• Phil Hodson

When the Flag is Tattered: A Pastoral Letter

It's been flying for just eight months, but our flag is already fraying. We've just recently repaired it, but the wind keeps blowing and now we need a new course of action.

Twenty months ago you called me as your Pastor. And you gave me, through the Search Committee, clear instructions:

  • Help us improve our website, marketing, and social media presence

  • Help us say goodbye to old buildings that no longer suit our mission

  • Help us develop new ways to reach new people

You never specified which website, buildings, or new people, so, together, we sought and followed the Spirit's leading. And God has spoken into and through our gathered communities. We have an engaging new website. Our Facebook presence is active with a continually growing audience. We've made hard, but responsible, choices about real estate. Worship attendance and membership are increasing.

Additionally we have reorganized our financial processes, unified and streamlined administration, made better use of our resources by sharing them, brought our communication methods into the 21st-century, and launched a new ministry. Along the way I've provided you with a detailed missional analysis and a proposal for expanding the options in worship experience to connect with new people, talked with you in small groups about both the past and your hopes for the future, visited individually on a regular basis with all who have invited me, presided at 7 funerals, performed 3 baptisms, preached over 100 sermons, developed a plan to launch a livestream experience for worship, overseen our financial transition and crafted best practices for financial management, created a platform for volunteer engagement, attended as many committee meetings and special events as possible, volunteer at the Conference level, serve as a General Synod delegate for the United Church of Christ, directly engage with every guest I can, and many other tasks.

Yet, just around the edges, it would appear to me that our flag is fraying. When we look back instead of forward, we lose sight of where the Divine is heading. Between us we have 9 committees independently working for a total number of 105 adults and children. This encumbers our ability to nimbly respond to new opportunities because we debate instead of do. When our kids ministry increases in size or age range, or our adult worship passes 130, we will encounter immediate spatial challenges in our existing facilities. There are upgrades that need made in addition to deferred maintenance decisions that will require us to administer instead of ministering.

Up until now we have operated as two small congregations "helping each other out," but church is more than what hymnal we place where, how we serve Communion, or who gets credit for what. Church is WORSHIP that gathers and inspires, DISCIPLESHIP that is steeped, for children and adults, in engagement with the Scriptures, daily personal practices of prayer, and the acquisition of knowledge through dedicated study, which leads to vibrant MISSION not to specific neighborhoods but an entire city, and the relentless pursuit of JUSTICE by every individual stepping into the public square, acknowledging that each and every person is created in the image of God and is beloved just as they are, and proclaiming with boldness:

Once there were seven United Church of Christ congregations in Wichita. Now there are two. This is the time for one strong United Church of Christ to embody the values we claim to hold dear.

Our two bodies have a rich history of doing a new thing. And each brings unique gifts to this moment, and we must stitch together a new, stronger, larger flag that proclaims a new, united identity. We must work to plan facilities that will meet the needs of those who follow us as opposed to simply addressing our present situation. We must organize our governance to allow us to respond in real-time to the needs of the community we live and witness in. We must develop new systems for childcare, adult education and spiritual formation not because we like them, but because the systems will best meet the actual needs of those we seek to serve going forward. We must celebrate where God is leading more readily than we lament where we've already been.

We must let go to make room in our hands for the next blessing, and even though we cannot see it clearly yet, we simply have to trust that it is there. Jesus promised resurrection, but he never said it would be like it was before in our former life.

Change is hard. But, without it, fraying is inevitable. It is time to come together as one and celebrate what the Spirit can do through our combined gifts, to share in a new and common identity by which we are all equally in beloved community with one another. To fly a brand-new flag for the city to see. Going back or holding steady in indecision will hurt both bodies. And, if we remain in this state, we will not succeed in our mission.

I came to you twenty months ago to build the church. Not "this church" or "that church," but Christ's church serving Wichita, Kansas.

So let's move forward in joyful union to create the United Church of Christ in Wichita for the 21st-century and focus our every effort on giving God our very best. God has brought us safely to this moment. Let's exercise the faith we have to help create the next one.

Let's fly our new flag together.


© 2019 by Rev. Phil Hodson