Let me begin my thoughts with a caveat for my more northern friends. The pics I am including in today's post are from a couple of weeks ago. The weather has turned cooler and the leaves on the ground are decidedly less crunchy, more on the "slowly turning into humus" side of the equation. Hopefully it won't be long until they're covered with snow. With that out of the way, let me begin.
As you will recall from my last post, Glen and I take Finley for regular walks in the forest, sometimes together but more often alone. I enjoy these walks. They are a good time to connect with Spirit, to be upheld by the Earth which sustains us, and to ponder life, the universe, everything. Filed under the category of "everything" is ministry and how do we go from where we are as church to where we need to be. It's in these ponderings that the forest once again offers me lessons.
There are a number of trails in part of York Regional Forest closest to our home. Fortunately the various trails are colour coded. I've gotten in the habit of mixing and matching the trails to create longer walks. One I particular like I have dubbed the "rainbow route" because as I traverse the path I move from red to blue to purple to yellow and finally green before returning to red (the access road) which leads me back to the parking lot.
The volunteers who maintain them have conveniently marked the paths by painting circles every so often on the trunks of trees. There has been many a time that I have been grateful for those markings, especially as the paths themselves have become increasingly covered with fallen leaves.
As I walked along considering the gift of these marked paths, I was struck how much that is like walking the path of ministry, especially in these days of great change. We need to walk a new path but sometimes we are unsure where to go. We have a sense that we should be going somewhere but the path is littered by what was, by the way we used to do church, especially when those approaches were successful in the past. We know too well that is no longer the case and yet we hold, obscuring a way forward. Every time someone says "We tried that but it didn't work," "That won't work here" or the infamous "We don't do it that way" is like leaf litter covering the path ahead.
And yet we have the circles to guide us. They remind me that our generation is not unique in facing a major shift as church. Our ancestors along the Way have faced similar transitions. One sainted forbear who came to my mind is Francis of Assisi, According to legend as he passing a church during a meditative walk he heard a voice saying "repair my house, which is falling into ruin." Like many of us he misunderstood his task and literally set about repairing the church of San Damiano.
As the above picture illustrates, we can set about holding up the church that was, or we can do what Francis eventually did and establish a new community of people who were committed to living the Way of Jesus in the world.
Now the world we live in is not 12th century Europe. And yet there are people in our communities that want to hear about the transformative path of Jesus, and not just hear about it but commit to it as they seek to repair the world in which we live. Our task as his followers is to go out into the community rather than sit in our sanctuaries holding on to the church as it was.
It sounds easy, of course, but it's not. And as we forge a way along this path, there will be times like on the trails I regular walk, when it will seem like we aren't getting anywhere, when the trail seems to be switching back on itself, going in some convoluted circle. But eventually the way straightens and we realise we have moved forward after all.
May we trust that the same Spirit that led Francis and other spiritual ancestors is leading us as well.