Thursday, November 12, 2009

A change of attitude toward change

I walked into Starbucks today at 6.15 am as I do nearly every morning after my workout.

And right away, I noticed: Everything had been changed: there were new tables, including one huge one. Bars had put in with bar stools. New lighting installed. The walls are being repainted.
(Fortunately, my friends who work there were still behind the counter.)

What was going on? I wondered. Whatever it was, I thought, I didn't like it. For an instant, I thought I'd go back to Panera tomorrow morning.

Now, I understand what people in the church, particularly the Episcopal Church, are experiencing. The church is being refurnished and redecorated, theologically and in other ways. The Episcopal Church isn't what it used to be. And we feel unsettled.

We want the church to be that unchanging institution in our lives. We crave the familiar words of that worship we grew up with, be it the 1928 Prayer Book, even the 1979 Prayer Book. We might say we liked it when Episcopal priests were men, not also women.

And female bishops? Well, let's not talk about that or about the gay bishop of New Hampshire or the the blessing of same gender unions. What will be next?

I understand. I really do. We humans want everything to stay the same. It's secure that way and safe. And predictable, like sitting in the same pew at the Sunday Eucharist. We can always count on our place being available.

But it's also unrealistic. Everything changes. Nothing stays the same--in families, at work, in government and politics (We now have an African-American president), in our neighborhoods and cities, in the church.

Darwin found that only a species that adapts and evolves survives; otherwise, it dies.

So it is with institutions, including the church. I remember a debate I had with a retired Member of Parliament when I was in England one summer--this debate occurred in his home, not on the floor of Commons--and I said, "Why not let women be priests, even bishops? Your Prime Minister is a woman, after all?"

"Yes, but that's different," he said, unable to tell me exactly how.

The Episcopal Church is changing, because the world we serve is changing. And we either adapt, seeking to minister to others in Christ's name, or we cling to the past and perish in irrelevance and insignificance.

So, I'll go back to Starbucks tomorrow morning. I'll mutter for awhile about the changes in furnishings and decor. But I'll get used to the changes and, if my experience with change is any measure, I'll even come to like them one day.

And, of course, I won't want anything to change.

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