I had the privilege of attending the NEXT national conference in Charlotte, North Carolina this week. The experience brought to mind a story from one of my parishioners.
This woman, now old, was remembering a time long ago when she had made her own dress for the senior prom. Well, almost made it! The dress was nearly complete, but running short on time, she had asked her mother to sew the skirt to the bodice. Just a simple task of attaching the bottom piece to the top. Should have been routine; only it wasn’t.
Mistakenly, her mother sewed the two pieces of fabric together such that the skirt was too short. You need to realize that this was a different time; a dress needed to cover a lady’s knees.
So what was this young woman to do? She had worked so hard on the dress; she so wanted to go to her prom. And she didn’t want to hurt her mother’s feelings. After all, she had just made a mistake. She couldn’t sew with a darn, but she loved her daughter dearly and deeply.
I think about my generation, coming of age in ministry. Some of us, like my friend, Pen Peery, are now at the helm of some of the tallest steeple churches; others, like Quincy Worthington, are faithfully laboring in small parishes. Regardless of the context, I think that, if we are honest, there is an uncomfortable feeling within us that the previous generations have messed up the church for us. They were tasked with crafting theology, pastoral care, and sermons in such a way as to ensure a good and proper fit in the world today. We were supposed to inherit their work and proudly carry the Gospel to a new generation. Yet too often, we are only aware of the previous generations’ mistakes: their bitter disputes that have fractured the church, their lack of foresight to make the necessary institutional changes, their lack of creativity that would equip the church to be relevant to a new generation. Their, their, their … such finger pointing is not the heart of wisdom.
I was visiting with my parishioner in her little room in a senior living community. As she reached this part of the story about her prom dress, she lifted an arthritic finger and pointed to a chest at the foot of her bed. It contained the few possessions she owned, including … you guessed it! I pulled the dress from the chest, its pink color faded with time. I unfurled it and revealed a ribbon of white, satin lace running along the bottom, which would have stretched the dress just past a young woman’s knees! She smiled at me: “Sometimes you have to quietly make an addition to fix a dress.”
“And preserve a relationship?” I asked, knowing full well the answer.
I also know this: someday, I’d like to reflect back on my ministry and remember this time for its moments of reconciliation and grace. I’d like to recall the actions, even those little things, that were taken to build alliances between pastors of all ages, regardless of what they’ve said or how they’ve voted in the past. I’d like to point to what we’ve added – programs, ideas, events – that allowed the church to continue, despite the mistakes that have been made. As Paul Timothy Roberts said in his keynote address, the ways in which we lived into our calling as “co-creators with God.” And I’d like to believe that such creative activity would affirm the faithful people of the past, while moving forward together.
Such is the wisdom of a ribbon of lace.