12 November 2015: If I had a nickel...

If I had a nickel for every time ... how do you fill in the blank? If I had a nickel for every time someone cut me off in traffic... If I had a nickel for every time I forgot it was garbage day… If I had a nickel for every time someone called me the wrong name… If I had a nickel for every time ... what? 

Here’s mine today: If I had a nickel for every time a heard a congregation tell how its former self was sucking its current energy… 

Some of you know that I used to do congregation consulting on a national team in another denomination. I got trained by some pretty recognizable names in church development, then I trained congregations to face the future in a new way – and sometimes coached them to close. I’ve seen a lot of congregations in hard times. 

And we know the reality here at Woodside. 

Woodside has mirrored in many ways the reality of Flint: high growth in good times, devastating decline in bad times, experiencing emotional highs and lows as well as financial and demographic ones. Even behavioral issues, which most families know can be attributable to stresses elsewhere. Woodside has been through a lot. And weathered the storms one by one. 

So I heard it again this week. One colleague talking about how her congregation’s facility was impeding ministry, costing too much, requiring too much of the congregation’s finite resources. Maybe we could just meet in a barn, the pastor said with a small measure of exasperation. I immediately thought of the whole manger thing; it’s certainly been done before! And another colleague talking about how the congregation’s bylaws, intended to help things happen, were actually keeping things from happening. 

Buildings and bylaws. If I had a nickel for every time one or the other has cropped up in a “what’s stopping your congregation from doing groovy stuff” conversations... 

One of the things that I love about Woodside is that, while we hold ideals, we don’t dream pipe dreams. We are creative about the future and realistic about the present. So, those two very things that keep congregations stuck – buildings and bylaws – are both topics of serious conversation for us. 

First, in late-September, we invited Carolyn Stubbs, parliamentarian extraordinaire, to coach us on what bylaws should look like. It was a really good couple of hours, with Linda Angus, Karen Eaton, Jim Hazen and me. (Even one new worshipper, Gregg, who thought it sounded interesting!) We learned what we really already knew intuitively – our bylaws are cumbersome, designed for a much larger congregation in a much different era. So, we’re working on some recommendations, ways of paring our governing documents to more appropriately guide our congregation into our future. You’ll hear more about that in the weeks ahead. 

Second, also in September, our board, on retreat together, decided that the time has come for us to ponder in a strategic and systematic way the question of our building and its command on our mission. We decided to form a committee of the congregation to probe the possibilities, and at our October meeting the board appointed that committee: The Special Committee Related to Location and Facility is beginning its work immediately, with its task boiled down to this question: How do we stay or where do we go? The board has chosen people who have loved Woodside for a short time and a long time; people with imagination, willing to consider that our future may be right here at 1509 East Court Street or may lie somewhere else; people fully committed to considering every possible scenario and leading us to stay with confidence or go with grace and conviction. They are people who will put our mission in the forefront and lead with their love for Jesus and the people of Flint. Those appointed to this challenging ministry are: Keith Crane, Jay Cummings, Laura Eufinger, Don Harbin, Linda Rose Lee, Kathleen Reid, Reid Sanders, Mike Thompson, and our Vice Moderator, Linda Angus. 

We will support this new committee in two primary ways. 

First, we will pray for them. This is no small task, and we need God’s Spirit of wisdom, imagination, courage, and strength to guide their work. 

Second, much like a pastoral search committee, we will charge them to conduct their work with a high level of confidentiality, and we will honor that by not asking them for information they cannot disclose. This is for two important reasons: This committee, to be most effective and thorough, must be willing to consider ideas that are outside any box, things we may find preposterous at first glance. By working this way, they will help the congregation’s anxiety stay low. Further, this committee may find itself in sensitive conversations about potential real estate negotiations; anytime we discuss real estate, we do it in private for maximum negotiating potential. 

That said, this committee will be fully accountable to the board and to the congregation. The board will receive reports monthly – in executive session, as needed, to guard confidential processes; and the congregation will have final authority over any recommendation the committee brings, perhaps as early as May. 

It’s an important time here and “if I had a nickel” doesn’t begin to tell the story. And here’s the thing I love about Woodside: we are honest and realistic, willing to do what is required. Our current facility isn’t Woodside Church. Our current bylaws aren’t Woodside Church. WE are Woodside Church, already living in our 5th or 6th facility, and with bylaws that have been amended many times before. We will embrace this journey, confident that our congregation is in mission, our city needs us, and God’s Spirit has a purpose for us. 

With you on the way, — pastor deb