Tag Archives: Hebrews 13:8

A Twenty Year Shift

This Sunday afternoon, in celebration of my 20 years of service, Calvary Community Church will be putting on a luncheon in my honor.  While I loathe being the center of attention, I am grateful for the gesture of love and appreciation.  The irony of this event is that, while it recognizes that I have been pastoring the same church for two decades, I have not actually been pastoring in the same ministry for 20 years.  In a post a few weeks ago, I wrote that most of the congregants have changed over my tenure.  But that is not the only thing that has changed since 1997.

Our culture, and therefore our church’s ministry, has changed in the last few years.  Some of these changes have been stylistic – from organ accompaniment to piano or from singing with hymnals in hand to projecting digital images of lyrics – but some of the changes have been profound:

  • Our society was changed by terrorism (September 11, 2001) – our world, including our expressions of faith, changed when planes crashed into the World Trade Center Towers, the Pentagon and a field in rural Pennsylvania. Some were drawn to God, some were repelled.  But ministry changed…we were no longer invincible, no longer safe, no longer favored.  New questions were raised and doubts about God’s benevolence and power surfaced, leaving the church to offer hope to the newly hopeless.
  • Our society redefined tolerance (November 18, 2003) – our moral landscape changed when the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts upheld a lower court’s ruling in the case of Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health, thereby legalizing the marriage of two consenting adults without regard to gender. The law of the land (ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court of the US) thus conflicted with the traditional interpretation of the Bible and local congregations were required to again consider questions thought inconceivable to prior generations.
  • Our society was given untethered access to technology (June 29, 2007) – our understanding of media and knowledge changed when Apple released the IPhone, allowing anyone with the resources to afford the phone and the service plan access to the internet virtually anywhere. Seemingly overnight, we went from transferring information conversationally to transferring it electronically.  We heightened our levels of awareness and distraction with our ability to record and transmit everything.  We began engaging in social media and neglected social interaction.  The church, whether it was ready or not, was required to engage with the digital world while maintaining its historically relational and textual characteristics.
  • Our society embraced a new form of activism (September 17, 2011) – our involvement with the world around us changed when people gathered for Occupy Wall Street, ushering in a new style of activism that blended the orchestration of peaceful assembly with the spontaneity of a flash mob. Diverse groups of individuals were able to communicate their dissatisfaction with cultural oppression en masse, without designated leadership, and have their voices heard.  This led to other groups (e.g. Black Lives Matter and Women’s March) raising awareness of the plight of the disadvantaged.  The church, who has championed the cause of the downtrodden for centuries, is now beginning to embrace this social activism as young Christians lead the saints into a world where there is justice for all.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  Hebrews 13:8 (NIV)

In a few weeks, I am going to participate in a young man’s Ordination Council (a gathering of denominational leaders who interact with a candidate’s statement of theology, challenging the candidate to think deeply about their philosophy and content of ministry).  I remember my Ordination Council in 1999.  I was so young, so naïve, so sure of what I believed.  Then, over the past two decades, the landscape shifted in profound ways.  However, no matter how the culture may change, the Christ remains the same.  The message has never wavered, whether it is recorded in ink or pixels.  A culture worried with terrorism and wearied by intolerance has been washed in the Blood of Jesus.  A culture steeped in technology and straining for justice has been saved from sin through the sacrifice.  The church has changed over the past twenty years – as the adage goes, “You could not step twice into the same river” – but the Gospel remains the same.  And so we shall continue to share the good news until all have heard it.

A Movie Story

Last month Hollywood came to Dorchester when a major motion picture was filmed in a home five doors down from the church.  One aspect of the production involved transforming the neighborhood to look like Detroit in 1968, including lining Ashmont Street with vintage vehicles (the Boston Globe even took a photo of an old Michigan state police car directly in front of the church).  According to the studio representatives that I spoke with, our community looks the same as it did fifty years ago. img_1220

This made me wonder if anything has changed in a half century.  I would agree that all the homes were older and little has changed to the exteriors in decades.  However, the interiors have been transformed – both in demographics and amenities.  Looking at just the houses in our neighborhood doesn’t reveal the diversity of ethnicities of their inhabitants – people with roots in every continent now live here – which was largely absent fifty years ago.  Looking at just the houses in our neighborhood doesn’t reveal the upgrades of 21st century life – the larger rooms due to advances in insulation materials and the larger televisions due to advances in technology – nearly unimaginable fifty years ago.  It may not look like it, but we are a different community than we were in 1968.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.   Hebrews 13:8 (NIV)

In a similar sense to all of Ashmont Street, Calvary is both old and new.  The church’s exterior has changed very little in the last five decades; in fact, it looks just as it did when it was built in 1936.  Also, like the houses around the church, our function has not changed – we continue be a home to a wonderful family of faith who come together regularly to worship, learn and serve within and beyond its walls.  But who we are as a church and how we communicate as a church has changed greatly over the years, just like our neighbors: we are much more diverse with much more technology.

The church, like the homes that surround it, has adapted over time without major alteration in appearance.   We continue to be what we’ve always been: an evangelical church.  Our message and our motivation remain the same; we long for every person in our community to know that Jesus came to save sinners, of whom we are the worst.  But, in proclaiming that good news, we have modified our methods over time: we have added to our tradition forms of communication the practices of corresponding digitally, interacting globally and engaging through social media.

In thinking about the film crew that, for a few days in August of 2016, transformed our neighborhood and turned the clock back to a time when I was still in diapers, I marvel at how much has changed and how much remains the same.  We are still a group of good people who love our kids and our country, who pursue the American dream and peek over fences to envy what the neighbors have, and who occasionally struggle to make ends meet and stay healthy.  It is a blessing to call this place home.

Photo courtesy of the Boston Globe