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How Do You Measure a Life?

In the musical Rent, the characters (who are wrestling with their mortality, especially in the context of HIV) wonder how we can best measure the meaning and impact of our lives.  In seconds, in minutes, in hours? In sunsets? In cups of coffee? They decide that the best measure is love.

We find ourselves at the mid-point of our church year, which always feels like a good time to consider these same sorts of questions: How we can measure the meaning and impact of where we’ve been, and where we’re going?

Maybe we can gauge by the Sunday numbers?

Summer held steady from last year at last year’s huge leap from any prior year – 250 on an average Sunday, and the fall (Sept – Dec) was a little down from last year (Fall 2018: 320/Sunday; Fall 2017: 358/Sunday) – but up overall from any prior year by quite a bit (Last high point was 267 in 2002).

All these numbers are representative of some pretty big changes in the last 5-7 years. A change to year-round church.  A change from a community able to “know everyone else” to a community large enough to make a real difference in Fort Collins.  A change in the population of Fort Collins and Nothern Colorado generally.  And all these represent changes that require a huge investment by both staff and volunteers.

Every month between 40 and 50 unique people create the hospitality, the sound, the music, and the service itself – every single Sunday.  On top of that, 40 to 50 other individuals create small group experiences for our children.  It’s an incredible investment, and an amazing reflection of generosity, hospitality, community, commitment, and love.

With all that said, I’ve wondered if perhaps instead of Sunday attendance, we should measure our church’s impact in the care we are providing each other.  In the last 9 weeks, we’ve tracked 110 distinct interactions with our care team and members of the church.  Our choir is stronger than ever with over 45 members attending January’s retreat, and new leadership providing a steady partnership and care for members in need of extra support.  Reaching out to our neighbors, we have formed 2 new villages to companion homeless families and hosted families twice in our congregation.  We have provided up to 120 families with much needed groceries on a given Sunday through our mobile Food Bank, and over 175 people participated in a small group over these first six months.

Which makes me think, maybe we should instead talk about the impact we have had in the wider community? For example, the $26,000 we’ve shared with our partners through our offering in the last 6 months? The $4,000 we shared in our Auction?

The ways we’ve shown up at vigils and protests and detention centers and at the border? Our participation in the Fort Collins Clergy-Policing Task Force, or our management of the Emergency Immigration Fund and its resulting grants of over $13,000 to support immigrants facing crises in Northern Colorado?

Or just as significantly, the work we’ve been doing on racial justice (with 12 of our members committed to the work of Beloved Conversations) and climate justice and our engagement with the Poor People’s Campaign and a call for peace both within our country, and far beyond?

Or, on the other hand, I wonder if perhaps ultimately, everything comes down to the way we are reaching the next generation.  Providing the support, the tools, the community that families and children and youth so desperately needed as they contemplate their future?

Families today need us, and the tools and support of progressive community – maybe more than ever before, and yet they are also busier than ever before, more distracted, overwhelmed.  These shifts change up what we thought we knew about engagement and volunteer patterns, and challenge us to think creatively about how to offer our programs and groups in ways that meet parents and families that connect with life as it actually is today.

We’re excited about the work of our family ministry team both for their new ideas (i.e. the fall open house), as well as the re-tooling of longstanding traditions like Buckhorn, Pumpkin Carving and Holiday Craft events.  It has been an exciting and also challenging year as we have welcomed new voices into leadership, and also talked with many of our longer-term parents about their next steps as their kids have grown older and their life patterns shift.

Which brings us also to the time of transition in our youth ministry.  We know the times of our three services aren’t always ideal for our middle schoolers and high schoolers (and their parents). With Emily Conger – our new youth minister returning from maternity leave at the end of this month, we are eager to give this area of our life and work together the care and attention it needs.

In the end – just as the characters in Rent – we are called to measure our days, and our months, and our community-at-midyear as a matter of love.  The ways we have unleashed love through our direct services, our small groups, our worship series, and our shared practices and understanding.  Navigating all the ups and downs of human community. The heartbreak, and the resiliency.  It is our life together that tells our story most of all. And this story is just getting started.

In partnership, and with gratitude,
Rev. Gretchen

PS If you want to hear more about where we’re at, and also goals for the next 6 months, be sure to attend our Town Hall this Sunday at 1 pm.