Relationship of Relationships
In the office, we are making a couple of transitions. We have hired a new secretary, Kathleen Balenson (see the article on Kathy in the upcoming issue of Epistle), and we are testing a church management software application that we hope will strengthen our relationships and increase the quality of communication between us all. As we are transitioning to the new software, we are rediscovering something about the nature of this community and our relationships with and responsibilities to one another.
Jesus said to his disciples: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” John 13:34-35
To say we use church management software simply means that we are using a relational database custom-tailored to the special relationships that exist in a congregation. For years, our official parish register, our directories, our mailing lists and the like have helped us keep track of who’s who in St. Paul’s. Taken as a whole, these records tell us how a little less than 400 people currently relate to St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church of Edison, NJ, and how more than a couple thousand more people have related to this organization over the past 60 years.
By looking through the parish register, we can find a number of individuals who are members or child members, but we cannot tell right off how any of these individuals relate to each other. By looking through our congregation’s directories, we can see how these individuals form households and by looking at collection of directories over time we can see that these households change. When these names and addresses appear on a mail or e-mail list, we know that these people communicate with the organization in one way or another. By reading the Epistle, a person can tell which of St. Paul’s members are members of the council, the pastor or other leaders in the congregation. By using a relational database (church management software), we can see at a glance the many ways we relate to this congregation and to each other: individuals, households, small groups, interest groups, age groups, leadership and so on.
All these records — whether kept electronically or on paper — tell us that a congregation is really a series of relationships, a relationship of relationships. But, we knew that already. In our baptism, God joined us with Jesus Christ and made us by water and the word children of our triune God, members of God’s household: We are individuals; we are related, united in baptism with Jesus; we are members of God’s household; we are related to one another as the body of Christ. Outside this relationship, there is no church. Being in church is being in relationship, first with Christ, then through Christ with one another.
Church is nothing but a relationship of relationships springing from our life-giving relationship with Jesus. Just as we cannot be joined to Jesus as anything but an individual, so we cannot join this congregation as anything but an individual. Yet, just as no one can individually be joined to Christ without being joined to the church, none of us can join St. Paul’s and not be joined to the other members of St. Paul’s. St. Paul’s exists not as building on Old Post Road or non-profit corporation registered with the state of New Jersey, but because in Christ we are related to each other, and this relationship of relationships has decided that it best shares the good news of Christ by having a building and incorporating as congregation of the ELCA in the State of New Jersey.
But, we are as church primarily a system of relationships with Christ at the center of us all. On Maundy Thursday, we will hear Jesus tell us, his disciples, to love one another as Jesus loves us. Relationships are built on love and trust. Our relationship with Jesus is no different; our relationship with each other is no exception. Jesus loves us and gives himself for us. In the Holy Scripture we hear the story of God’s love for us in Jesus. In Holy Communion we have fellowship with him through his body and blood, given and shed for us. In the fellowship of his body, we learn, as we did at baptism, that being joined to Christ means that we are joined to one another, given to one another and for one another.
You may hear me talk about community building or relationship building being an important work. That’s just another way of reminding us what Jesus has already called us to do: love one another. No matter how good our record-keeping or how elegant our database, relationships are person-to-person connections. We grow strong in Christ’s love, when we make ourselves available to and for each other; when we open our hearts and hands to share and give of our selves, our time, our resources and possessions; when we go out of our way to talk to and visit with each other in good times and bad times; and when we simple invite others into the fellowship, the family we share in Christ through Baptism and through Holy Communion.
So, we’re using a database to help us in the office with this congregation’s administration, but the software will only be as effective and vital as the community it represents. When we love one another as Christ has loved us, well, even the software will bear witness to the good news of God in Jesus Christ.
The latest news, sermons and commentary on our life in mission together.