'How many Methodists does it take to change a light-bulb?'
I'm on my way back from the excellent Changing Church Conference organised by the Susanna Wesley Foundation at the University of Roehampton. As ever, it was a day full of insights from careful and reflective practitioners. What struck me most forcefully, however, was how often we try to pretend - in the Church and elsewhere - that change is easy or painless. Whether it's re-ordering a worship space or closing a building because it has outlived its usefulness, in accentuating the positive benefits of change, we too easily gloss over the hard reality that change is a deeply troubling and sometimes traumatic process.
People are not stupid (by and large). They avoid or resist things that are going to cause them problems. So a congregation's resistance to a major change in the life of the church is precisely because they know it will hurt. For some, it is the kind of change that Peter experienced in Acts 10 when he was challenged to forego the kosher laws. Faith is not just about spiritual beliefs or attitdues - it is grounded in brinks and mortar, in spaces where we have encountered the numimous, in words written in much-loved hymn books and scriptures. Faith finds form in relationships strengthened whilst kneeling together at a communion rail or in memories of past saints who have prayed and worshipped in the next pew.
But none of this means we should resist change. It is to suggest that we need to rediscover the spiritual resources that have always been available but which we have previously ignored. Or perhaps it's a case of reorientation, away from the texts and songs of the unchangeableness of the Divine and towards the unfolding story of the loving actions of a dynamic God. Instead of associating God with all that does not change, a refocus on the profound and costly transformation of crucufixion and resurrection is needed. For what does the life, death and resurrection of Christ teach us if not that God is at the very heart of the pain and joy of deep and lasting change, not shielding us from its reality, but leading us to the other side?
We know this stuff! Every funeral service, we put it into compassionate action - death and sorrow, new life and hope. In a church and society pervaded by a profound sense of loss - loss of power, of identity, of confidence, of a secure future - this is the story we must once again discover.