July 12, 2018
JoAnne had a disturbing experience walking Abby last week. They had been in Katonah walking about and doing whatever Border Collies and their adopting moms do on a “girls day out” when, as JoAnne relates, they came to a particular street and Abby just froze. She became fear filled. She whimpered. She refused to walk down that street – no way no how! She dug her paws in, engaged her brakes, lay down in defiance, and did whatever other doggie type cliché you wish to conjure up. Fear had her paralyzed. And what was most confusing was that there were no overt signs of any trouble ahead. There were no aggressive dogs (or persons) lurking in the shadows (because last week’s blistering noonday sun had eliminated them all). There was no rational “reason” to explain her behavior, but freeze up – she did! And it took all sorts of cajoling, bribes, and pleading to cross the road and move beyond that street in order to return to the car. I’m not asking you for solutions to Abby’s issue. Maybe she has a memory from her puppy wandering days down south that this street brought to mind. Maybe, she was just tired and played JoAnne for sympathy. We’ll never know.
But this experience can be a metaphor for parish life, small Episcopal Church 2018. We, like too many other small parishes in our small Communion of less than 2 million members nationwide, are approaching unknown avenues, having to make decisions, planning for an uncertain future and looking out on unfamiliar paths, and there is the temptation to just freeze. It’s always easier to claim that the past was “Utopia”, and it is better to return to what “was” than to face the uncertain “now” (or future). Some parish communities get trapped in an ideological quicksand of inaction because folks claim that they want to change or grow, but they want things to stay the same as when they were perfect (or at least “better than this”) in the past.
The questions we, as a small parish, must be asking ourselves are just what is it Christ wants us to be and where does Christ wish us to go? In the end, it’s not about institutions, or buildings, or “things”. It is about discipleship. It is about love being manifested. It is about not being afraid to do whatever we discern God is calling us to do. Dogs (usually) are motivated by food or play. Christians must pray, and struggle, and discern and then must act in love. Only then can we avoid being frozen in fear.