Dark nights…

When I was growing up (as a preacher’s kid), I remember my dad sometimes talking about a dark time my denomination went through during the Great Depression. Everyone was hurting then–including the church. Finances were tight, and difficult decisions had to be made.

One of those decisions included delaying the construction of our denominational headquarters building, which had been started in 1926. It was ultimately finished, but not totally completed until 1962.

Another involved the sad release of many individuals who had been serving as full-time ministers. Some of them were able to eventually come back, but some never really recovered. Some left the church; others stayed, but carried with them for the rest of their lives some bitterness toward the church that they felt had deserted them.

And yet another decision was whether the church should file for bankruptcy or not. We didn’t–but it was a difficult time.

That was all before I was born, but it did have some impact on me…perhaps more than on other kids my age whose parents weren’t as intimately involved in church leadership.

The problems I remember didn’t have to do with finances. They had to do with how my denomination was going to deal with civil rights issues…with how to articulate who we were and who we believed in as we moved into non-Western cultures…with how to deal with increased awareness of biblical scholarship…with how we were going to relate with other faith traditions…

Then I went to work for my denomination. I was an older worker–my husband retired, and I went to work. All went well for several years–but then we found ourselves dealing with another depression…and with some perhaps unwise financial decisions made as we were moving out in ministry. I survived a time of layoffs…but not without scars. I went through a dark night, but was able to come out on the other side.

Then I retired. And shortly after my retirement, my denomination went through another round of layoffs as we struggled to find ways to balance our call to mission and outreach with the realities of finances.

I had thought (hoped) that we had accomplished that.

But today our church leadership announced that we are still struggling with finances–and the church budget will have to be cut by almost a third. This means more layoffs…deep layoffs, because there simply isn’t anywhere else to cut.

My heart aches…for my friends who will be losing their jobs…for the areas that will be losing gifted and talented ministers…for those whose lives won’t be touched because of these cuts. There will be dark nights…

And yet…

Out of these dark nights can come growth. It will be painful, there is no doubt about that. But there is the possibility of gaining new understandings…finding new ways of doing things…resetting our priorities, both as individuals and as a denomination…figuring out what our true potential for giving is.

We can get stuck in the dark night–and that is always a temptation. Or we can keep placing one foot in front of the other…keep struggling to find ways to share who we are–and whose we are…even when the way ahead can’t be seen, having faith that we will not be walking it alone…having faith that the darkness will not last forever.

And what is what I pray…for my friends, for my denomination, and for all of us.

Faith takes us to deep places, to the ruptures in our self-confidence and our lives. Do not settle for spiritual comfort all the time…Darkness is divine also. Faith is not about positive thinking so much as about what kicks in when we are weak, sick, and short of self-confidence. The via positiva never stands alone. The via negativa is always with us on our faith journey as well.

— Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics: 365 Readings and Meditations

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