Sunday, May 7, 2017

Loaves, Fish, and Small Rural Congregations

Congregations from our part of the diocese gathered not long ago for one of their semi-annual meetings designed to support and encourage one another.  Early in the day, each was asked to choose a biblical metaphor that that seemed to resonate with who they are at this time in their congregational lives.  Ours is a sprawling, mostly rural diocese, and our part of it has only seven parishes, of which three are in very small, aging towns.  It means they are, like their towns, very small, aging congregations.  The other four are in economically healthy college towns, none growing, but none failing either.  Their parishes are like the towns they’re in, financially healthy, none growing, but none failing either.  

What was curious is that all three of the small town congregations chose the same biblical metaphor: five loaves and two fish.  They did it independently, without conversation between them.  What was that about?  It would be wrong to deny there was a little complaining going on.   Our congregations are small, and among the few of us there are only four or five who do the work to keep us going.  The rest are just along for the ride.  What can we do to get the others to help?  Sounds more like Martha than loaves and fish, but when that little bit of whining was over, something more important, and more promising became the focus of discussion.  

It was the recognition that they are the loaves and fish.  Well, forget the fish.  Who wants to chew on a dried up days old perch?  No one.  But the bread, that’s another matter.  What they began to chew on was that five loaves were enough to feed five thousand, but only after Jesus had taken them, blessed them, broken them, and gave them out.  A worshiping community of a few senior citizens in a small rural town is enough to do a lot if they let Jesus take them, bless them, break them, and give them.  

That’s quite an insight because it’s a dramatic transition from being obsessed with the little they have, their own hunger and need to be fed as they grow older and fewer, to the realization that they they are the bread of Christ that can feed countless others if they will let it happen.  They may not have much, but much can be done with the little they have.  What are five loaves and two fish for so many?  Enough for twelve baskets left over.  

These are Christians who are not going to leave the Church until their funerals.  They’ve lived a long time.  How often have each of them been among the five thousand, fed with the body of Christ, the bread of life?  Not that their days of needing to be fed are over.  They come back each week, bowl in hand, asking “more please.”   But what a revelation to see that they are also the bread that has been taken, blessed, broken, and sent  out to feed others.


How will that get translated into something new back home, away from a full day of encouraging interaction with others?  It remains to be seen.  The ones who didn’t come, didn’t share in the new insight.  Maybe they don’t care.  Does it matter?  The five or six who were there are still the loaves and fish.  They are enough, but will life get in the way of allowing God to take bless break and send them out to feed others.  That’s a question yet to be answered.  Maybe it only takes one to carry through.  One like the little boy who had the loaves and fish.  He started the whole thing when he gave them to Jesus.  We shall see.

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