a year. So, the former Bishop used the same language, kept the words of the service the same, and didn’t change the location of anything in the Nave. He did everything he could to not change how worship worked.
About a year into his time at the church, he was in a conversation with some folks and the topic of change came up. The Bishop asked how the folks were experiencing worship. “Oh”, they said, “you changed everything.” He was dumbfounded. The words were all the same, the order of worship was the same, and he thought everything was as close to how it was when he first arrived. But the simple fact was that just by being there, the liturgy changed. He said words differently, preached differently, and his whole personally moved through the liturgy differently. Just his presence made the liturgy change.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard that point made before. The “don’t change anything for a year” is advice that I’ve heard all the time but the point that it will change because the pastor is change, that’s a little new to me. Or at least, I’m really hearing it for the first time. It makes me wonder what I’m gonna bring to where ever I end up and how much “change” I’ll be carrying with me.