In the Lectionary

August 14, Ordinary 20C (Isaiah 5:1-7)

To plant anything—even hope—is a risk.

An almost neon-bright sign hung on the cabinet in the gathering space, just outside the sanctuary. It said, in thick black marker, “What do we hope to GROW here?” Around 25 people from the congregation, leaders all, had gathered on a Tuesday evening in spring to ask and dream about what God might plant among them. I opened the meeting by quoting Paul: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6). Bright pieces of Post-its surrounded the question with ideas of what that growth might look like: outreach, an even stronger music program, other possibili­ties. A few notes hung without words, inviting others not there that night to weigh in later with their dreams and hopes for the future.

Questions were posted on whiteboards: “What do we have?” “What do we need?” At the start of the meeting, those assembled were quiet, almost as though they held their collective breath. But these questions pierced through that tension. Against concern that there might not be a future, ideas fell out like rain that nourished the earth.

As for what they lacked, only a few mentioned money. Yes, the budget seemed to lessen with each year. Still, money is never the core issue. Some mentioned staff, since lower attendance numbers had meant less money, which in turn meant less staff to help equip them for mission and ministry. Others talked about growing the numbers of those who would gather for worship, fellowship, and service. If one were to walk into that space and listen to those armed with Post-it notes and hope, it would not have sounded like a congregation whose future was in jeopardy. It would have sounded like a new day.