Sunday morning, February 26, I will be joining with the Pastor Carlson Jakubik and members of St. Paul UCC in Lockhart, Texas, for their final service. The church is in the process of closing. Later that day, I will be in Dallas as Dr. Neil Cazares Thomas, Senior Minister, Cathedral of Hope receives the Shalom Award from Temple Shalom Dallas. This award is given in recognition of social justice and humanitarian endeavors on the part of the recipient.
One might say that this Sunday schedule represents, at this historical moment, the sadness and joy of being a Conference Minister in the UCC. Much of what has been is coming to an end, and one cannot help but shed a tear, pause, breathe deeply, and take a knee. “O Lord, what is coming? What does the future hold for us?”
One of my all-time favorite poems is “Ulysses” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. It contains the reflections of a warrior King grown old who has chosen to rage against the coming darkness. One heroic being refusing to bend before the winds and tides of time and change. Herein is a lesson for those of us whose hearts and souls belong to the venerable and honorable mainline progressive Christian church.
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
A single day in which resides the final service for one congregation and the honoring of the pastor of our largest congregation seems an apt illustration of our current denominational condition. Much of our prior foundation, great congregations, places of powerful influence are disappearing. Yet, the future beckons. We are certainly not now what we once were but still much abides. As for myself, I ask of God to be surrounded by heroic hearts that believe in striving and seeking; those not given to yielding.
So, what does all this mean in the here and now? There was a time not so long ago when the culture itself put people in our pews, and the pastoral calling was to manage with competency and integrity what was already there. That world has vanished never to return, and the future calls for a different kind of leadership, both lay and ordained.
We were never a submissive people, and from the shores of the old country, we came… in search of freedom and self-determination. We remain a people with steel in our spines, and we remain a people with whom God is not done. We are God’s willful people. Believers willing to cut against the grain, called to be counter-cultural in proclamation and lifestyle, those willing to swim against the current. This country and the world need us now more than ever. We don’t have the luxury of denial let alone death. We are in a mortal struggle with the principalities and powers of this world, and we must not yield. Our world teeters on the precipice of disaster; we must learn to live as one, or we will destroy this world in our mindless pursuit of power and privilege.
Give in? Give up? Embrace our own demise? Why would we? We are a people who believe in eternity. We are a people who believe in Easter. We are a people who believe in resurrection. We are on God’s side, and God has promised to be with us. It is not too late to seek a newer world; so stand up, speak up, and act up for Jesus.
May God bless you all with a fiery spirit.
Dr. Don Longbottom
P.S. This coming week the all the pastors (active, retired, and Ministers of Discernment) of our congregations will gather at Slumber Falls where we will we will put our minds and hearts to spiritual renewal, congregational growth, and social justice as modeled in Jesus of Nazareth. Pray that God will infuse us all with a spirit of boldness and holiness.