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September 15, 2011

“Uncomfortableness” Prelude 1

by Rev. A. J. Iovine

When NJ District President Rev. William Klettke and Missions Director Rev. Dr. Anthony Steinbronn visited Saint Matthew’s back in April, I took a lot of notes. Sadly, because the Easter season was right on top of us, I didn’t have the opportunity to delve into my notes. I put the notebook in my home desk drawer and forgot about it. Two weeks ago, when fishing for a purple pen, the notebook was sitting there staring at me.

Pulling it out, I flipped open the top cover and the issues that our district raised about Saint Matthew’s and our future came flooding back. Now, the issues were fairly general, but the purpose of the generality was to get all of us on board with looking at ourselves objectively. One of the major issues that was raised several times was the “age” of the church. Not the age of the members specifically, but the “age” of the congregation — we’ve been here in New Milford for 115 years. In fact, President Klettke and Dr. Steinbronn reiterated several times that for a church to last longer than 85 years was a blessing … and a curse.

The blessing is the easy part: We’ve been around preaching the Gospel for more than a century. Every time someone comes to church and hears the Word, faith is built in a person’s heart. And for that reason alone, Saint Matthew’s has been a blessing to our community. Additionally, we’ve been active in community affairs, helping the needy, being there for one another, loving the unloved, caring for those who have been ignored, and living our lives as best we can according to the Christ-built faith in our hearts. That is what has made this church special for so many years.

However, the curse is something that we all have to acknowledge — Lutheran churches like ours don’t usually last for more than 85 years. Established churches get stuck in the past. They become more comfortable with what they are used to rather than doing those things that would extend the Gospel and Christ’s love. This is not just about Saint Matthew’s; all churches have to keep an eye out for this “curse of longevity.”

One of the words that I wrote down as Dr. Steinbronn was giving his report was “uncomfortableness.” Churches and church members do not like to be uncomfortable. They like doing what they do and enjoy staying within the comfortable¬†parameters they are used to living in. Therefore, worship stays the same; annual church events become the heart of the “action life” of the church; and the church gets older. When being comfortable becomes the driving force of a church, established churches get older and the membership wanes.

The fact is, we all fall victim to the comfortableness of being who we are — no one is immune. As long as the church is open on Sunday mornings, we’re happy.

Honestly, I have fallen into this rut. For a couple of years now, my thoughts haven’t been on the extension of the Gospel and reaching out. Instead, I have become very comfortable with our church schedule, including our terrific events we hold every year. As I have been battling cancer, I have found a lot comfort in just knowing that we have a set worship schedule and process that doesn’t change much. I am comfortable knowing that our events here at church will happen without a hitch. I am happy to be at a church where the membership cares enough for one another and that all try to live their Christian lives as best as possible.

“Being comfortable as a congregation is important,” said President Klettke. “But challenging yourself and being uncomfortable is also an important part of the church life.”

Over the coming weeks, I want to explore my notes of our district visitation with you, couching them under the term “Uncomfortableness.” This past Monday, this term popped into my mind when sitting at our Voters’ Meeting. I think it is time, as your pastor, we take a solid inventory of who we are and explore our comfort levels as a congregation and how challenging ourselves to be “uncomfortable” will build Christ’s church here in New Milford.

(This post is taken from my church’s “The Pastor’s Blog” and will be included in our weekly parish notes)

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