For The Someday Book

Live and Let Die

Posted on: August 3, 2010

But if this ever changin’ world
In which we live in
Makes you give in and cry
Say, “Live and let die, live and let die”

Ah, the wisdom of Paul and Linda McCartney! Have you heard it, church folk?

The world is an ever-changing place. Each generation displaces the one before. New technologies render yesterday’s marvels as obsolete junk. Taste, preference and popular culture shift constantly. People die, and other people are born. Old things sometimes want to die. New things want to grow.

Far too often, we in the church forget this cyclical rhythm of life. Programs and ministries of the church are a part of this same ebb and flow. New things grow, old things die. In spite of our fervent belief in resurrection, we seem unwilling to let go and trust that God can birth a new thing in place of the old. Instead, we exhaust ourselves in seeking every means of life support available to sustain a ministry that has no chance of long-term survival. It is not the dying of old ministries that makes us feel weak, exhausted and hopeless as the church—it is the fact that we are drowning in life support for them.

Just today, I was visiting an elderly member who said, “Oh, I hope the Women’s Fellowship keeps going.  It’s been such a good thing over the years.” I agree with her—our Women’s Fellowship has been a huge part of the growth and ministry and service of this congregation for over 75 years. They are currently down to less than 15 participants, the youngest of whom is approaching her 80th birthday. They are a shadow of their former selves, when women gathered 100+ strong and wielded significant political and financial power within the church.

However, the Women’s Fellowship is also still a vital and vibrant ministry. They gather once a month for a meeting and program, usually a study of a bible-based book. The group leads our ministry to homebound members, ensuring that everyone receives a visit and a card once a month. They sponsor the education of a girl in Sri Lanka, and make small contributions to various charities throughout the year. Their members are happy and engaged in leadership, and other than occasionally leading Bible study, they thrive without staff or pastoral support.

In spite of their continued vitality, they are still an aging ministry that will probably die out when its current members can no longer sustain it. Like its members, the Women’s Fellowship is nearing the end of its life cycle. Women’s roles in culture have changed. Most women now work outside the home and are not available for daytime meetings. Women are no longer barred from serving as officers and leaders in the church, and they find their opportunities for leadership throughout the congregation. Gender-based groups are giving way to affinity groups based on age, family status, hobbies, interests and time.

As the pastor, I will be there when the time comes to help the remaining members of the group to celebrate the life of the Women’s Fellowship and to grieve its passing. That time is not now, but it is in the foreseeable future. I will help the church to understand what it will mean to lose their ministry to homebound members, and determine how to find new ways to connect with these lonely souls. This work will be difficult and painful at times, but I do not expect it to be frustrating, exhausting and hopeless. I believe it will be holy.

What would be exhausting and defeating and depressing would be the tasks required to keep the Women’s Fellowship alive, the measures of life support. Begging younger women to attend. Moving the meetings to an evening in the hopes that working women will jump in. Investing hours of my time and energy to design flashy new programs and bible studies. Heaping guilt upon women who could attend but choose not to. Taking on the tasks of leadership myself, since there is no one else to do it in the group. We could do all of those things, and chances are that the Women’s Fellowship would still die, albeit maybe a year or two later. Chances are even better that we would all end up feeling bitter, exhausted, disappointed, guilty and hopeless about the future of the church. We would see the death of this aging program as a failure on our part.

McCartney’s words are good advice for the church: “But if this ever changin’ world/In which we live in/Makes you give in and cry/Say, ‘Live and let die.'” Letting something die is not a sign of failure, but a sign of faith—faith that the God of Resurrection can bring new life out of death. That new life will not likely be the victory we expect, the program we planned or the old body we once inhabited, but it will be holy, hopeful, alive and energized to meet the needs of the changing world we live in. And so will be the church that welcomes it.

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4 Responses to "Live and Let Die"

I watched a group of old ladies gathering for service in the church once, and pondered their affiliation, realizing that they were old friends who relied on each other for support. Having seen this before with my mother in law, I was aware of the power of a support framework. Looking back in time, I could imagine collections of such frameworks having existed since people were able to gather. Their power is the bond that they form. Their weakness is their collapse. Once the framework begins to fade, they are left without a feedback mechanism that they relied upon. The longer that mechanism was in place, the more they relied upon it, and the more damage the absence of that framework conveys to them. Such frameworks are necessary for both the physical and psychological health of those that rely upon them. Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do when members of such organizations die, or are removed due to circumstances beyond their control. Change is the constant. The sorrow and loss of these connections is something I can feel – or imagine feeling – which I suppose you could call empathy. Cells of relationships, small and large, interact within social structures all around us. As an outsider, more by design than desire, I perceive them and hold them in awe. While I am not part of them, I benefit from their existence, and understand their necessity. If you cannot maintain their existence, then do what you can to replace them.

Amazing post. I have bookmarked your site. I am looking forward to reading more

oh, and speaking of things that need to move, i still have your book sitting on my desk — one of these days will be on its way to you.

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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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