Investing in the Future
Investing in the Future
Long ago I settled in my own mind the conflict which surely arises in every pastoral heart, between spending money on God's house and giving generously to the poor among us and far away from us. Jesus helped me settle it. I refer to that evening at Bethany when one of the disciples cavils at the woman's extravagance, pouring precious perfume on Jesus, when the ointment could be sold and the proceeds given to the poor. Jesus, not quite the bleeding heart he has sometimes been portrayed, tells the complainer, in so many words, "Aw, come off it, what she's done is a beautiful thing." Savor the moment... without second and, so-called, holier thoughts.
Not that we should just go around spending fortunes on cathedrals and letting children rot in favelas. The choice is rarely that stark. Like the day I found cigarette ashes in the offering plate in the sanctuary of the church in Brooklyn. Plus, the eagle on the American flag pole had disappeared. The trasher and thief were not hard to locate. We had allowed the use of the church basement to a community youth program. When I confronted the director with the evidence, he rebutted my complaint with a false choice, between serving young people and protecting furniture. Needless to say, the program was out of there the next week. I knew from firsthand experience one could serve young people and keep them from smoking cigarettes in the sanctuary.
Like almost everything else in life, choices require balance. Church people will always have to weigh the relentless need of a wounded world against the inevitable incursions of rust and moth with the house of God. Usually church people err on the side of perfuming the Word over feeding the hungry. That's why any pastor worth his salt (see Matthew 5:13) will champion from the pulpit the needy world in whom the Son of Man finds contemporary voice (see Matthew 25: 40). Still, neglecting the church's bricks and mortar for, say, relief to earthquake victims half way around the world, while noble and even imitative of the self-giving of Calvary, will seem to be shortsighted when the money gives out and the roof caves in.
There are those, of course, who favor churches without walls... or floors and ceilings. God bless them! but I cannot imagine being a pastor without a place to preach, hold Bible studies, cook fellowship dinners, and run a Sunday School, among a few of the endeavors which take place under the ecclesiastical umbrella. And who could ever merit five haloes in my rating of a church service unless there was a resonant room with a carefully prepared choir accompanied by an organ (and bagpipes!) in support of a direct and literate sermon preached, preferably, from a magnificent pulpit?
And that takes money and time.
All of the preceding being, therefore, the preamble to relating news from Central Connecticut and Long Island about churches investing in the future by attending to the needs of their buildings. Like St. Peter Claver Catholic Church in West Hartford which recently installed a new Dobson pipe organ with 19 ranks, to replace a vintage electronic organ: an expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars. I look forward to hearing Tim Stella arrange music, direct, and play for his adult choir at Christmas next year.
Or Immanuel UCC at Woodland and Farmington in Hartford: the interior has this past summer been repainted and the very large transept windows reconditioned, making that worship setting one of the most splendid in Connecticut's capital.
The Sunday before last we returned to Grace UMC, Valley Stream NY for a dedicatory concert for the new baby grand piano in the nave. Music Director George Simmons demonstrated once again his amazing piano virtuosity. Before and after the concert I spoke with Trustee and Property Committee chair Larry Walker about his stewardship of the buildings. Superb! I concluded. All the bulbs where lit, all the rubber communion silencers in place, rubber tips on every folding chair, shining floor in the Undercroft, freshly painted walls and ceilings... like, in fact better than, six years earlier when it fell to me to make sure those items were attended to. Further, on a summertime trip to Long Island I was very pleased to see new windows all around the Education Building.
In the year before my retirement when asked what I would be doing I joked that maybe I would become a para-custodian. Be careful what you laugh at! Guess what new project I have undertaken. I'll give you a hint: it has to do with light bulbs and being green. Right, I have pledged to replace all two hundred incandescent light bulbs in the United Methodist Church of Hartford with fluorescent bulbs, glass globe enclosed corkscrews. I've begun and, naturally, Murphy's Law takes over. But with a little luck and a lot of persistence the Methodists of Hartford will be green. When my friends in the locker room bade me goodbye this afternoon, they sent me forth with the admonition, "Be careful on the ladder." I smiled and tossed over my shoulder my own farewell: "Yes, mother."
Consider the poor (Psalm 41:1), and bless the Lord in his holy temple (Psalm 84, kind of). The two need not be contradictions.