Since I have talked, taught and preached on the importance of change for growth in discipleship, growth in ministry, and therefore, growth of the church, it seems only fair to balance this with an acknowledgement of some of the negative aspects of change. After all, change describes my personal life in the last couple of months of 2018. Perhaps this is a testimony to the challenges of change that accompany the promises renewal, revival, and growth. I hope it will be helpful.
The blessing of living within the community and only a few miles from the church cannot be overstated. Making the move from the east side of Atlanta (Conyers) to Fayette County means that I no longer spend 2+ hours per day in the car. If (God forbid) there is an emergency, I can respond more quickly. No one needs to refrain from inviting me by for conversation, prayer, a chat, or all of the above. I can, as we say, “drop by.” Living within the city limits of Fayetteville, I can be involved in the events and activities of the community in ways not possible before. This is life-giving change for me and our ministry together. What a great change to make.
As with most important changes; however, it comes with other “stuff” as well. Something is left behind. There is a sense of loss and disruption that cast a cloud.
The Conyers house was home to me and my sons since 1996. Both of my boys grew up there, had triumphs and struggles, went on their first dates and to proms, got into trouble of one kind or another, and had their friends around our dinner table often. We painted and repaired and even laid hardwood floors. Our dogs, Lad Labner and Nicky Houdini, became part of the family and proved that dogs and cats can live together even if one of the cats is named Mr. Black Edward Wilkerson (Black E. to his friends; Mr. Wilkerson to everyone else.) Many, many memories were made …
Yes, the house – and especially the land – was simply too much to maintain at this stage of my life. Repairing and restoring the damage from years with tenants was daunting. Working on it for a year, and then being delayed another six months, I could not wait to finish and be gone. So, why not be totally and completely overjoyed? Why was there an undercurrent of anxiety, even a kind of gnawing fear?
There is sadness in letting go of something that has been a part of your life – both as a home and as a burden – for so long. There is a kind of grief. It is not simply nostalgia for memories made years ago. These sentiments do not account for the disturbance. I think it is the loss of the familiar and the disruptions of well-worn and completely internalized habits. It is going from the known to the unknown: from a set of known repairs and issues, to one that might have bad, unknown things wrong … no matter what the inspection report said.
Doesn’t sound like much to be upset about when I write it down now, but I these things are what make change hard. Change creates uncertainty.
In a move, your things are packed and then unpacked and put away; but not in the same place or same way as before. You have to figure out where to put everything inside cabinets and closets, and in plain sight. You have to remember where you put things that are “out of sight” in those cabinets and closets. Just finding things can be irritating.
Speaking of habits, for a month, I was still turning automatically in the direction that the microwave was located in the kitchen instead of where it is now. You can’t help but roll your eyes or laugh … but at other times, it is just one more unsettling irritation. I had to think about so many things that did not require that previously. Funny how many things we do on auto-pilot. We just know – without thinking about it.
Similar things happen when we change something at church. We have to do things differently: not automatically. Suddenly all the automatic things don’t work. We have to think about who, what, when and where; instead of just knowing that it is “handled.” We might not have known any or all the details before, just that we can count on things to be as they have always been. And it is comforting to have this sameness; this routine, even if the sameness means flat or declining results for mission and ministry, for disciple making.
With change, we have to think things through, decide about who does what, how it is done, when it is done … and most importantly why we do it. We cannot count on old habits, but must develop new ways of doing things that initially require more effort … more patience … a tolerance for initial frustration. I confess to a tendency to go into “blame mode,” including (and especially) blaming myself.
Embracing “what can be” means leaving behind “what was.” Doing something new often means giving up what we had and asking why we even had it … or did it. Change is being uncomfortable when we really want to be comfortable; to think instead of operate on automatic pilot. We are challenged to do something different … which in my personal case means that I continue to get rid of stuff that I have carried around out of habit rather than out of need or any real desire to keep. The long unused stuff we keep in closets “just in case,” become dead weights dragging us down. We only think they are anchors in the storm.
Which leads to questions like, what if I need that thing I threw out later, or bigger still … what if this move to this house doesn’t work out? What if there is a major repair? What if, I don’t like cluster home living? What if the HOA is a pain? What if housing prices bottom out? What if …
This past year we did something new as a church, something that made the statement that we cared about people driving by, something that reached out to passersby, something that said, “a church is here, and we care that you know it.” We did something that literally was as big as life.
We had a life-sized nativity on our front lawn that “moved” as the events in the birth of Jesus unfolded from Advent through Christmas to Epiphany. This year, the hundreds of cars traveling New Hope Road could not drive by without noticing that a body of believers was at 847. We transformed an empty lawn that most passersby did not even notice into a beautiful testimony to the miracle of the incarnation; and our witness to the joy of that event.
We did not know how to do this before we began. There was a learning curve on what to do and how to do it. (For one thing, we had a magi who had problems standing up straight, and lights that won’t behave.) At the start, we were anxious and mostly worried about what might not work; and then something wonderful happened as people were led to become involved. We worked together to learn, fix and adjust. It became a joyous thing. A team of people came together to do something that would touch others, and in the process I believe we were all blessed. Anxiety was replaced with ideas on how to do it better next year: from set-up, to movement, to how to manage the lights. And, I know I heard a lot of laughter along the way, including jokes about the “tipsy” magi
Before Advent, when I introduced myself as the pastor at North Fayette United Methodist Church to someone around here, they would ask where the church is located. Even after telling them the address, I would get a puzzled look. They would say that they know of “the big church,” or “the church with all the blood drives,” and a few even asked if I knew what Seventh Day Adventist’s believe because that was the church that popped into their mind.
Several times recently, I have had occasion to introduce myself as pastor of North Fayette United Methodist Church, and when I told them we are on New Hope Road, their eyes lit up and the response was, “That’s the church that had the nativity scene in front?” or “I love the nativity scene. You changed it around.”
We made a change. We did something new. Thanks to all the folks who helped give birth to this idea and those who worked on every step of bringing it to life. Thanks be to God for the blessings received and shared.
As for me, and my new digs? The car needs a fill-up twice a month instead of twice a week. I’m finding (most) things without it feeling like a scavenger hunt. Yes, the house is going to need some TLC, but what house doesn’t? Neighbors are friendly, and one of the HOA officers has a big heart. I am close to most everything, but the neighborhood is quiet.
It’s beginning to feel like home: a place for the future.