If time can change, why can’t we?
One of the most fascinating things in life is human thought. It can be very similar. It can also be obdurately different.
We can agree on some things. It nice to see the sun now and then, for example.
But look at basic things like.
- Which side of the road should we drive on?
- Which direction should we read and write?
- What should an alphabet representing sound look like?
- What do we call the main meal of the day, supper or dinner?
- How do your pronounce “insurance” or “cement”?
I just read a book about medieval history in the fourteenth century. It discusses the problems in developing clocks and adding them to the multiple palaces being built by that era’s royalty.
Clocks are machines and do some things very well, especially repetitive and measured things.
Here was the problem.
An hour in medieval times did not represent sixty minutes made up of sixty seconds. Back then, the day was divided into daylight and darkness. Each was given equal measure—twelve hours. The available daylight or darkness was divided by 12. Therefore a daylight hour in May in northern Europe was longer than a nighttime hour. Vice-versa in December. The same span of time on the same day closer to the equator would vary.
It is outside all modern experience to think of an hour as anything but sixty minutes long, yet an hour of varying measure worked for the people of that time. Things only changed when they needed to change. Machines needed an hour’s duration to be fixed.
Which ideas taken for granted today will be obsolete tomorrow?
Is the Church prepared for thinking that might create fundamental change — not so much in what we believe but in how we work together and act out our beliefs?
Our congregation encountered divergent thinking when we began welcoming immigrants. Our newer members (from several countries) viewed time very differently. Starting times were relative. It was expected that people would show up within an hour or so of an announced time. It was interesting to see the children who were picking up American ways fuss with their parents.
- “No one’s coming. Let’s go home.”
- “They will come. Go play.”
And they did come!
As we first encountered this problem, a pastor decided the answer was to start at the appointed time regardless of who was there. That will teach them. It just made everybody feel bad. We ended up starting our service with a hymn sing. We’d sing two or three hymns as people gathered. It didn’t matter how many people were there and most people were there by the time we started the call to worship. This worked well. It became tradition.
There were other hurdles. Newer members tended to enjoy longer events—all day as opposed to the American event attention span of two hours tops. We compromised. Events were planned for three hours and people were welcome to stay for fellowship all day if they liked.
Choir work was another challenge as newer members didn’t rely on reading music. The director would explain, “This is how it is written.” The new members would look at one another before answering, “But this is how we sing it.”
Our congregation was patient and flexible with the process of welcoming differences—more so than our regional body.
Their view was that congregations have life spans. A time to be born and die, the population staying static in its composition. We were told this by our bishop, who clearly thought our congregation’s time to die had arrived regardless of how our membership was growing. If we couldn’t be the same white congregation with English/Scotch and German roots, it was time to die. There was no denying the changing demographics.
We didn’t use the changing demographics as an excuse to lock up and move on. We worked with the demographic changes. We still are.
The issue seemed to be finding pastoral leadership that was comfortable dealing with a group as diverse as ours. There was no one, we were told—repeatedly. Meanwhile, our members found several qualified pastors willing to work with us.
The problem may be that the Church skipped the 20th century and is lost in the 21st century.
This showed us something. The Church is unprepared for diversity and is developmentally still in “separate but equal” thinking.
The Church may be equally unprepared for other changes their members face daily in today’s society. The problem may be that we skipped the 20th century and are lost in the 21st century. Time stood still for a while. And now small churches are paying for it.