“We live in a world of radical change: do you agree?”[i]
Elliott poignantly concludes his “Further questions” section of the opening introduction to his seminal work Contemporary Social Theory: An Introduction with this question. What better group to be asked this than a group of church people studying leadership? Because if there is any place that is radically changing, it is the landscape of the local parish.
So much change has happened in the local parish I serve over the eight years I have been here. From a staffing perspective we have had four different heads of staff. We have had seven different church administrators. We have had three different financial managers.
We have held three large capital campaigns. One to raise funds for a geothermal heating and cooling system.[ii] One to raise funds to refurbish our organ. One to raise funds to repair the tower above our Sanctuary. Because of these our endowment has grown, then shrunk, and then grown again.
We have served communion by intinction. Then had two highly detailed diagrams demonstrate where ushers need to stand while distributing communion by trays. Months later, we then returned to serving communion by intinction.
We have become a zero waste facility[iii]. We have opened our sanctuary for same sex weddings. We have had women lead both our boards and as the head of staff, all at the same time.
The last decade of Huguenot Church has indeed been one of radical change. But the one thing that has tied the entire drama of change together has been the term we coined back in 2011, “Sustainable Huguenot.”[iv] The term originated when we were looking for something that uniquely blended the idea of green theology with the legacy change of becoming a geothermal institution. The term sustainable is hip in the eco-world, had a lot of meaning for an alternative fuel source project, and felt appropriate theologically as we wanted to live into the idea of caring for creation in a holistic fashion. Little did we know how often we would use that slogan.
Sustainable Huguenot ended up being the phrase that paved the way for our many other initiatives over the past decade. We moved to become a zero waste facility, why? Because we are “Sustainable Huguenot.” The organ that had lead us musically for over eighty years needed to be refurbished. Could we do that? Sure, because we wanted the organ to continue to sustain our worship life. We are “Sustainable Huguenot.” Could we make it through the three and a half year process between Senior Pastors? Yes we could sustain, we are “Sustainable Huguenot.”
Language is the unifying element of society according to many social theorists, many deriving from the work of Saussure. [v] We did not know at the time how unifying this vocabulary would be to our community. Even when it was joked about during the most difficult times, it was still a statement, grounded in scripture and prayer that bound us to one another. We did not know in 2011 that we were crafting the vernacular that would get us through two more capital campaigns and a pastoral transition. We did not know what the future would hold, other than that through it all we would be “Sustainable Huguenot.” But we did . . . and it did. This slogan grounded us, centered us, and inspired us. May this gift, this power of language continue to hold us together as the world speeds on with more and more radical change.
[i] Elliott, Anthony. Contemporary Social Theory: An Introduction. (London and New York: Routledge, 2009), 15.
[ii] Toni Montgomery, “A Sustainable Mission,” PCUSA News. June 13, 2012. https://www.pcusa.org/news/2012/6/13/sustainable-mission/
[iii] “Ecowise: Huguenot Says No to Waste,” Ecopel, May 11, 2018. https://ecopel.org/2018/05/ecowise-huguenot-says-no-to-waste/
[iv] “Huguenot Church Installs Geothermal Energy System,” Interfaith Power and Light, September 5, 2012. http://www.newyorkipl.org/huguenot-church-installs-geothermal-energy-system/
[v] Elliott, Contemporary Social Theory, 13.