It’s beautiful when the congregational system is humming along—the church is Spirit-filled, worshipers are bearing each other’s burdens, submitting to one another and rejoicing continually. When faced with major decisions, the congregation seeks the Lord and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. After prayer and copious dialogue, a consensus emerges. Or the congregational system hits a pothole. The decision-making process is accelerated or compressed for a decision that has huge implications for the life of the church; the issues raised are theologically profound and the consequences painful no matter what is decided. At these times, a congregation can see its unity shattered.
One of the buzz phrases in the United Methodist Church appointment process these days is “seasons of ministry.” As our bishops and cabinets try to encourage longer-term ministry appointments, this phrase helps us expand our imaginations. For too long in our tradition, clergy lived year to year, and so did congregations.
A few years ago I bought a book on leadership called Getting to Yes. I think it was about moving from win-lose situations to win-win situations in which everyone involved has an easier time “getting to yes.” I cannot say for sure since I never read it, but the title alone proved worth the price. Just seeing it on my bookshelf cheered me up.
I had agreed, along with 11 other people from my congregation, to attend a program on congregational discernment, but I was not looking forward to it. I was skeptical of the diocese’s ability to teach a nonbureaucratic method of reaching decisions, and I was also skeptical about our group’s ability to discern anything.
June O’Connor, a noted professor of ethics, leads a double life—and without a whiff of duplicity. Primarily she teaches ethics at the University of California at Riverside. However, she also regularly takes on the persona of advice columnist for “Dear June,” a column that runs in the Catholic Digest.
It’s going to be a long Advent. We stepped into the deep violet darkness and have been on the alert ever since, not only for the coming of our Savior, but also for further assaults from our largely unseen enemies. Two mysterious objects thus appear on the same radar screen: the mystery of redemption and the mystery of evil, both pushing our powers of analysis beyond their limits.