All hands on deck

Jill DuffieldAll hands on deck, all available personnel to the front, code blue or alert level red. In other words: Stop what you are doing and tend to what’s right in front of you right now. There are times and circumstances when the routine has to be jettisoned in order to address the immediate. The line at the front is out the door, so all cashiers come to the front. The patient has just crashed, so everyone on the resuscitation team run to the room. The fire alarm has sounded, so put down the planned lesson and get the children safely out. All hands on deck.

We are in that kind of a situation in the church — and not just the PC(USA). Every denomination, every Christian tradition is in the midst of an “all hands on deck” moment. We’ve read and heard and read some more about “nones” and “dones.” We’ve wallowed in annual statistical reports and lamented subsequent budget, program and personnel cuts. We’ve grieved churches leaving or splitting or staying together in name only. Many of these realities will persist. All of them are worthy of our mourning, but even as we mourn there is pressing work to be done.

My fervent prayer is that we could see this tumultuous time as one of urgent coming together, a time to do the work that is right in front of us right now. And while restructuring and the 222nd General Assembly are surely part of that work, I really want us to think bigger than that — much bigger. Everyone will lobby his or her position and we will debate and task force and meet, and that’s not God forsaken. However, as we do those things, we also need to look up and out.

While I value affinity groups within the church (and we all need sometimes to be with a tribe of folks with whom we feel we fit), what we urgently need now is all hands on deck working toward the same end. We need to get out of our comfortable, usual roles and do what needs to be done, even if we aren’t experts at it. Stop stocking the shelf and come bag groceries. Quit documenting the chart and start doing CPR. Get up from your bunk and lower the lifeboat. The time for assessing and planning and plotting and processing will come, but right now, we’ve got immediate needs to which we must attend. Refugees are dying, racism is rampant and people are being poisoned to save a buck. All hands on deck!

What is it that we can all do together? How can we pool our resources in order to make an impact? When will we be a witness to the power of the unity won for us in Jesus Christ? Where has the Spirit gone ahead of us to beckon us forward?

I recognize that in our polarized church and world there are few things we can unequivocally agree on, but I don’t think agreement is required. Faithfulness and a willingness to look to the interest of others will do a lot to get us moving in the same direction. I long for an opportunity to work beside brothers and sisters in Christ with whom I vehemently disagree so that I can learn from them and maybe they might learn from me, too. I really want to be surrounded by people so passionately committed to Jesus Christ that they will tolerate the uncomfortable space that comes when we don’t see eye to eye. How else will we live the reconciliation Christ died to secure? As corny as it sounds, I want the world to know we are Christians by our love — for one another and for God’s world.

Could we stop having all these conferences where we talk to the people we already agree with and come together and devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers? Who knows, awe and wonder might come upon us and our eyes might be opened to see the urgent needs right in front of us right now and we might be able to get all hands on deck, working together for the glory of God.

Grace and peace,