We have come around again to the time of year when we submit to our District Office our annual statistical reports. I’m more thankful than I can say for the work of Carol Johnson and Sue Dietz in completing them in full and in a timely manner. Everything was in order and clear and correct, so the majority of the fifteen minutes I spent in the office in Abingdon was in conversation about ministry and the inefficiencies of these reports we submit.
Here’s how it works:
The Holston Conference office sends revised statistical tables (blank year-end reports) to the District Offices, who push them on to local pastors. This year, that meant that we grabbed our respective envelope full of papers at our year-end consultation. Well, that’s what I did. I don’t know what my colleagues are doing who are just now having their consultations.
Some years, the system is so efficient that I can receive the papers by email or pull them off the District or Conference website; and in our best moments, we can open the reports on the computer and edit them right there. That didn’t pan out this year.
Once I remembered that I had the reports (Advent and Winter Break are a bit rough on my remembering of deadlines), I handed them to our Queen of Organizing and Knowing How Things Get Done, Sue Dietz. She and Carol finished those reports in a fraction of the time it has taken me in other appointments to pull together information no one remembers or knows how to locate.
In less than a week, I had the reports back to the District Office.
But here is where the process gets hairy.
Monika Surcey, our Clinch Mountain District Administrative Assistant, has to take every report from every church and manually input every data point into our antiquated and cantankerous Conference database. If I’m counting correctly, that’s 110 data points for each of the 111 churches in our district.
She has to do the same thing with our Charge Conference paperwork every Autumn.
It is a very inefficient system.
We just ended a season marked by the proclamation of Isaiah and John the Baptist:
“Prepare the way for the Lord;
make his paths straight.
Every valley will be filled,
and every mountain and hill will be leveled.
The crooked will be made straight
and the rough places made smooth.
All humanity will see God’s salvation.”
Everything we do as God’s Church ought to be focused on making the way of Messiah and the way to Messiah more efficient, easier to travel. Even in our ecclesial administration, when we add to the complexity of the life of the Body of Christ, we build on frustrations with the Church and with organized religion as a whole that are centuries in the making.
I want to encourage us, as a church and as individuals, to do everything we can to ensure that every stumbling block, every impediment, every unnecessary thing is swept away so that the only barrier in our disciple-making is the barrier of self-will keeping people from heeding the call of Jesus.
I mean, isn’t that a difficult enough struggle on its own?
Let’s make everything we do gracious and beautiful and loving and easy to step into. Let’s see what we can do to welcome our friends and neighbors, to break down the walls that divide us, to fill every valley and level every mountain and straighten every nauseatingly curvy and pothole-ridden way of doing things.
Let’s make First UMC, Bristol, a family and a place that’s uniquely and beautifully welcoming; where everyone who encounters every one of us can see that God is doing something miraculous here.
I think we’re on the right track. I think we’re seeing the fruits of God’s Spirit begin to appear. Thanks to all of you who are part of that. Let’s keep it up and keep making it better.
We are making a difference. We are making disciples for the transformation of God’s world. We are bringing the Kingdom of Heaven right now.
Let’s keep at it.