I know when people describe our congregation, radical is not the first adjective that comes to mind. We pride ourselves on being simple people who strive to live showing kindness and respect. However, the first stories I heard about our congregation when I was making reference calls all those years ago was that the congregation in question was a radical one.
This congregation was radical from its beginning. Two congregations, one Presbyterian Church U.S.A. and the other United Methodist, had leaders in their thirties who saw a bigger vision for the future of the congregations. They were not the only leaders, leaders with more age and wisdom also saw this vision, but the younger leaders were the ones who filled in the story when I accepted the call to serve. The radical decision was made to unite the congregations as one and become a brand new congregation. The leaders made decisions about property, pastoral leadership, and denominational status and the congregations followed those leaders. I have been told there was much to be afraid of and some struggles in the beginning, but the radical vision of a vibrant congregation kept them going.
The second radical story I was told in the beginning that has been re-told many times, is the decision the congregation made to spend their money to hire a full-time pastor instead of yoking with another congregation or hiring a part-time pastor. This might not seem radical to you but for a rural congregation living in an area with a diminishing population, the decision to spend money that has been saved for decades is a huge leap of faith. I was told that the congregation decided the only way to continue to grow into their vibrant vision was to use the resources they had been given. It was some of those original leaders, now forty years older, who filled in the details of that story for me.
A third, and by no means final, characteristic of their radical nature is that I am the sixth female pastor to serve with them. This is radical because there are still congregations in our denomination (PCUSA) who have not had a female pastor.
I share this radical nature of our congregation because today they made a new radical decision, they agreed to enter into a sabbatical in 2019. Sabbaticals, spending money, uniting small congregations (or consolidating businesses), and hiring women may not seem radical to some of you, as in many fields these are normal practices. But for a rural congregation a sabbatical is typically a brand new experience.
Today we had an honest and heartfelt discussion as a congregation about our concerns and dreams for taking a new radical step into the future. We decided we would use this tool we have been offered to nurture our pastor-congregation partnership and dream of that vibrant future we have been living and want to continue to live.
Tonight one of our oldest members said to me that a sabbatical is such a good idea and is exciting not only for the pastor but also the congregation. I heard in their words that same radical nature that has kept this congregation serving God and the community all these forty-nine years.
I am inspired by their faith and thankful I get to learn how to live simply and radically with them.