There is a show on TV that I love to watch that combines the technical skills of cooking, the creative aspect of recipe design, the pressure of a running stop watch and the camaraderie of the kitchen, all in one. The show is called “Chopped.” The premise of the show is that each of the three contestants gets a basket of identical ingredients and, in an allotted amount of time, they must produce a cooked dish that is tasty, creative and pleasing to the eye. The finished product must use all of the ingredients in the basket and be prepared to the highest standard. There is a panel of judges- professionals in the restaurant and food world- who rate the dishes. The program proceeds through three courses- appetizer, entree and dessert- with one person being eliminated (or “chopped”) in each round until, at the end, a winner is declared.
I have an old friend from my restaurant days who has a wife and three children. The “children” are all in their early 30s. One of kids is a young man who, after studying at Colorado College, decided to go into sustainable farming and growing organic goods. In the most recent past, he has decided to focus exclusively on growing flowers on several acres in California. This young man has an amazing artistic eye and freedom in his creative designs to use ordinary- and unusual floral “ingredients”- to produce some of the loveliest and most beautiful floral arrangements and installations that I have ever seen. His artistry is amazing and his enthusiasm is evident in the joyful bouquets that he concocts.
Last night, I worked my way through a church problem as I made my way home from a day on the road, visiting some of our churches and clergy. As I “ciphered” the problem in the car, I realized that what I was doing, really, was like what the cooks do on Chopped: The open their baskets, acquaint themselves with all of the ingredients inside, lay them out on the counter and begin thinking about how they can work with them to create a dish. The bottom line is that the dishes must be edible, attractive and well cooked. Extra points are given for creativity. And then I thought about my friend’s son, Seth- the floral designer: he takes his cutting shears, goes out into his field of flowers and comes back with an artistic arrangement that exceeds the expectations of a “bouquet of flowers.” He produces art.
Why can’t we do that with our churches?
Some of our current church situations (the baskets of parish particulars around the diocese) include:
- a parish on its third search for a new priest (the first two attempts came close, but each of the two candidates decided to take jobs elsewhere)
- an isolated parish in an affluent, quaint town that has an Episcopal Church but no priest and a small congregation that can only afford week by week supply.
- a congregation with an amazing Episcopal Church building in a town that has all but died.
- a parish with a priest whose family situation now requires- for the first time- that the parish pay for his benefits. The parish doesn’t have the money.
- A number of seminarians who are getting ready to serve, but unable to find full time employment in our diocese
- Some very skilled lay people who are eager to serve our congregations and are limited in their ability to act sacramentally, because they are not ordained.
These are some of the ingredients in our diocesan basket, some of the hardy flowers growing out in our field.
I want us to be empowered, as a diocese, to do creative and bold things.
I want us to begin to try ideas that create new “flavor” profiles in the Church.
I want us to see that we can draw from our abundance and create bouquets of people, programs and liturgies that serve God in beautiful, beautiful ways.
Otherwise, for many of our churches, the stopwatch is going to run out... the frost will kiss the field of flowers... and our options will be diminished.
This is the time to meet our “problems” with creativity, instead of fear.
This is the time to focus on our abundance and to draw new life from the springs around us. I am reminded of Moses who tells the Hebrew people, “ The Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and waters welling up in valleys and hills...” (Deut. 8:7)
We are in that good land.
Our goals are to continue to be in community, to praise God, to serve our neighbors, to be nourished by the sacraments and to invite others to join us in our fellowship in Christ. Let’s keep our eye on those goals while daring to do things differently.