It is hard to believe that my family and I have been living in Ottawa for three months already! Our home is (almost completely) organized. We have our favourite routes for our walks to work and to school each day-and know exactly how late we can leave our home and still arrive on time. We have our routines of grocery shopping, coffee shop hopping and library stops all in place. In many ways, we are well settled into our new life here.
In other ways, though, it is still all very strange. We can’t help but think of ourselves as Montrealers who live in Ottawa, and we are still adjusting to the subtle (and not-so-subtle) cultural differences of the two cities. It takes time for new routines to become new identities. At some point, however, as we continue to build our lives and our community here, we will start thinking of ourselves as Ottawans who came from Montreal. Slowly but surely, we will become what we are already choosing to live.
What is true for my family is true also of the church. The church is in the midst of a major change, triggered not by a move in geography but by the passing of time. Nonetheless, the church’s neighbourhood has changed and we need to establish new patterns of life-new routines-in response. Those new routines might involve new patterns of worship; new partnerships with new neighbours; new language for old mysteries; new strategies for stewardship. For a while, it will all seem very strange, not quite “us.” And that’s OK. It’s not necessarily a sign that the new routines are wrong, just that they’re new. It’s true that they’re not quite “us”…yet.
And this, I think, is why we are nervous about such change. We know that these changes are not simply window dressing. We know that these changes in our routines will change who we are-and we quite like who we are. But I believe that God is calling the church to change, not simply for the sake of our neighbours or for the sake of the gospel, but for our own sake.
When my family and I decided to move to Ottawa, we did not do it primarily because we thought we could be useful to Ottawa or because we thought we could be more “successful” there. We followed God’s call to Ottawa in hopes that we would experience growth and change that would lead to newness of life for us. We trust that God has brought us here because Ottawa will be a blessing for us, even as we seek to be a blessing to Ottawa.
The church, too, is being called into newness of life in a new “place”-a place that will be a blessing for us if we are willing to actually live in it, to let it shape our routines and our concerns and our communities. And, with courage, patience and perseverance, we will one day realize that we have become the church God intends us to be for this time and that we are a blessing to the world, even as we have been blessed.