I live in a community filled with bridges that span the Mississippi River between Iowa and Illinois. Summertime in the Quad Cities means that at least one bridge is under construction, and so traffic that normally flows pretty well is snarled in ways that remind us all of a major metropolitan area! Which we are…and we aren’t. Sitting on the approach to one or another overcrowded bridge this summer has offered me plenty of time to reflect on the bridges in our lives – the physical ones and the metaphorical ones. (Might as well do something besides swear and watch the steam emerge from my ears, right?)
One day – when I had sat for far too long on a hot day – I began to reflect that church communities (and the faith which they nurture in us all) are sort of like bridges. They help us to move from a past that we cannot change toward a future we cannot yet see. They carry us from our ordinary, mundane lives toward a life in God’s holy kingdom on earth – filled with gifts like faith and peace and hope and justice and wholeness in the midst of brokenness.
Sometimes the approach to this “church-bridge” gets clogged with “traffic” – stuff that slows us down and keeps us from getting on the bridge (like whether we are wearing the right clothing or believe the right things or have the preferred racial mix in our bloodstream or know the proper prayers or can sit quietly for an hour or use the right bathroom or….). People respond to this problem by finding a different way across the river. They avoid this particular bridge (both the real bridges and those metaphorical “church-bridges”).
Sometimes we get stuck while we are on the “church-bridge” and can’t get off easily (like when our worship life is filled with the warnings about “we’ve never done it THAT way before” or our membership rolls haven’t changed in 10 years or when a visitor is informed that they are sitting in someone’s seat or…).
Sometimes our “church-bridge” doesn’t connect our daily lives with God’s daily dream for us very well, and we need to do some work if we are to keep that connection flowing smoothly across the river that we call life. These days the church must work like a bridge to connect the “way things used to be” in our church life to the way things really are today and even the way things will be in another ten or fifteen years.
Large or small, our churches are challenged to be bridges for people who are seeking God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Large or small, our churches are blessed by the people who move across this particular UCC “bridge” that connects our human experience with divine love and grace. I give thanks for all the saints in the Iowa Conference who faithfully work to make their church communities into bridges for hope and justice and healing and caring. I give thanks for each “church-bridge” that labors to make our Gospel faith come alive in the world. Each one of you makes a difference in the world!
—Rev Katherine Mulhern, Program Support/Adjunct Young Clergy in Iowa