I’m not sure about you, but I struggle with this stretch of the winter. This part of the year recalls images of Narnia prior to the fulfillment of the Golden Age Prophecy which saw the return of spring to a world suffering in a state of constant winter, never Christmas.
I’ve been thinking about winter a great deal, actually. I’ve been reading the book ‘Wintering’ by British writer Katherine May. In it, May describes “wintering” as “a fallow period in life when you’re cut off from the world, feeling rejected, sidelined, blocked from progress or cast into the role of an outsider.” ‘Wintering’ goes on to provide readers with guidance for transforming the hardships that arise before the shepherding in of a new season.
“Winter” in the church is not a new phenomenon, even if the last two years has presented unexpected and unique ways of experiencing it. We encounter periods of transition, wrestle with conflict, and struggle with how to deliver the message and work of Jesus to an ever-changing society and world.
In my work, as Associate Program Director in ECF’s Endowment Management, I often speak with church leaders, both lay and clergy, who are grappling with connecting their long-term assets with their long-term purpose and mission in their community. This is especially important in an age when the ways that we “do” church and “be” the church are shifting. Churches also face heightened expectations from donors to better align finances, especially long-term finances, with mission and values rather than continue to uphold the status quo out of a sense of tradition or institutional loyalty. You may be having similar conversations in your own congregations.
May notes that winter “is a time for reflection and recuperation…for putting your house in order.” How does that translate to the work that we do in stewarding the long-term assets of the church? For some congregations it may mean examining the purpose or vision of vestry-designated endowment funds—are they aligned with the vision for our faith community now and in the future? For others, winter may be the season to examine strategic decisions related to the oversight and management of the church’s assets. Many of our Episcopal congregations tangle with the moral responsibilities of Christian stewardship—is this the season to reflect on the role of our investments in combating the climate emergency or addressing issues of social justice?
Rather than dwell on the perceived hardships that stare back at us, we must look at winter with a sense of opportunity—with our eye pointed toward growth and transformation in this season of retreat and hibernation. We will continue to be challenged by winter. We will explore new and uncomfortable territory. The lure of spring’s warmth and light is enchanting—don’t let the longing cause you to miss the chance to tackle winter with a sense of gratitude and opportunity--there is replenishment to be found in these dark and cold winter months.