The United Church of Canada, like all churches, is worried about it's future. So they decided to survey all the congregations of the church. The report's pretty much what you'd expect, concern about dwindling numbers in the pews and in ministry, financial concerns, unhappiness with unwieldy structures (institutions love their paperwork). The report even has the very practical and entirely unimaginative title of "Comprehensive Review." You can find it on the United Church of Canada website. It's a little dry, but practical assessments have to be, don't they?
A few days after that report, the Comprehensive Review Committee produced something else: a document recommending possible directions the church could go, a remarkably creative discussion document they called "Fishing on the other side."
That seems right to me, somehow: the rather dry practical and factual document gets a suitably direct title and the creative one gets something kind of funky.
"Fishing on the other side" is a reference to John 21:4-6. In the days following Jesus' death and resurrection, some of the disciples had gone back to fishing. "Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, 'Children, you have no fish, have you?' They answered him, 'No.' He said to them, 'Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.' So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish."
Like any metaphor, it's fraught with complications, but the point is to suggest that bold and profound transformation is required of the institution we call "The Church." Some change or adjustment isn't enough, we need to let go of how things have been done and recognize that living out God's mission means something "new." Just like life.
This document's now being discussed by the local regions of the church and ours worked on it this week. Locally, we're also working on a regional event called "Unstoppable Church," an opportunity for individual churches to work on their own particular issues and dream together.
There is no shortage of enthusiasm for these discussions and no shortage of desire for change. But it also strikes me that there is a desire to know - now - what the future will be, to know where we are going and to have the expectation that comes with the knowledge of what that destination looks like. And that's not surprising because that's often how we live. We have that constant struggle between knowing where we're going and taking the time to enjoy the journey.
And what happens when it's not what we expected? Disappointment? Do we keep trying to make it what we thought it would be? Or do we engage the people and places on our journey, looking to embrace where that takes us?
I don't have an answer for that. I think we're all unique in our perspective and our personal interaction with life around us. But I'm wondering about two bible stories that speak to me about it this week.
Near the beginning of John's gospel is another story of "invitation." The first disciples come to Jesus because John tells them to: this is the one I told you about, he says. They go and ask Jesus what he's doing and Jesus simply says "come and see." No explanation, no promise of what's coming, no agenda, no pamphlet or informational brochure, no map. Just the invitation to come and see: to experience the journey. Maybe, as followers of Jesus, we're called to be life explorers. Maybe as people, we're called to be life explorers.
That can be a pretty scary proposition, can't it? But that's where another story seems appropriate. It's a pretty universal moment in Jesus' ministry that happens frequently, in a variety of settings, but this week we hear it as part of the Transfiguration story (Matthew 17:1-9). In one of those "magical" moments, two of the disciples witness Jesus being "transfigured" - illuminated in a bright light. And they hear the voice of God say "this is my son, listen to him." They don't know what's happening, they can't explain it, but it's something amazing and they're scared and they fall to the ground and Jesus says - wait for it, this is the moment - Jesus says "get up and don't be afraid."
Perhaps, as the season of Epiphany comes to a close, that's an "a-ha" moment. How willing are we, really, to get up and step out into the world, living as Jesus taught, without fear because Jesus walks beside us?