I wish it were 1950, or even 1970. I’d like to go back to the good old church days. I think about this a lot when I am at my current appointment. Located in a bedroom community in South Orange County, California, Rancho Santa Margarita calls to many who want a quiet, neighborly, picturesque place to live. Having grown up in a suburban community (Westlake Village, CA), I never saw myself pastoring in a community like this. But when the opportunity presented itself, I thought this would be a good match as I know what suburban life is like, the good and the bad.
In some ways being appointed here WAS like going back in time. Kind of….well, sort of….OK, not really.
I was musing on this several week’s ago when I visited a new family who wanted to have their kid’s baptized. Nice couple, they live on a great little street with zero lot lines and front porches. They all live on top of each other, which speaks to me of community and life-long friendships and sharing your lives together. I looked at the street longingly and thought for the millionth time, “maybe if we had moved on this street things would have been better.” I must admit that I think this about every street, except of course, for the one we did move on to where we pulled into our garages, never to be seen, until the next day when we drove off.
But it is not the 1950’s for as I stand with this wonderful family, I notice not a soul on a front porch and not a child or youth in the neighborhood hanging out. The 1950’s, heck even the 1970’s when I grew up, is long past. Today people and families are busy with little time for hanging out community and shared neighborhood life.
As I get ready to move on, I mourn. I still look around and wonder what could have been done differently. I know when I am honest with myself that there really wasn’t anything. But I have trouble being honest as I still believe on some level that if I had enough love, energy, dedication and will I could have made it happen. I guess that is what they call, having feeling of grandiosity. And dealing with this is one of the hard things I am learning in the season.
Still, I mourn that the old model couldn’t, didn’t, work here.
As I look at new models of ministry I still must admit I love the local church just as it is, or in some cases, was. I thought I’d serve a local church for longer than 20 years but now as I look around I see lots of local churches in major trouble and without the ability to let go of buildings, old models, and the-way-it-has-always-been-done-before.
Someone recently said to me that after the last five years here I must really dislike the local church. That made me sad and I tried to set them straight. I love the local church and that is why finding a model that will enable this church to thrive, not just survive, has become my passion. I feel a great sense of peace knowing that the next pastor here won’t have the lack of resources that I faced and that by partnering with another church we will have some leadership resources that will make a huge difference. I cannot wait to come worship here five years from now and see how the hard, challenging and yes, sometimes brutal work of ministry led to a vibrant and financially sound church.
But still, I long for the past and the one model and being a pastor in a time when things just looked easier. Of course, I know they had their challenges (and, as a woman I know there wouldn’t have been a place for me to give my gifts). But today I look out my window at the Saddleback mountains and breath and try to embrace what is and not what I wished it would have been.