by Mike Kinman
New occasions teach new duties,
time makes ancient good uncouth,
They must upward still and onward,
who would keep abreast of truth.
James Russell Lowell wrote these words in the 1840s in a poem called The Present Crisis, criticizing the United States’ war with Mexico.
In this extraordinary and timeless turn of phrase, Lowell reminds us the world is always changing, and if we are to be people of truth and righteousness, we must always grow and change as well.
We know all about change here at All Saints Church.
It’s been almost a year since we first met on Homecoming Sunday, 2016. Almost a year since I stood in the pulpit and together we sang “I woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom.”
There has been a lot of change and there is more to come. We have bid farewell to Ed Bacon, Zelda Kennedy and James Walker … people who were not only deeply faithful pastors but whose theology, leadership styles, and management philosophies shaped this congregation for decades.
I am different from Ed … just as Ed was different from George. We are different people with different gifts and from different generations. I am already preaching differently and leading differently … and soon we will be joined by new staff who also will be different from those that came before.
Similarly, the world is changing – sometimes in ways that make us rejoice and sometimes in ways that makes us anxious and afraid. And if we are to follow and be a part of what Christ is doing as these new occasions happen … if we are to keep abreast of truth …. we must adapt and change as well.
And so I wanted to take this chance to say two things about that.
First, we all react to change differently. Depending on who we are and how we are wired … and even what day it is … we may experience change anywhere on the spectrums from exhilaration to exhaustion, from rejoicing to mourning. Because change involves destabilization, even change we have longed for can be unfamiliar and uncomfortable.
There is no right or wrong way to feel in the face of change. There is just how we feel. And part of how we love one another through change is to create space where we can articulate those feelings. That’s why we have started to have community conversations about issues like applause in church and our alcohol policy – and we will be having more on other topics and just for sharing in general.
As I and others suggest changes – or as we just by being who we are embody change – it’s OK to agree or disagree or struggle or rejoice. But let’s pray about it and talk about it together, OK?
Second, just because we are doing something differently or talking about something differently now doesn’t mean the way it was done or talked about previously was wrong or bad.
The All Saints of rector George Regas was a certain way because that’s what a faithful response to the new occasions of that age looked like. Same for the All Saints of rector Ed Bacon. And now together we get to figure out what new duties God is calling us to with the new occasions of today’s “Present Crisis.”
Some “ancient goods” of the past will now seem uncouth. We will realize – as our ancestors will one day realize of us – that as humans our best efforts at faithfulness both accomplished wonderful things and also fell short of the kin-dom of God. And just as our ancestors will one day build on the work we are doing and will do together, so we are building on the faithful labor of generations past.
Yes, change is afoot. Lots of it. And we are well aware of it. New generations are coming of age and a multiplicity of cultures and classes are coming together in new ways in this community. A community of great diversity brings with it the gift and challenge of many different ways of doing things, and particularly those of us used to being in power must be conscious of Christ continually calling us to let the last be first and the first be last.
There are plenty of new occasions happening and we are learning new duties. And with Christ leading us, together we will continue, upward still and onward, striving to keep abreast of truth.
Mike Kinman is the Rector of All Saints Church in Pasadena. “In the Face of Change” is reposted here from the September issue of Saints Alive — the monthly magazine of All Saints Church.