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  • Writer's pictureRev. Joel L. Tolbert

Room Where It Happens

In the musical, "Hamilton", Aaron Burr jealously sings a song about wanting to be "in the room where it happens," the room where important compromises and deals are made, where ideas become words, and words become decisions.

While I LOVE the musical (and will FINALLY be seeing it this Saturday after TWO COVID delays) this song makes me uncomfortable. There's a naked ambition to it. Being in "the room where it happens..." Sure, it's exhilarating and can be a great honor. WANTING to be in the room where it happens, though, sounds self-centered and power-hungry.

Last Sunday, this congregation nominated and elected new Elders and Deacons. They will begin their side-along training in September, be examined by Session early in the new year, then ordained and installed in late January. They will serve from February 2022 through January 2025. (Is that even a real year? Its sounds so sci-fi.)

The Session room is a room where it happens at church. In the Session rooms, diverse perspectives on church, community, purpose, and God come together. Those opinions and ideas (and fears) are coaxed into becoming words. Then, Session has to discern, discuss, debate, and decide what to do next to embody Jesus in this world. Every decision will likely affect the budget or space or staff. Every decision will likely change something about worship or missions. Every decision may change a tradition or habit or ritual.

Most of the congregation is not in the Session room when an idea becomes a decision. Most of the congregation will not know or see the interactions that led to the moment a long-percolating idea finally became a decision. When the Session decides a direction, it depends on committees, chairs, and staff to help the decision become reality, it trusts God will provide what is needed every step of the way, and it hopes the people of the church will support the decision. But, change is always hard, harder on some than others. That's why most Elders do not WANT to be in the room where it happens. That room comes with pressures and consequences. I'm always grateful when humble courageous individuals are nominated and say yes to helping God's church grow and serve.

The Diaconate is also a room where it happens at church. In the Deacon's meeting, prayer requests are remembered. Homebound individuals are named. Concerns for individuals, church relationships, and our wider community are discussed openly and frankly, and together the deacons brainstorm how to respond with love. Then, deacons get up from that meeting and go visit the sick in body or spirit. They deliver flowers or trinkets to those feeling alone or separated. They write a card or make a call to those who are slipping away or losing purpose.

Deacons go into places of suffering, need, or pain. Sometimes, it feels like there's no way to tap everyone in need, and it might even feel like the little taps aren't making a very big difference. That's why few Deacons WANT to be in the room where it happens. I'm always grateful when sacrificial servants are nominated and say yes to love and care for others as best they can.

Today, I would like us to pray for our Elders and Deacons, those who have served over the recent years of change and transitions, those who are serving now and attempting to discern and decide a faithful path forward beyond COVID, and for those who have just said yes to serving in the years ahead. I have only been in these rooms with these leaders a little over a year now, but I am seeing a deep willingness to listen, discern, and decide. I see honesty and courage. I see humility and confidence.

May God guide our leaders, and may we have the courage to trust and follow them as this church expands its circle of love, justice, and peace.

Blessing, laughter, and loving be yours,

Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

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