Right on time, on the morning of Saturday, September 28, the long tractor trailer pulled into the front drive of Trinity United Methodist Church. Our youth leader, Bryce Miller, directed the driver to park the rig parallel to Forest Avenue.
Soon, a flurry of human activity would swarm the truck to unload a shipment of pumpkins and seasonal gourds from New Mexico.
The driver, Tony, from neighboring Hanover County, shared the route that had taken him west across America. He made a few delivery stops before heading to an Indian reservation in New Mexico to pickup our annual order of pumpkins.
Tony explained in admiring detail how he drives his truck into a field. A conveyor belt is properly placed inside the trailer. Exactly 24 men from the tribal council carefully load the pumpkins on a bed of straw layered on the floor of the trailer. Tony said it took about two hours to load.
Interestingly, it took our multiple generational group of volunteers a little over two hours to unload the truck too. These volunteers were a human conveyor belt.
They were aided only by a forklift. This mechanical Hercules was used to unload several large crates of smaller pumpkins. Staged on tough wooden pallets, the forklift operator in a matter of minutes had the crates off the truck and positioned on our front lawn. Supplied by Trinity member, Mike Hildebrand, the forklift was a real back saver.
Unloading the pumpkins is tough work. The process is a good workout. Clearly, it is a satisfying feeling when the last pumpkin is carried out. But the last chore of the unloading—cleaning out the straw from the trailer is no fun.
Occasionally, I am asked where I attend church. I state our church’s name, its location, and then the person who asked makes the following association—“Oh, you’re the church with the pumpkins.” And, I reply, “Yes, we are the church with the pumpkins.”
“Oh, you’re the church with the pumpkins,” forms many questions in my mind. Does that association mean we are a one dimensional church? I hope not.
Selling the pumpkins every fall has two dimensions. The proceeds from the sale benefit our middle and high school students on spring and summer mission trips. Additionally, our agreement with the Indian council in New Mexico is an economic booster for their community.
Churches always have been interesting places. Whether they can continue to survive in what appears to be an unfavorable climate for growth lies in the layers of their dimensions.
The world has changed around churches. Try as we might to recognize this, I’m not sure if we realize how much the world has changed.
For example, the truck driver who delivered our pumpkins uses an app on his phone to find pickup and delivery jobs that meet his criteria and rate of compensation. In a similar manner, people search for churches today by checking out apps and websites.
I have a friend who has his private pilot’s license. He is also a certified trainer for the type of plane he flies.
One training exercise for beginning pilots involves working through an emergency while flying. My friend trains prospective pilots to aviate, navigate, and communicate.
Fly the plane, know your location and assess your options, and communicate immediately what you are experiencing to air traffic controllers or the nearest control tower. In other words that pilot must rapidly adapt to the emergency conditions. Failure to do so could mean a tragedy.
Without question, the future for churches hinges on their capacity to adapt. Adapting can mean lots of things. But at the very least, this means asking lots of difficult questions.
Ultimately, the answer to those questions will be grounded in another question— are churches willing to change?
Change can be both simple and difficult.
I suspect the most difficult part for a church contemplating significant changes will be managing the civility of its leadership and its congregation toward each other as they work through the process.
In this process, churches must keep in front of them—Romans 12:10: “love one another with mutual affection.”
As the church figures out if it can adapt, will loving and respecting each other be easy—no.
But, if churches don’t, they won’t be hanging around by their fingernails any longer.
And, “Oh, you’re the church with the pumpkins,” will be gone in a slow, painful, agonizing blink.