In the prelude to “A Hidden Wholeness,” Parker Palmer offers a powerful metaphor for life in local churches today. He tells of a time when farmers on the Great Plains, at the first sign of a blizzard, would run a rope from the back door out to the barn. They all knew stories of people who had wandered off and been frozen to death, having lost sight of home in a whiteout, while still in their own back yards.
The blizzard that is life in the local church rages today. It brings with it anxiety, confusion, fear and a sense of having lost our way. Swirling around us is a culture and a time that disorients us. Every week we hear of churches that have lost their way, of clergy who have wandered far from where they intended to be, of ministries that have awakened and not known which way to turn.
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Part of the task for each of us is to carefully tie a rope around that which is our home in the faith. Authentic biblical faith begins with an internal experience of abundant life and passion and wholeness in Christ. Whatever swirls around us cannot touch that security. We then find churches and communities of faith that keep us connected and grounded and tie our ropes to them.
When there’s a whiteout, people need a secure path toward safety and warmth. Too many clergy and churches only add to the storm by functioning in unhelpful and disorienting ways. While healthy congregations have never been needed more, being a healthy congregation has never been a more challenging ideal. In the midst of the storms that surround us, can we be the steady presence of faith, hope and love that so many seek?
Ask yourself: Are we a clear and present hope in the midst of life’s storms? Have we remembered our calling to be a shelter in the storm? Are we willing to put aside personal agendas in order to welcome those who have lost their way?
Such a church will honor the One who came to calm the storm and to lead us home.
Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Congregational Health in Winston-Salem, N.C.