Certain necessities of life for me are only available at a farm supply store. For example, to prevent slipping on the ice the very best thing is, in my view, chicken grit, far better than either salt or sand. Thus it was that I was waiting in the check-out line in a farm supply store the other day—where I had gone to purchase chicken grit. The cashier and the customer in front of me were commiserating about the difficulty in finding work. The customer, it appears had been out of work for the better part of a year. She was hopeful, she said, the economy seemed to be picking up. Yet, having been out of work so long, debts had accumulated. She was going to need to find a really good job to have any hope of digging herself out.
Something about this echoes what I have been hearing from you, our congregational leaders. It does seem to you that things are picking up. Some congregations have reported unexpected success in fund-raising and unexpectedly strong payments of pledges. And yet the strain of the past year of recession has built up and continues to build. The prospect of better future income does nothing to pay down the debts that have arrived already.
The same dynamics seem to operate at a metaphorical level. This has been a year of strain. Now we look forward to better times but still are carrying with us the feeling of cumulative strain. It remains hard to find the sources of new energy and possibility even as prospects for new endeavors brighten.
Leading in this time is going to require us a challenging combination of deep empathy for what our people and congregations have been through and also a willingness to challenge our congregations to do new things. Paradoxically, in congregations new energy does not come from letting people rest, but rather from posing the right challenge.