I am challenged by what Reconciler has become. Over the years we have had to shed a number of things we thought important and necessary for an ecumenical congregation to function. What I am challenged by is the realization that those things we have shed are those things that would have allowed a firm identity for Reconciler, but also created an ecumenism that was relatively self contained if also possibly reproducible. But such self containment would have also not been really ecumenical. What has been formed is something less easily defined and summarized, but also more open and porous. Caring for and being pastor at Reconciler may largely entail finding ways to nurture and establish relationships in all possible situations with those both who one might expect, like our host church and the other two churches who share space here from Immanuel, but also in less likely or even completely unlikely places.
This is a challenge because I am not sure what this all looks like or will look like. I am beginning conversations with some other pastors in the neighborhood and with whom I know from the inter-religious group of the Edgewater Community Religious Association. Though this also makes sense that it would be there and with pastors and other churches in the neighborhood that we'd begin to nurture relationships. But what that looks like is also a little uncertain for it blurs lines of identity and community. I have for sometime been experiencing this with some members of Immanuel Lutheran Church: by simply leading worship in joint worship services over these past few years I am in a sense a pastor to people who never attend Reconciler, but attend Immanuel. Yet this is also happening with those who don't go to church, or don't have a church home and also don't attend Reconciler. In the past year I have had a handful of people introduce me to family or friends as their pastor, they may have attend for awhile, or only once or twice but they have made a connection feel a relationship, that they describe as pastoral. It has puzzled me.
I find the position Reconciler is in and I am in as the pastor, to be simultaneously almost unremarkable and incredibly difficult to wrap my mind around. What is a congregation with porous boundaries in which its pastor, and maybe even, "congregants" have and are called to nurture relationships that aren't for the purpose of growth in the numbers of people who attend worship? What is the meaning of the gathered who come and worship together, what is the character of this ecclesia? Is this making friends through dishonest wealth? Is this a shrewed means to allow the Kingdom of God and the Gospel to be welcomed in places where by other means and some purity of being church could never accomplish? (Luke 16:1-13) I don't know. But to be ecumenical does require the nurture of relationships across what have been and still seem to be firm boundaries of identity, politics, and association. Boundaries that simply are being crossed even if in the crossing of them we act as though they are still firm and impenetrable. Perhaps it really is odd that in the midst of crisis about the future of Christianity and denominations and churches in the US, the nurture of relationships that have no means of increasing our own "wealth" that bring us no material benefit, no growth in numbers of people who flock to our cause is precisely what is continuing to be neglected, but what we have always already been called to do. I understand this neglect because to seek to make connections and to nurture relationships for the sake of making them without a firm sense of what this relationship will bring except a connection feels treacherous and useless.
It seems that I am a pastor to more than the 15 or so people who come around for Reconciler's weekly worship. It seems Reconciler has had an effect on its host church that can't quite be measured. It seems that counting and measuring may not tell us the whole story, and may even distort the story we are to be telling ourselves. Perhaps Reconciler invites people to an openness of relationship that rests on who God is and not on that there is a firm bounded singular identity for someone to join, other than to come into the people of God?
What I do know is that we tried to live into the bounded character of what our denominational institutions expect of congregations and parishes and Reconciler has been lead away from those rubrics of firm identity and bounded community, to something else...