At last week’s Town Hall Meeting, we heard from the Growth Planning Team about options for replacing the Next Generation House. We’re only in the early stages of planning; there’s no telling where the process will lead. What did become clear as we talked together, is that we don’t want to proceed willy nilly. If this project—whatever it entails—is to succeed, if it is to help us fulfill our mission as a church, every decision we make needs to be wise.
So, how do we choose wisely? Today’s passage from Proverbs introduces us to wisdom. She’s a woman. J In personifying wisdom, the writer invites us to see her, not as an object to be obtained, but as someone with whom we come into relationship.
How’s your relationship with wisdom these days? Is she helping you grow, or is she giving you a run for your money? Today’s verses from Proverbs suggest at least 3 things to do to help us deepen our relationship with wisdom. The first two can be found in verses 1-4.
2 On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads Wisdom takes her stand;
3 beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
4 ‘To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.
Wisdom is everywhere! All we have to do is pay attention. That’s the first thing that deepens wisdom—paying attention. Now, there’s a lost art. Each day we are bombarded by tens of thousands of images and ads and sounds and people and words. Frantic to get things done– to read the blogs, check in on Facebook, answer email…even those of us who want to pay closer attention to things find little time to do it.
Or that’s what we tell ourselves. That’s what the world tells us. More experiences, more online articles, more hours on Facebook–more is always better, right? Here’s the thing about more….more doesn’t make us choose. If more is the goal, you take everything in. There is little or no discernment about which choices might be better.
The second thing that helps deepen wisdom is to be discerning choosers. Did you notice in the verses we just heard, that wisdom is at the crossroads, at the gates of the city, at the entrance to the portals? In short, wisdom resides at transition points, at times of decision. And isn’t that when we most need to call on wisdom, when making a decision? Which school to attend, what to eat, whom to marry, which job to take…Wisdom helps us choose, well, wisely.
As a community, we have some decisions coming our way….which I find very exciting. Because any time a community makes a decision—no matter which way the decision goes–it grows. The process of discerning what to do helps us grow deeper as a community.
Two ways of tapping into wisdom: Pay attention and engage in careful discernment…
like we did a few years ago when the need to expand and update our facility became urgent.
The first wise thing we did was appoint a Growth Task Force to help us figure out what to do. The first thing the Task Force did was assess what wasn’t working with the current space. By “wasn’t working,” I mean that spaces—worship space, educational space, fellowship space, stalls in the women’s bathroom space—all the spaces had become so crowded that it made people uncomfortable. Some guests came once or twice, then didn’t come back. A few people actually named the building as the reason they didn’t return.
Once we decided to build, we had to decide where to build: here on this property or somewhere else? Ultimately, we decided that our property is an essential part of who we are. We decided to stay. If we keep growing, then we’ll seed another church at another location.
Of all the decisions we made during that Growth Task Force Process, I think the decision about staying was the most important …because it helped us clarify who we are as a community. (1) We’re not all showy with a building you can, like, see from the road. And we’re just fine with that. (2) Also, we’re a church whose faith is intimately connected to the natural world. The picnic tables out front are really helping us connect with that part of our identity. (3) We also discovered that we’re a destination church. When we did a map of where our members live, we realized that the church is centrally located to our members. Shifting locations could actually lose us members.
The decision to stay on this property was a good one, but it also put limits on what we could do. Our property is just under 5 acres, but not all of it is buildable. The only way to determine whether we could build was to engage an architect. Sound familiar? We hired Architect Randy Young to tell us whether or not we could build. His answer? Yes!
We were so excited! We shared the findings with the congregation. Then, because the cost for building a new sanctuary was steep, we did a feasibility study. That’s when regular pledgers in the church are called and asked if they’d be willing to support the venture.
In May of 2008, I got a call. “Kim, there’s just no way to do it. We don’t have the support.” After we made the announcement to the congregation, someone came to me privately and asked if I was going to leave. When I asked why, the person said, “Because we can’t build.” I told them then—and I’m telling you now: I wasn’t tied to any specific outcome in that process. I wasn’t nearly as interested in what kind of structure we would build as I was in what kind of community we were becoming. After the process we’d just been through, we’d grown by leaps and bounds as a community. I wasn’t disappointed that we weren’t going to build a new sanctuary. In fact, I was ecstatic about how much we had grown as a community.
Later that summer, Lois Dischinger’s deacon families were gathered right over there for a communal meal. During that lunch, one of the attendees began paying attention to this room. Drawing on both his theater background and his experiences as the son of a builder, he began doodling on a napkin. The design Ric came up with is pretty much what you see here.
I’ve had many joyful experiences here at Pilgrimage, but Divine Redesign was one of the most joyful. Because the whole community pulled together, talked together, dreamed together. And step after step, because we payed attention and discerned carefully, big fat gifts just kept appearing…like the stained glass windows… and the communion table donated by the company Tony Mills worked for at the time…free skilled labor from some church members.
And here’s the MOST joyful part of Divine Redesign—We set our new course in the Fall of 2008. In October of 2008, the bottom fell out of the market. Had we tried to commit to a big build, I’m not sure we’d still be here. Thankfully, we are still here. And thriving. Why? Because we paid attention, carefully discerned, and made a long series of wise decisions.
We’re doing the same thing now. Thankfully, the Growth Task Force’s work a decade ago has made our work now easier. We don’t have to decide whether to stay or go. That decision’s been made. We know we aren’t into building cathedrals. (I also thought we weren’t a stained glass church, but what do I know? J). We know we want to move forward. We are committed to being good stewards of our resources. We know we want to create a space that is truly hospitable. But ostentatious we are not.
We’re practical people, people deeply committed to our mission of caring for each other and for the world. Having a home base, a place to help us engage with the holy and the beautiful is important, but we also have a lot of ministry to do. If we’re too tied to bricks and mortar, the mission will get lost. Our task the next few months is to find a workable balance between creating hospitable space and living our commitment to mission.
Speaking of our mission….Here’s the third way today’s passage from Proverbs invites us to deepen our relationship with Wisdom. After being introduced in the first few verses of chapter 8, Wisdom recites her resume. I’ve been here since the beginning of creation, she says. “When God established the heavens, I was there. When God drew a circle on the face of the deep, made firm the skies above, established the fountains of the deep…when God marked out the foundations of the earth, I was there…daily, I was God’s delight,” says Wisdom, “rejoicing before God always, rejoicing in the inhabited world and delighting in the human race.”
Why might Wisdom rejoice in creation? Perhaps it’s because, as poet David Whyte says: “All the birds and creatures of the world are unutterably themselves.”
The greatest sign of wisdom is authenticity—being exactly what or who one is created to be. Whyte acknowledges that human beings are the only thing in creation that can choose to be something other than we are created to be. But other created things? No struggle at all. “The cloud is the cloud, the mountain is the mountain, the tree is the tree, the hawk is the hawk. The kingfisher doesn’t wake up one day and say, “You know, God, I’m absolutely fed up with this whole kingfisher trip. Can I have a day as a crow?” No. The kingfisher is just the kingfisher. Whyte suggests it’s the natural world’s utter authenticity that human beings find so healing. Sitting outside at the picnic tables, going for a hike—When we do those things, we’re immersing ourselves in authenticity…which calls us to our own authenticity. And being who we are created to be, being our authentic selves is what heals us.
Because we have this capacity for being something other than ourselves, we have to think about, pay attention to, and practice being who we are. The same will be true of this growth planning process. We don’t have to be frightened of making the wrong decision here. All we have to do is remember who we are and what we’re here for. As the body of Christ, we aren’t here simply to lay bricks and mortar. We’re here to be Christ’s body in the world, to be his hands and feet. In her new book, Becoming Wise, Krista Tippett says, “You have it in you to become wise.” We have it in us as a community to become wise.
…all we have to do is keep paying attention….keep carefully discerning…and continue living out our mission of being who God creates us to be. If we do those things, we are going to be just fine…and we’ll be able to trust whatever decisions we make in the next few months.
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2016