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Beyond business as usual

By Published On: December 9, 20160 Comments on Beyond business as usual


Sometimes reality changes. Events cascade into our plans and desires, forcing us to rethink, recalibrate, reconsider. What seemed okay and important yesterday now appears irrelevant or not so urgent.

At that moment, the healthy church changes course. If flood waters are rising outside, the annual bake sale might need to be postponed. If fire guts the sanctuary, Christmas Eve plans need to change. Or if hate crimes are erupting across the country and at the synagogue next door, a Sunday focused on a long-planned capital campaign might need to focus instead on hate and on solidarity with victims.

The world around us should shape our thinking more than it does. In a city convulsing over election results and hatred being aimed at its many female, homosexual and immigrant members, a big Manhattan church sounded tone-deaf when it marked a sea-change outside by proceeding with a breathless announcement of a new rector.

The first post-election word that I heard from my church was a survey seeking opinions on capital improvements. I understand that this project has been in the works for many months, and it does matter, but cascading events suggested a need to interrupt business as usual and tend to the moment.

No, churches don’t want to be “blown this way and that.” But there is also a time to hear cries of dismay and fear and to set those ahead of internal priorities.

The healthy church is engaged in a dynamic relationship with its surrounding community. Leaders and people hear the cries of victims in distress. They see injustices. They recognize the shared desire for wholesome lives and safe communities. Church leaders see the missing pieces, such as affordable housing for seniors and quality daycare/preschool for less-than-affluent children.

People outside, meanwhile, see the faith community as more than proud owners of a building, but as people who care, who want to build bridges.

This dynamic relationship becomes more critical than ever when people are in crisis. The crisis that was unfolding in the days after Nov 9 was such a crisis. Whichever way church people voted, it was unmistakably clear that many were plunged into distress. Would their marriages be honored? Would they be deported? Would there be deliberate moves to demonize women? Would the gains of recent decades be rolled back?

Some of that might prove to be overreaction. But on the second weekend of November, wounds were fresh. What I saw in the several dozen churches I follow was mostly business as usual. The message, whether intended or not, was unfortunate: Nothing has happened. Your fears are unfounded. Your grief is unimportant. You are unimportant.

I know these churches, and I know that this wasn’t their intended message. But that is what many hear when a church responds to a community crisis by going about business as usual.

About the Author

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the publisher of A Fresh Day online magazine, author of On a Journey and two national newspaper columns.


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