We’ve all heard the question, “If a tree falls in the forest, and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make any noise?” Here’s another one of that sort: Can you cancel a meeting which nobody planned to attend anyway? I suppose that a cancellation isn’t technically necessary, since no one will be inconvenienced by showing up. Still, when there is a room-reservation fee involved, it is not good stewardship to pay the fee for the use of a room which will not be used.
Therefore, I am using this blog post to make the following announcement. The “very important meeting,” scheduled for Thursday, April 12—a meeting which I announced and described in a blog post back on March 26—has been cancelled, owing to the fact that no one, apparently, plans to attend.
I realize that, in the earlier post, I noted that an RSVP was not strictly necessary. That was to encourage participation by those who simply could not make a commitment in advance. It assumed that some would let me know ahead of time, and thus the meeting would be held anyway, so last-minute walk-ins would of course be welcome. In the absence of any advance notice from anyone, it does not seem prudent to pay the room reservation fee on the off-chance that someone might show up.
Am I disappointed? Yes and no. I won’t pretend that I’m not a little disappointed. I had hoped that this event might be the first really substantive step in the development of St. Patrick’s Church and Ministry Center. As I’ve said many times, a new church, in the liturgical tradition, rooted in a local community with an intentional outreach to the university campus would seem to be a no-brainer. The need really exists. But, as I’ve also said many times, I do not want to devise a project and then ask God to bless it. I want to discover what God is doing, or wants to do, and join it. The need, however great, neither constitutes the call nor assures success. And Psalm 127:1 reminds us—
Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
The landscape is littered with “worthy” projects that had to be abandoned when their founders ran out of money or energy or both. At age 62, and with a limited number of years remaining to be devoted to active ministry, I do not want my legacy as an Anglican priest to be “failed church planter.”
As disappointments go, particularly when I reflect on my life over the past four or five years, this one is not debilitating. I know my strengths and my liabilities. I am a churchman, a pretty good preacher, and a pastor who attempts to make up in dedication what he lacks in innate gifting. I am not an entrepreneur. I am not a charismatic leader. I am an introvert who loves God, loves the church, and wants to see people find a spiritual home in a caring, nurturing church family which recognizes its role and responsibility as an agent of the Kingdom of God. In the right setting, I can make a genuine and positive contribution to the life of a local parish and to the ministry of the “one holy, catholic, and apostolic church” which we affirm with the words of the Nicene Creed every Sunday.
If planting a church were likened to the opening of a restaurant, my job would be in the kitchen, preparing the food, and I would be good at it. I would not be good at making the other business-type decisions which a new enterprise of that sort requires. In the long run, the quality of the food would be an important factor in the success or failure of the restaurant. But it would be only one of many. In the birth and development of a church, as in the restaurant business, success requires the mixing and melding of a variety of gifts and abilities. In my case, I have some of the necessary competencies, but not nearly all of them. I need help.
I am an Anglican. In the Anglican tradition, the fundamental unit of organization and church structure is the diocese, not the local congregation. The primary authority in the diocese is the bishop, not the local priest. Local congregations, or parishes, exist to serve the spiritual needs of a specific community, but ideally all the parishes of a diocese view themselves as integral elements in the work of the diocese, under the leadership and authority of the bishop, and not as independent entities in competition with other parishes in the diocese.
This is especially true for the Anglican Diocese of the Great Lakes, a brand new diocese in the brand new Anglican Church of North America. If our diocese is going to thrive, particularly in the area of multiplying the number of new parishes which it plants, or births, to serve local constituencies and advance the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, it will have to show a greater sense of unity and cooperation and shared commitment to outreach and growth than has been the case up to now. When unity and cooperation overcome territorialism and competition, the result will be a more fertile soil in which new church plants can take root, a healthier environment in which they can thrive and grow.
The cultivation of St. Patrick’s Church and Ministry Center awaits the day when those conditions become a reality. Until then, I believe the response of God to those who are praying for the birth of St. Patrick’s will be, “Not yet, children. Not yet.”