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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.
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.