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Planning and Unknowing

April 2022


I am a planner.

Yes, literally. I worked as a town planner for almost a decade when I lived in New England.


The discipline of working with property owners, as well as the wider community, while holding the environment and lived experience in mind, can be both magical and maddening. I loved witnessing the revitalization of a lot or block, particularly when historic buildings were involved. (Ask me about The Sanctuary sometime.) I could also be just as excited to see new housing being proposed in ways that employed the best practices for sustainability, land conservation and the creative mitigation of the impacts that are inherent to any development.


The best projects were ones that allowed time and the iterative process of collective imagining to happen. When a developer took the time to bring their ideas to the neighborhood being impacted, when they listened to the people already living there and modified their plans based on lived experience and neighborhood need, the approval process was usually shorter and far less contentious. When a developer came to the table with the most extreme plan allowed under the code without any consideration of the neighbors, these projects were always fraught and often failed.


The most common answer when I asked developers in the later group why they were opposed to a more collaborative process, the answer was always the same. "Time. It takes too much time and that costs money." No matter how often I shared how time spent on the front end eliminated time and hassles on the back end, this group never seemed to believe it was true. As they say, you can lead a horse to water...


In my short time with you I have come to believe that First Congregational UCC of Salem is more like the first group of developers as opposed to the second. You are doing the slow and methodical work of listening, learning and deepening together so that the mission and ministry you are preparing to share with a new settled pastor is one based in clarity, strength, passion and joy. And while some are sick and tired of the process of self assessment (totally understandable after experiencing 3 interims, 2 settled pastors and several associates over the last 10 years) the changes brought by the Pandemic, and the trauma after a decade of loss, require a Year of Unknowing if the next season of shared ministry is going to be successful.


At the January Annual Meeting I spoke about the 2022 plan I created to help us navigate our Year of Unknowing. From this interim's perspective, there is a LOT going on and a lot to do to get to the end of 2022! And for some of you there is a sense of "holding", watching, waiting, marking time before the "real" ministry resumes. I assure you that we are doing "real" ministry even as the initiatives that embodied your mission in the past are not happening as they were. The frustrated waiting that caused Martha to say to Jesus after Lazarus had died, "If you had been here, my brother would not have died," (Jn. 11:21) is the same waiting that drives us to believe nothing is happening. What Martha learned is that the waiting actually produced a miracle that would not have been possible had Jesus come when she had expected. Are we willing to wait for our miracle even as we name and acknowledge our discomfort, our frustration and the grief that flows between us in this "holding"?


I believe we are! And I believe we will keep listening, learning and deepening together. I know there will be tears and frustration, fear and even anger along the way, but I trust in the promise of new life, in miracles that are only possible if we are willing to plan and wait. Let us sink into our Easter faith as we plan and wait.


With joy in the journey,

Pastor Robin



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