Charles L. Wildman,
Interim Conference Minister
Pastoral Letter Index
October 9, 2008
To: Pastors and Moderators of the Churches
From: Rev. Dr. Davida Foy Crabtree, Conference Minister
Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ, the head of the Church, the One who leads and guides us, comforts and challenges us in these days.
In recent weeks I have been pondering the condition of our nation in light of the financial markets situation. I have thought hard about what I want to say to you. I have waited this long because I have little patience with leaders who speak just to speak, and wanted to be sure I had something of substance to share.
I write now because I am concerned for you as leaders of our churches. Over the weeks ahead, most of you will conclude carefully planned stewardship campaigns in a challenging season. Pastors are facing new pastoral care needs as the impact of the markets is felt among us. Members are worried and fearful about the future.
I have talked with a number of clergy across the Conference in the past ten days, seeking to hear what they are hearing, to listen deeply to their concerns, to share what I can of best practices in times like these. Each church is different, of course, and so you will need to develop your own ministries and direction. For what it is worth, here are a few suggestions for you to tailor to your setting.
Jesus teaches us that ours is a God of abundance. No matter our condition, God’s rich blessings are still ours. In their fear, people will quickly move to scarcity thinking, to grasping, to dread. They need the Good News and the church is best positioned to bring it to them. In times like this, the church is the most important institution there is, an institution of hope amid despair and of concrete ministries of caring and outreach. It is crucial that our churches’ leaders stay in touch with that essential truth. Our Fall Meeting in Bridgeport next weekend is focused on abundance, generosity, and stewardship, and replete with resources for your leadership.
One observation from several pastors in widely differing churches and towns is that the younger members will benefit greatly from time with older members who have lived through prior downturns. (I recognize that this one is structurally different than others; indeed many are calling this the loss of a way of life.) Thirty-somethings facing their first job loss, foreclosure, or other financial catastrophe need to hear from 70-somethings who have been through it all, sometimes more than once. Indeed, 70-somethings have now lost major income for their retirement and it can be a ministry to them to invite their wisdom. In some communities, this is best done one-on-one; in others in small groups; in still others as a gathering open to the whole church.
As your Conference Minister, I want to share a particular concern about the current environment. Most of us have tapped into some anger about the economy and these developments, and it is probably exacerbated by the rhetoric of the electoral season. As one person said to me, “it is such a complex issue, I don’t know where to direct my anger or what to think!” I am deeply concerned about the levels of anger I detect in civic life these days. As a pastor, I understand it, yet I also want to warn us about letting the anger get the best of us. I urge us all not to paint everyone on Wall Street or in the credit or insurance worlds with a broad brush. Yes, there have been incredibly exploitative excesses that must be denounced. But there are also good and faithful members of our churches who have been working in the industry with integrity, and they deserve our support, not our condemnation with generalizations born of our anger.
Family life will, in some cases, undergo new stresses. Marriages that were strained under ordinary conditions may come apart. Young people may become anxious about their futures. Children may be perplexed. Naming these issues helps people keep perspective.
For many members, there is a desire to preserve privacy about their situation. This can make pastoral care a difficult challenge. It is important that pastors be explicit about their availability, and keep repeating the message (probably to the point at which some in the church will tire of it) so that those in need gradually awaken to the option of talking this through and accepting the care of the church. (A reminder: professionals teach us that it is critically important to ask the question of suicide whenever we are with someone who is deeply troubled. Hard as it is to ask “Have you had thoughts of taking your own life?” the great majority of people who are asked that question are thankful someone cared enough to inquire.)
In many settings, offering educational events to assist members in understanding what is going on will be important. In others, the great majority of the church already knows too well. If you think it helpful, the Conference could assemble a list of potential speakers from among our members (send names and contact information to Cecile Gilson at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll put it together).
Let us remember that the church never exists simply for itself. The difficult times that are likely ahead mean that homelessness, hunger and despair are increasing. Our concrete ministries of outreach are crucial in every community. Volunteers, facilities, shelters and meals will be needed. There will be justice concerns as well as acts of charity in which we will all need to engage.
Through it all, keeping our churches strong is task one. That is our mission as a Conference together. Do not assume that members will automatically cut back their pledges. Make the case to them in a new way: at a time like this, the church matters hugely in people’s lives. An investment in the church is an investment in the community and in the future. At the same time, we also need to send a message that, as we say in the Still Speaking Ministry, “No matter who you are or where you are in life’s journey, you are welcome here.” If someone cannot keep up their pledge, they need to know they are still welcome!
The Conference has called Karen Ziel as Minister of Christian Education. An educator with almost 25 years of experience in local churches and the Conference, she will start November 3rd.
Our Church’s Wider Mission Basic Support giving is significantly down compared to August 31 last year. We know everyone is jittery, just want to encourage churches to keep each other strong through the ministries of the Conference and the wider church.
I hope you have seen the “Steeples” ad for the United Church of Christ on CNN, Bravo, BET and TV One. Web traffic to the Find a Church page on www.ucc.org is up in this one week by 20%!
Silver Lake had a wonderful summer with 1140 conferees and amazing stories of lives changed, vocations defined and community built. Tim and Anne Hughes return from sabbatical November 1.
Finally, a personal word. I have been buoyed by the prayers of our churches and so many, many people as I have been undergoing chemotherapy. I am glad that many of you have shared my Caring Bridge site with the members of your churches as I have been hearing from some for whom it is valuable in their own lives. The address is http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/davidacrabtree. Don’t hesitate to share it, because it is a way to teach about its availability to everyone.
I expect to be at the Fall Meeting to give my address on Friday night. Hope I’ll see you there!
Blessings on each and all of you as you lead and minister in the name of Jesus Christ!