Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”
Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.
No one sews a patch of un-shrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.
Good afternoon. I’m Dianne O’Connell, a Presbyterian minister associated with Immanuel Presbyterian Church in one way or another for the past thirty years. I bring you greetings from Immanuel. We very much enjoyed the years that we shared worship space with your congregation and feel that we have a bond we you for many reasons, not the least of which is that we, too, are a small congregation of 30 to 40 souls who believe strongly, that even though we are small, we have a special mission to fulfill in this community.
Matthew invited me to speak at this retreat and potluck, he explained that the
subject would be “Newness” and that there would be three speakers on the topic.
When we got together last week to talk about it, it was decided that Matthew
would present the male approach, Sarah would present the female approach, and I
would represent the dumb stranger from down the street who really didn’t know
what was what at
My understanding is that you, like Immanuel, have had a glorious history as a congregation, yet have experienced some really major challenges along the way. Now you are poised to embrace your future as a congregation, but are in the beginning stages as to just how best to do that. Immanuel, too, will be welcoming a new pastor this summer and we will again need to figure out just how best to work with one another under new leadership.
I don’t know how many pastors you have had. I knew Jim Morgan the best, I think, and that was quite a while ago. Immanuel is about 50 years old and we’ve had four permanent pastors and an interim who just finished up seven years. We were reluctant to let him go largely because we were, and still are, a little afraid of what lies ahead. We have 38 members, half of whom are in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, and getting older by the day. This group includes me. We’re definitely the Old Wineskins, but we’re also the Major Contributors of Time, Talent, and Tithings.
We’re the Aged Wineskins who founded the church, kept it going for three, sometimes four generations, and who provide the backbone of our faith community even now.
But, frankly, we tire more easily these days. And some of our best conversations deal with the Olden Days when our Sunday School was alive with the giggles of dozens upon dozens of neighborhood kids and our Adult Education classes through the Seminary of the Church drew participants from across town, out in the Valley, everywhere, it seemed. Our founding pastor had a weekly column in the Anchorage Daily Times. We were young, controversial, and a bit full of ourselves. But we truly believed then and believe now that we were doing the work of the Lord on our little patch of earth.
The Lamb of God Metropolitan Community Church of Anchorage has had an equally impressed history. And you, too, are on the verge of – scary as it might be – The Future.
Each of you and me, too, have belonged to a number of organizations over the years. I think you will find if you look back that the organizations with which you are familiar have all followed a similar pattern in their development, and perhaps, demise. In fact, people with degrees study these matters and have found that the Life Cycle of an organization, including a church, is similar to the Life Cycle of a human being. We are born, we grow up, we live and we die – with some of us being Born Again, if you will pardon the expression. Frankly, as a church, we really need to reclaim the words Born Again, because that is the business we are in – helping people through Christ Jesus to live, be reborn time and again along the way, live some more, be born again, die – and yes, experience rebirth then, too. The rebirthing process is an on-going thing.
back to the Life Cycle of an organization, which I maintain applies to Churches,
as well. Each researcher came up with
different numbers, but let’s go with five, the first stage being
The Start Up. This is the most exciting phase. A new baby in town. Usually there is one person or a small group of people with a new vision, and the commitment to make that vision happen. Usually, there are a few financial investors, but people are so fired up that they mostly do what they do with little or no compensation.
Getting Ready is the Secret of Success, says Henry Ford, and the getting ready process is exhilarating.
Phase Two is the Growth Phase. New members come pouring in. Revenues climb. New services and classes are offered, pastors are hired.
(These were) It was the best of times,
It was the worst of times.
It was the age of wisdom,
It was the age of foolishness
It was the spring of hope,
In was the winter of despair.
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.
Corporate insanity is doing the same thing, the same way, but expecting different results. It is no easy task to find consensus on a strategy for getting unstuck. So then comes,
Phase Four and/or Five, you get a choice.
Phase Four is Death.
Phase Five is Renewal.
Death is not always a bad thing. Some organizations fulfill their purpose and need to be allowed to die with dignity. I do not place either Immanuel or MCCA in this category, however.
Marcus Arelius said, It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live. And live, we shall.
Renewal is the second option. And, of course, it is the more difficult of the
two options. Each of us has different spiritual needs at different times of our
lives. Renewal means different things to
each of us. We “do church” for different reasons, and they are all valid
Some come for the shared worship service, to listen to the music, to hear the prayers, to give thanks to our God.
Some come to be involved in the church-at-work- in-the-community, helping to bring in the kingdom of God through advocacy, political action,testifying, volunteering for the Four As, or Beans Café’.
Some of us want discussion groups and educational opportunities. Some want prayer groups and opportunities for serious personal spiritual development.
Others find themselves in the need of pastoral care in the time of personal crisis, serious illness, death.
And some folks just want to eat and have fun – with people they like and admire.
Can a church, even a small church, meet all these needs? Can any one pastor be competent in each of these areas? Well, no one person can fulfill all needs, but as an old union bumper sticker says, Together We Can.
How do we find the enthusiasm and commitment that comes with partaking of Spiritual New Wine? Will the New Wine look and taste just like the Old Wine? Probably not. Can we honor the Old Winemakers and build upon their recipes? I certainly hope so. And will there still be room for the Old Winemakers come the day that the New Wine is served? There must be. That is the whole point of being a Church Family. There is a place for each of us at the Lord’s Table and a glass of wine poured for each of us with just the ingredients that our bodies and spirits need.
Those among you who consider yourself New Wine Makers, don’t even think of packing up those old wineskins and storing them in a closet somewhere. Those older wineskins, and I count myself among them, we older wineskins look and feel the best. They are full of good tastes and smells which they still are able to share. It’s not completely true that you can’t pour new wine into an old wineskin – you just have to be gentle, take it slowly. Pour a little, rest a little. Pour a little, rest a little. Allow the wineskin to absorb the new tastes, smells, and other ingredients slowly and in their own way. And the reverse process is correct, too. A little old wine in those new wineskins won’t hurt a thing.
today, yes, we honor the work of our founding members and remember fondly the
successes of our past. We take a moment to reflect on our disasters and
disappointments, just a moment though. Now let them go. In doing
these things we are taking the first steps toward visioning what