The cabin of the plane is quiet except for the low, steady hum of the engines. It’s mostly dark, a few reading lights scattered here and there. My laptop is open, the screen light on dim so as to not wake the person next to me, who is fast asleep with her ear phones in.
I write this as I’m flying home from Chicago after a Vision 2020 meeting. It was our first “in person” gathering since General Synod*, and this time spent on the airplane gives me space to process the past couple days–to begin to sort myself out.
I’ve written about the Vision 2020 team in a previous post, and many of you reading this know what I’m referencing. We’re a team of twelve (plus a few others) who’ve been tasked with helping the Reformed Church in America (RCA) try to find a way beyond some of our deep differences. The team’s heading into year two of our work. This past General Synod was an important checkpoint—an opportunity to present the work done so far, albeit unfinished and imperfect, and engage Synod delegates in the process.
While there has been much affirmation for our team’s part at General Synod, there has also been no shortage of criticism and skepticism. I don’t spend a lot of time on social media, but I’m aware of conversations happening (on all sides) that have been less than favorable. I say this not to fish for praise nor to muzzle criticism. I’m just stating what is.
I want to be careful what I write here. The reflections in this post are mine alone. I do not speak for the Vision 2020 team. An update will be coming soon that is representative of the whole team and shares what transpired over these past couple days. While the charge we’ve been given still feels so incredibly daunting, as I sit here on the plane in the dark, a stubborn hope stirs within me that just will not die.
This morning, as we began the second day of our work together, Jim Herrington (one of our facilitators) invited all of us to share Scripture or any reflections with the group. Members of the team offered morsels of wisdom that were like manna for the work ahead of us.
One team member reflected on Jesus’ parable of the talents. He recalled those servants who “played it safe” by burying their talents in contrast to those who took whatever talents they had been given and risked it for the benefit of their master. “There are plenty of critics and skeptics out there regarding the work we’re doing,” this team member said. “But at least we’re doing what we can to not bury our talents.” Then his voice broke and his eyes teared up. “At least we’re trying. Regardless of the outcome of our work, we’re all showing up and we’re trying. And that means something.”
Those simple words brought me back to the essential question, “Why did I say yes to this task?” God knows how reluctant I was, how many others are far more qualified, gifted and competent to serve on this team than me.
Here’s why I said yes…and why I keep saying yes no matter how hard this gets:
Because I love the Reformed Church in America.
Because when I was fifteen years old I became a follower of Jesus, and the only RCA church in the town where I grew up became my church family. It was the community that taught me the story of Jesus, helped me discern gifts for ministry, and loved my family through our pain when my parents divorced and our world turned upside down. I have found a theological and ecclesiological home in the RCA. This is where I feel like I belong.
The kingdom of God is bigger than the RCA. I get all of that. But I carry in my heart a sense of responsibility born of gratitude, a responsibility that is not just burden but also blessing. A sense of being beholden, not out of weighty obligation but out of a fierce and tender love for this denomination and what it has meant to me. That’s why I said yes to be on this team.
And as my team member reminded me, all I can do is try. It’s all any of us can do. Regardless of the outcome, I will keep showing up and, in God’s strength, I will keep trying. I will keep risking.
My prayer is that doing just that—showing up and trying–really does mean something. Call me a fool. Call me naïve. But in the economy of God’s grace, it could end up meaning more than any of us thought at the time.
“It helps now and then, to step back and take the long view. The kingdom [of God] is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. …We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.” – Archbishop Oscar Romero
*General Synod is the annual denominational gathering for the Reformed Church in America.