Living Into Who We Should Be

The primary governing body at Old South is the Oversight Committee. Serving on the committee: church officers, three ministry team leaders, three at-large members and myself. The group meets monthly, usually with a lengthy agenda. This past Wednesday involved an agenda that was even longer than usual, including the election of a new moderator, finalizing the budget for 2016, finalizing the new governance model to be voted on at the annual meeting at the end of the month, and an out-of-the-ordinary wedding request.

The meeting lasted about two hours, and contained what has become for us a common practice of dialogue and discussion. I sometimes have to remind myself, and them, that what Old South does is not really typical of how people gather together these days. It’s too bad that more people aren’t paying attention to what we do.

Even with topics that are complicated and difficult, the Oversight Committee manages to work through issues with an amazing quality of discussion. No one dominates the conversation. No one is there to make everything go his/her own way. The committee actually manages to work together, listening to each other, sharing ideas and thoughts, and almost always achieving consensus before a vote is taken.

Our budget discussion was not an easy one. We did not get to where we wanted to be with pledges (largely because of a few people moving away). Attendance has been lower than usual, and that has had an impact on what we call “loose donations,” with that line of revenue decreasing from previous years. Many expenses were higher last year than the previous year, etc. The group went through the budget line by line, trying to figure out where we could save in a budget that is already very lean. At one point, I offered to eliminate my raise. No one went along with that idea. The group went to other areas, involving discussion on a variety of areas—are we getting anything of significance from that weekly newspaper ad? should we ask the lawn mower to mow less frequently?

It wasn’t an earth-shattering discussion. It was just Old South doing what Old South does.

After about an hour and a half into our meeting, when people were clearly getting tired and ready to go home, we came to our last agenda item that had to be discussed and decided that night. It couldn’t be pushed to next month. It was a request for a wedding to be held in our sanctuary, a wedding that would mostly involve clergy other than myself. We typically don’t rent our sanctuary out for any purpose, but this request was a little different. Because of area church closures, this couple was looking for a church space that was big enough for the number of guests they are expecting. Old South’s sanctuary is just the right size, and in the right location. But, the couple wanted to have the service primarily performed by two other ministers with whom they are close. There would be little, or no, room for me as Old South’s pastor. The couple is also a homosexual couple, and was looking for a church that would welcome their wedding.

The Oversight Committee had a very full conversation about the various issues, and in the end, decided to offer the sanctuary if the couple ensured a small, but meaningful, role for me in the ceremony. It was especially interesting to hear the committee members talk about the significance of showing the church’s welcome by having their own minister be present and involved in this wedding.

At the end of the conversation, one of the at-large members, who is still a relatively newer member of Old South, declared, “I love you guys.” Amen to that.

We may be small. We may seem irrelevant to lots of people who live in and around Hallowell. But, by being who we are, as well as who we are called to be, we live out our faith in a way that really shouldn’t be irrelevant at all.

At a time when people seem more interested in yelling over each other, or simply inviting only the company of people who are just the same as they are, the small witness of Old South seems even more poignant. It is sad, indeed, that it feels remarkable what this small group of people lives out—in showing kindness, humility, and a deep sense of their individual and shared experience as God’s beloved.

Good work, Old South. Good work, faithful people.

About smaxreisert

I'm a United Church of Christ pastor serving the small, faithful Old South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Hallowell, Maine. I was ordained in Massachusetts in 1995, moved to Maine in 1997 and have served the Hallowell church since 2005.
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