A Beacon of... What? And Leading to… Where?
Why are we here as a church? What is our fundamental purpose? At this moment in my ministry here and in Trinity’s life, these are questions that we together, pastor and congregation, need to sort out. Why now? What’s different about Trinity now? A few things, actually:
• Trinity is aging… no offense, but the average age of our congregation is rising significantly. And some of our most faithful members are less able to be active and involved, are moving away to be with family, or moving on to be with the Lord…
• Our area HAS changed. Every community goes through stages in its life, and the days when Trinity could simply open its doors and the growing Hawthorne community would flood in are long past. Hawthorne is going through demographic and economic changes and Trinity struggles to be relevant and connected.
• Our school is much smaller than it once was, and the enrollment has dropped below what it needs to remain viable. We have already “rebooted” the school by making staffing, policy and curriculum changes to help the school provide a quality education on par or exceeding that which public schools can offer so it can grow again, but it will take a little time to fully restart. And while we have cut costs (and will do even more of that), it takes money to do something like a school with excellence.
• Our Sunday morning average worship attendance, what I consider to be the most relevant and helpful indicator of church life, has dropped significantly.
We paid off our loan. Our 20 year loan, taken out primarily to build the “new preschool,” was paid off early last summer. The final payoff date was to be Nov. 1 of this year, but we rushed it to get out from under the nearly $9,000 per month mortgage payments. And what some of us were afraid of HAS ACTUALLY happened: MANY who were giving to the Building Fund simply quit giving that extra part of their offering. So, rather than having an extra $9k to work with each month, we actually ended up dropping in total offerings and are now struggling financially, even without the $9k per month mortgage payment!
So where do we go from here? Trinity’s Vision Statement gives us this general hint. We are here:
To be a spiritual beacon through worship, evangelism,
missions and Christian education,
and by providing other quality programs and activities for all ages.
That statement has always seemed to general to me... hard to get a solid grip on. Looking at it more closely, the definition of “Beacon” is: An aid to navigation, a warning device, a welcoming signal, from the Old English beacen, meaning simply, “a sign.” Visions come to mind of ancient bonfires on a hill to warn of oncoming danger, or picturesque lighthouses, or used in a negative sense, a fire set in the wrong place by pirates (Yarrr!) to mislead or misdirect ships so they could be looted after they sank or ran aground.
Pirates and pastoral seafaring images aside, the basic, old meaning of “beacon” might be more helpful to us: A sign. In the Gospel of John especially, Jesus’ teachings and miracles are referred to as signs (see John chapters 2, 4, 6, 12, and so on).
But any good sign is pointing to something... what was Jesus pointing to? He, simply put, was pointing to the Kingdom of God, unfolding right before their eyes: a kingdom of light, hope, joy, knowledge, and love. And THIS is exactly what Trinity’s Beacon should be pointing to God’s Kingdom unfolding in our midst. Through salvation in Christ, we begin to experience God’s grace and love, watching his love unfold in us and through us, and we bring others into this Kingdom of Grace.
This year brings amazing financial and logistical challenges to our church and school and in the center of that whirlwind, we must refocus and rediscover the reasons for doing any of this: to bring others to faith in Christ so that they, too, can be a part of the unfolding of this amazing Kingdom that Jesus came to show us., and rediscover how to be a beacon of light, hope, joy, knowledge and love.