Posts Tagged ‘congregational vitality’

pride and prejudice


Within the movie version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, dialogue is quick-witted even as postures and decorum are maintained.  One particular scene deals a devastating blow of dialogue between all-powerful, Lady Catherine and the obsessed Mrs. Bennet.  The scene is late at night, Lady Catherine has arrived by carriage on “urgent business” with Jane, the Bennet’s eldest daughter.  Before Lady Catherine can attend to the business with Elizabeth, Mrs. Bennet is providing an update on the marriage of her daughters and how well things are going for their family.  Mrs. Bennet’s naive joy is cut short by Lady Catherine who declares,   “Madam, your garden is quite small.”

In the movie, the insult is almost lost on Mrs. Bennet for the scene cuts quickly to Lady Catherine’s private conversation with Elizabeth.   But for those of us who are “into” pride and prejudice, Lady Catherine’s comment cuts to the heart of our humanity.    I have watched this movie multiple times.  Each time, I most anticipate Lady Catherine’s statement to Mrs. Bennet.  I have wondered, what would I say to Lady Catherine if I were with her.   I imagine all sorts of bold and witty “come-backs”.  It was during such a viewing, not so long ago that I realized I, serving the church,  was in the presence of Lady Catherine.   Perhaps most particularly, in a culture that continues to be persuaded by bigger is better.

We in the Presbyterian Church USA have many small gardens.  Rural, urban and suburban congregations are all included as place holders for small gardens.  It  has often been said that size is relative.  So, in fact, perhaps everyone has been made to feel that their gardens are small at one time or another, in one way or another.  I would wager that even large churches have been “cut down to size”  as Lady Catherine’s voice is made audible by declaring only a small portion of their congregation is involved compared to the percentage of folks involved in small churches.    Interesting that  congregations a fraction of others can sound Lady Catherine with a booming resonance.  It might not matter who we are.  It might not matter our size. When Lady Catherine’s statement “Madam, your garden is quite small” is made audible, church, congregant and clergy are cut to the quick.  Those referenced might decide to stop gardening or try to get bigger gardens to “show her”. But one must draw attention back to  Mrs. Bennet to fully appreciate the frivolity of Lady Catherine’s insult.

As simple as she is portrayed, Mrs. Bennet is, ultimately, unaffected by the insult of “a small garden”.   In fact, one notices that her only concern is for her small garden of a family.  She exists that it may grow and thrive.  And yes, yes, she is horribly traditional in her understanding of how that happens. However, the point is, that she is always revising and reframing to bring her garden into the best possible light.  Every garden needs light to thrive.  In the movie, it is almost as if she does not hear Lady Catherine.  It is almost as if we should not hear Lady Catherine.  After all, whose garden is not smaller than hers and does that not make her critique irrelevant.

Presbyterian gardens of all sizes (for one size does not fit all) might do good to channel a bit of Mrs. Bennet’s spirit as we celebrate the  Spirit at Pentecost this Sunday.   As we remember the emergence of the church, may we ever lovingly attend to the portion of its vitality entrusted to our care.  And while we are at it…..

During General Assembly, the Congregational Vitality committee of our  General Assembly will consider a recommendation that the entire church be called to live more missionally.  May the gardens blossom and feed! 7 Days!


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horse and goatJeremiah 12:5

If you have raced with foot-runners and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you fall down, how will you fare in the thickets of the Jordan?

One of my favorite phrases growing up was  ‘someone has got your goat”.  Only much later did I learn what it meant.  The phrase comes from the practice of caring for race horses.  Goats placed in the stall with a race horse would calm the horse and allow it a peaceful night’s rest before a race.  Sometimes, competitors to a particular race horse would remove the goat the night before the race.  The result was a restless horse who had no endurance for the race.

At times, our Presbyterian Church USA can seem a bit weary in the race.   There are local places that have lost hope.  When you visit these quiet buildings, you can see fatigue in the eyes of the people.  While they know there is a race to run, their weariness is exacerbated by all that seems to clutter the raceway.   Therefore, they wait to race.   These who are weary need the proverbial goat to help them rest.  While Matthew 25 does not make goat a popular image for faithfulness, I believe the phrase of my childhood does.

Historically, called and installed clergy have served as a calming presence for God’s people.  Historically we have served to make sure their minds and hearts are resting soundly so that they can rise up and run the race of faith. *  It may be true that some stalls seem too small for goats, but the truth is that every size stall needs this type of companionship to engage the race of faith and the  ministry of Jesus Christ.

We, as a denomination, still believe in the power of company (congregation and clergy).  We still believe in the power of in-stalling to ministry.   The question is, what sort of adventure will call the calming presence of clergy to be installed and restore wearied congregations?  I believe there is a way.  I believe it is our way and part of what Jesus meant when he sent disciples out to preach and heal.

27 days to GA that has the power to in-stall…. perhaps even to the small.

*Please note that helping congregations rest soundly does not mean that they are fed a simple diet of sugary sweet gospel.  Nor does it mean that they are served as an end in themselves.  Congregations rest well when they are know they are called to work of the kingdom.  They rest well when they have considered inconvenient truths and been challenged to train for their work.


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