Posted by: riverchilde | August 25, 2011

Organic church

I’m waiting for a plane to land so I can fetch my husband from the airport, and this empty late-night time is giving me the opportunity to catch up on the many blog drafts I started, but didn’t finish this summer because new experiences were flying at me one after another too fast for me to breathe (or duck!).
It’s a pleasure to be reviewing this one, which I started after a lunch in June with a pastor friend of mine. I had shared my interest in “crowd-sourcing the church,” and our subsequent  conversation had us wrestling with the ways in which the church is/should be organic. We’re both gardeners, so this idea was heightened by our more-prolific-than-the-usual June gardens.
Some conclusions we came to: Like a garden, an organic church requires attentiveness and responsiveness. Leading organically means having the humility to know and accept that things don’t always turn out the way you think or plan they will–and you even come to expect that. I like that as a mantra–“I’m coming to expect that things won’t turn out the way I think they will.” That statement conveys an openness to surprise, to the workings of God.
It also involves creativity, which means that while you must start with an idea (or better yet, a germ of an idea), the idea flows and evolves as you work. And it’s not just you at work–all the partners (whether flowers/sun/soil/rain or worshippers/learners/pastors/teachers) are contributing to this ongoing, living, changing piece of art. The broader and more diverse the group, the more potential there is for evolution, for building one upon another, for creative input. So much, in fact, that if the plan ends up exactly as you started, you’ve failed.
That’s why a church can’t just pick up another church’s successful idea and directly implement it at another site. Its organic nature means you can’t duplicate something from one place to another and get exactly the same results. In some cases we can determine means and methods, but we can’t be predictive. And we must be willing to fail, otherwise we won’t be trying anything new.
I think of our garden, in which we’ve tried so many different plants. Some have thrived for years, so much so that they have thrust out other plants and have had to be severely curtailed or we’d have nothing but late-blooming phlox. Many have needed to move around from place to place until they found a happy home (we call those the frequent-flyers). A few, like my grandmother’s transplanted peonies, must not be disturbed at all in order to do well. And some have just required more attention and maintenance than we have time for. Our garden doesn’t look just like our neighbor’s, although we have shared many plants between us, but we’ve learned from each other’s failures. Despite the fact that we live just a few houses apart, our soil isn’t the same (we removed the clay, she amended it), the sun doesn’t fall at the same angles, and the drainage is different. She loves orange flowers and they look lovely in her garden, but they are banned from ours. We’ve had to spend time with our gardens, getting to know their idiosyncracies and limitations. And over and over again, we’ve been surprised–sometimes happily (as my bargain-basement climbing roses took off and covered the porch even more rampantly than I had hoped) and sadly, as we’ve discovered that certain plants simply can never be adequately protected from the deer that view our gardens as backyard buffets. Those are things we could only discover over time.
And our garden doesn’t look the same as it did when we first planted it. In fact, it looks nothing like when we first planted it. Not only were some of the plants quite small, but the variety of plants morphed and changed over time. In many ways, the garden was prettier then. But life was different then as well. Today we have different demands upon our time, and our current garden fits those needs better. Someday, perhaps, we will have more time to devote to it, and it will again change. Our garden, like a church, is reflective of the persons who tend it. It hasn’t turned out the way we thought or planned it would, but it is a thing of beauty and a tribute to God nonetheless.

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