Next weekend, I’m going to Prescott with 10 other people from my church, and about 60 folks from other congregations in the Arizona region. We are gathering for a leadership training/church transformation event. I’m looking forward to the event itself, but even moreso to the time spent with other people who are passionate about the future mission of our church. These people are gifted with creative vision, innovative spirit, and a broad range of faith and life experience. We’ve been planning this thing for a year, and i think it’s going to be epic.
And yet, as i prepare for the trip, i keep having one recurring thought….we are going to be COLD, y’all.
If you don’t know Prescott, it is a lovely mountain town about an hour north of Phoenix. Like much of Arizona, it gets sunshine most days of the year, regardless of the season. But unlike Phoenix and Tucson–where the daytime temps usually climb to the 60s or 70s, even in winter–Prescott gets a real winter. Like, below freezing in the nighttime, and it might not even get above 50 in the day. When you’ve lived in the desert for some years, your body utterly loses its ability to process that kind of weather. The few times my family has gone home for Christmas since moving here, I’ve noticed that I am almost always fighting the shivers, even indoors. And my poor children–who have never seen snow, by the way–tend to look at me for the whole visit, like what are we DOING here?? Who turned off the sun?
For all that, I’m looking forward to the trip north. However, I do want to be prepared, so i ran out yesterday to buy a hat and/or scarf. (Yes, i used to own these things. They tend to disappear from your wardrobe after years of misuse, as if they know they are no longer needed, and retire themselves with dignity). I figured i could find this sort of thing in after Christmas sales.
Let me tell you something–the shelves were bare. The cycle of the retail year refuses to acknowledge the realities of climate or geography. So, in this season when the desert is just beginning to get chilly, and when Phoenix people flock to points north to play in the snow, there’s not a mitten to be found in the department stores. They are already making way for the spring season. And here’s what will happen in about 6 months: when it is 115-in-the-shade around here, the height of bathing suit and sundress weather, our stores will be full of back-to-school fall clothing. Wools and plaids and cable knit whatever, the mere sight of which will send us into full-on heat exhaustion. That is, if we aren’t already there from the walk in from the parking lot.
I’ve always wondered if clothing stores in places like Florida and Arizona see a significant downturn in profits during certain seasons of the year, or if we suckers who live here go right ahead and buy whatever they put out, just because they tell us that’s what time it is. Some of y’all who work in retail, get back to me on that. There’s a sermon in it, either way.
There’s also a sermon in the many ways our mainline churches are dying from this ‘failure to adapt’ that we see in the garment world, and even within our own bodies. For so long, regardless of how the landscape changes, regardless of imminent shifts in the wind and weather, many of the congregations we know and love cling like death to the known world…and then wonder at the startling statistics that show how many people are leaving the church and never coming back. From the empowerment of women to the inclusion of LGBT folks; from the ways that we worship to the ways we invite people; from death-by-committee to death-by-over-programming–we often fail to notice that the stuff we have on our shelves bears little connection to the climate beyond our walls.
This is why we gather–in intentional ways and set-apart spaces–to talk and pray about what changes are coming in the life of the Church, and how we can best adapt and serve in the midst of them. I’ve been part of gatherings like this many times. It’s never an easy conversation, but it is always life-giving. When you gather with folks who are willing to acknowledge that, yes, it is cold outside–and perhaps we should stop selling flip-flops for awhile–then something in the soul tends to thaw out, just enough to make way for what might be. This is the light and warmth that I look forward to as faithful leaders gather, seeking a way forward into the next season.
It’s a good thing we will have this warmth of the Spirit in our midst. The camp where we’re staying is some kind of religious organization (go figure) and does not allow alcohol on campus. Which is a dang shame, because the Spirit can always use the help of a little bourbon. Perhaps we will take our mittens with us, after all.