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Pastor's Pen: A Tree Planted by the Water

During February 2024, the First Presbyterian Church of Norwalk will hold focus groups to discern better where God wants us to go.  Please pray for the process and our congregation.  In the meantime, I thought it might be nice to hear from some of our congregational partners.  This is a message from Rev. Sara Hodsden, who serves at the Huron Presbyterian Church.  They are also “at the crossroads,” and I appreciated her faithful words. 

 


“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” --Jeremiah 17:7-8



As a kid, I was fascinated by a pocket Hallmark calendar. You might be familiar with what I’m talking about--the Hallmark stores would give them to you for free around Christmastime each year. I would painstakingly write all the important birthdays in my calendar. Then, I would flip to the back of the calendar, where they listed all the “traditional gifts” for each anniversary. It is commonly known that on the 25th anniversary, the traditional gift is silver; on the 50th anniversary, the traditional gift is gold. But all years have a traditional gift. On the first anniversary, paper is the traditional gift. On the tenth anniversary, something aluminum or tin is appropriate. 


And on the fifth anniversary, the traditional gift is something wooden. It represents a relationship growing in strength and wisdom. I was thinking about this when I realized we are entering our fifth year together as pastor and congregation. I sense that God is growing us together in strength and wisdom.  


It’s not easy to adapt during a cultural shift. If you’ve read anything about church statistics over the past several years, all churches, even megachurches, face a shrinking membership. Some of this is demographics- people do not have as many children as they once had. Some of this is a growing apathy toward religion of any kind. 


Over the past year, our Session has been studying passages from a book called Canoeing the Mountains. The author writes of how Lewis and Clark set off on their expedition expecting to be able to canoe to the Pacific Ocean.  Instead, they hit the Rocky Mountains, where their canoe was useless. They had to adapt to their new circumstances, and they did. 


Our congregational leadership knows we have hit the Rocky Mountains in our canoes. This is why we will engage in the Transforming Churches Initiative with Leighton Ford Ministries over the next year and a half.  Using the survey results, focus group results, and prayer and discernment, we will focus on what our gifts as a congregation are and then try to cast a vision for our congregation that will help us focus our ministry better.


There is no quick fix, super-duper program, or “list of ten ways to turn your church around.”  We are who God made us to be and have unique gifts that no other congregation can duplicate. In the same way, we can’t take what are the special and unique qualities of another church and expect to duplicate them here. 


For some, this process may move too slowly. For others, this process may move too quickly. I know the Session and those involved in the visioning process intend to try and keep things at God’s pace rather than our pace.


It is scary to be in church leadership during these shifting times. But, as always, God provides us with Scripture to encourage us. Jeremiah 17:7-8 promises us that when we have confidence in the Lord, we are like a tree with roots deep in water. Though it may be dry and barren on the topsoil, there is the rich nourishment of water down deep. Nurtured by the Word and the Spirit, we grow in strength and wisdom, even when a dustbowl may surround us.


Please pray for all of our church staff and leadership as we enter this phase of the discernment process. I look forward to seeing how God will continue to grow us together.


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