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You cannot measure the power of the divine spirit that is alive in the world, moving between us broken beautiful humans at amazing speed, wrapping her ever gracious arms around us and binding us together, emerging from our very depths to move us toward transformation, calling communities out of complacency toward justice. This dynamic spirit cannot be quantified.
Numbers, who needs them? After I finished my math requirement my junior year in high school I have not taken notice of those silly things that are not letters. Sure, numbers can be important—balancing a check book. But besides that, what do I really need them for?
No, this is not a time for you mathematicians to weigh in on the importance of math. I am sure there are many reasons to study the subject that I am ignoring, but I am not interested in them today. And just for your information, on a good day I do believe that complex mathematical equations can explain our world as profoundly as poetry. But I don’t care today.
Here’s why: simple numbers will never be able to quantify the spirit. You cannot measure the power of the divine spirit that is alive in the world, moving between us broken beautiful humans at amazing speed, wrapping her ever gracious arms around us and binding us together, emerging from our very depths to move us toward transformation, calling communities out of complacency toward justice. This dynamic spirit cannot be quantified.
As a pastor I am often asked how many people attend my church. The frequency of this question dramatically rose when I became the pastor of an emergent church. My life as pastor and chief evangelist has become all about numbers. Every sacred gathering I wait like a junior high kid at the beginning of her birthday party, wondering who will show up, counting heads and empty seats. And then there is the looming budget. Without outside funding my vocation—my passion—depends greatly on the generosity of others, and finally on a spread sheet. Numbers: go screw yourselves!
So much of my job, in fact the very core of my job, has nothing to do with numbers, even if I wait earnestly week after week to see who will show up. Instead, ministry has everything to do with the mysterious and dynamic spirit that eludes mathematics. How do I create an Excel sheet that captures transformation? Or healing? Or reconciliation? Or hope, deepening awareness, connection with God, engagement with the gospel, commitment to justice?
Here’s the rub. In my old job my numbers were great: every year membership, attendance, Sunday school registration, and the ever holy budget increased. In my new job, it seems every year numbers have either held steady or decreased. Hence a mathematical equation would suggest that my earlier ministry was more successful. Yet in my new ministry the Spirit is palpably present. Like static electricity, the Spirit bounces between those gathered at Grace, regardless if there are four or one hundred filling the room. At Grace, there is a deep engagement with the radical gospel and a profound openness to transformation that I yearned for in previous ministry.
Numbers? I’m not paying attention. If numbers could capture the spirit, I might use them more. Instead, I am going to push relentlessly ahead, following the dynamic spirit, and ignore the spread sheets.
*It would be unwise not to take a moment and thank the best Math teacher there ever was: Mr. David Strachan. He loved numbers. He also appreciated the human spirit. Under his guidance, I finally did enjoy math since he did not think my spirit or intelligence could be calculated. Thank you Mr. Strachan for all the extra time on math tests. I still remember what you taught me about co-signs.
Dress code represents tradition, not theology. At Grace our dress code is simple: wear clothes. For this reason it was surprising when a woman in our community showed up in a hot (yes I wrote hot) red dress for gathering one Sunday.
My grandmother gave me lectures about walking on the backs of my shoes, wearing stockings and slips, and never ever wearing pants without a belt. These rules especially applied to church. When spending the weekend at my grandmother’s, I always made sure to pack a nice outfit that would meet her approval. My grandmother went to a Lutheran Church and I needed to make sure I was dressed appropriately for Sunday worship. Every time I attended church her church, I was warmly welcomed and fully included in Sunday school. No one asked me if I was wearing a slip! My grandmother’s dress code was her own dress code; it was not ordained by Jesus himself. That said, for the first thirty plus years of my life, I tended to follow my grandmother’s dress code when it came to church.
Then I was called to serve Grace Community, a new sort of church that began in a condo. It felt silly to show up to Sunday gatherings in a suit and stockings (I had thrown out my slips years before) in a small condo of all places. Our Sunday gatherings were casual and serious all at once. Reverence had to do with deep spiritual engagement, not a dress code. I left my suits in the closet and preached in what I wore all week: jeans. Warmer weather came and flip-flops and shorts (gasp!) seemed just fine. One week I even preached right after returning from camping with my family; I am positive my sermon that Sunday was not affected by the bandana in my hair.
The way we dress, even if my grandmother would argue otherwise, has no impact on our spiritual lives. Dress code represents tradition, not theology. At Grace our dress code is simple: wear clothes. For this reason it was surprising when a woman in our community showed up in a hot (yes I wrote hot) red dress for gathering one Sunday. This woman tends to wear jeans and pulls her hair back in a ponytail every day.
Then something truly miraculous happened: during the opening of our gathering she stood up in her hot red dress, did a bit of a self-conscious twirl, and told everyone she was wearing a new red dress, size 12, because she could. The women and men in our community clapped and hooted! The part of the story you do not know is that this woman has lost over 200 pounds. Our community has journeyed with her as she has faced her demons, changed her life, under gone surgery, and lost pound after pound.
Wearing pants without a belt? I don’t care. Flip flops, no stockings, jeans? I don’t care. A new hot red dress, size 12? The best faith dress code I have ever witnessed.
Rachel’s red dress had nothing to do with impressing others, following tradition, or even fitting in. Her red dress had everything to do with faith-filled transformation and community. I believe Rachel has found the courage to battle her obesity because she has a relationship with her God that has nothing to do with uptight dress codes, but everything to do with transformative love. And I like to think that Rachel discovered this transformative love in her faith community, where you get to twirl in hot red dresses and receive loving hoots.
Rev. Abigail A Henrich (ehm!) is an ordained minister who earned her stripes at Princeton Theological Seminary and Colgate University. That said, Abby is really a mother-pastor-spouse who lives in a kinetic state of chaos as she moves from her many vocations: folding laundry, preaching, returning phone calls, sorting lunch boxes, answering e-mails, and occasionally thinking deep thoughts in the shower. Unabashedly she is a progressive Christian who believes some shaking up has got to happen in the church.