Final Thoughts of
Rev. Bob Jensen, Bridge Presbytery Leader
Returning to Retirement, travel, and service in his
home church at First United Presbyterian – Belleville, Illinois
The church of Christ in every age, beset by change but Spirit led,
must claim and test its heritage and keep on rising from the dead.
(Text – Fred Pratt Green, Tune – Wareham)
I have always had a kind of love/hate relationship with this hymn. On the one hand, it is a remarkable work that lifts up the “servant church” and calls for a passionate focus on mission and service to the world community.
“Across the world, across the street, the victims of injustice cry
for shelter and for bread to eat, and never live before they die.” (v.2)
What wonderfully insightful and challenging words! And that last phrase is haunting. This hymn has focused my heart on the beating heart of the gospel, over and over again through the years.
But at the same time, I have struggled over one phrase that makes my teeth grind every time I sing it – “…beset by change…”
The dictionary tells me that “beset” means “to trouble or threaten persistently” or “being attacked on all sides.” Is this how we might best view change? Change threatens us persistently? Change is like being attacked on all sides? Or in this time of our common life, are we being challenged to embrace change as an opportunity?
I must confess that I have always been a bit of a dreamer. If my vision for ministry is within my reach, then I’m probably not dreaming big enough, or as J.B. Phillips put it a generation or two ago, “Your God Is Too Small.” God is always offering us opportunities to reach beyond our grasp in ministry. Change is the vehicle for us to embrace God’s dreams in us. So for me, change has always been my friend!
Yet the church, at least in my lifetime, has too often seemed preoccupied with avoidance of change, often for fear of offending anyone.
So here we are in 2021. 2020 was a year that turned everything about our lives upside down. And the same was true for the church. We’ve learned how to do worship in new ways, not just technologically. The same is true for Christian education, youth ministry, stewardship, mission, administration of the church, and even fellowship. Everything is different. If there was ever a time when we might feel “beset by change,” it’s 2020-21.
Our pastors and our leaders at every level of the church have done tremendous work in figuring out how to live in these times for which there is no previous model. And we are all tired, I know and just want to reach for a little normalcy. Yet most everything I have heard from all corners of the church is that “we can’t wait to get back to normal.” Really?
I would suggest to us all, pastors, leaders, members, and friends of our congregations, that everything has changed – permanently. We cannot serve well the church of 2022 and beyond with 2019 ideas.
The dictionary offers a second definition of the word beset – “to be studded or covered with, as in ‘blades of grass beset with glistening drops of dew.’”
Perhaps that’s a better understanding of the word. May we be beset – covered with as glistening drops of dew – the change necessary to fully make and mold us as into the church envisioned in the final verse of the hymn:
We have no mission but to serve in full obedience to our Lord:
to care for all, without reserve, and spread Christ’s liberating word.”(v.5)
One final note –
I will be leaving the position of Presbytery Bridge Leader on June 30 to return to the rest of my happily retired life including several projects with which I am involved. I have been blessed these past six months with the privilege of laboring alongside you in this transition time. Your kindness and care towards me have been a blessing and a sure sign of the Spirit among you. Thank you!
Until a new Presbytery Leader is called, Associate Leader Liz Kanerva will assume responsibilities of Head of Staff.
Peace be with you all!
Rev. Bob Jensen
Presbytery Bridge Leader