‘All in,’ But Which Way?
March 10, 2023
At last Sunday’s Town Hall meeting about the potential merger with Sanctuary UMC, we were asked why a merger and why not just a shared ministry, a partnering, a cooperative model. This is an excellent question. After all, to merge or adopt or acquire or absorb another church means some pretty significant changes to St. Mark’s. We would take on their debt (they don’t have any, just a two-year lease on a building). We would have other voices at the table for all of our committees. We would have additional missions projects to continue. We would have two campuses to maintain and additional worship services and staff. It’s a lot of change we could avoid by just testing the waters in an extended partnership.
On Sunday, I answered the question with a practical answer that is true. A partnership is at the whim of the leadership of the churches and could change with a new pastor. After all, when Pastor Sharon first approached Sanctuary UMC about partnering in ministry, their pastor at the time wasn’t interested in talking. Leadership has clearly changed and the door is open to exploring partnership now. This conversation quickly moved from a simple partnership to an official merger for many reasons.
While this answer is true, I was reminded this week of the story of Moses, which invites us to frame our answer in a different way.
One of my favorite movies is “The Prince of Egypt,” the first movie produced by the DreamWorks animation company. It’s a fast-paced, beautiful retelling of the story of Moses, raised by the Egyptian princess, brother to the Pharaoh, and leader of the Israelites. I love listening to the soundtrack, especially the song “Through Heaven’s Eyes,” which implores Moses and us to look at your life through heaven’s eyes, not the eyes of the world around you. More on that one Sunday.
The end of that movie shows Moses parting the Red Sea and everyone walking through it. As we know from the Scripture story, the sea swallows up the Egyptians, leaving the Israelites with their past behind them and their future ahead of them. I remember the silence at that point in the movie, the face of the people as they looked behind them to the sea that kept them from returning to Egypt. At that point, they realized they couldn’t go back.
A merger between St. Mark’s and Sanctuary UMCs creates a similar situation. There’s no Egyptian army after us, but once the merger is approved by both the churches and the Annual Conference, there will be no going back. We will be a “we,” not an “us and them.” We will be forging ahead with the multi-site model of church that we planned for before the pandemic. We will be expanding our mission field to all of Northwest Tucson, not just the portion to the east of the freeway. We will be expanding the reach of St. Mark’s with the gifts and experience of a seasoned congregation on “that side” of the freeway. A merger commits both churches to being “all in.”
It’s a risky venture. But so was leaving behind Egypt. So is the reality of a post-pandemic world. Things will never be the same as they once were. There’s no going back. The Israelites followed God, trusting that God was leading them. It didn’t end like they envisioned, but they blessed the world by their obedience.
We seek to follow God, too. We need to be “all in” with our commitment to God’s leading. We can’t go back to pre-pandemic world, and we can’t go back to a 1950s world. We have an opportunity before us to cross the sea and go where God leads. Our time now is well spent discerning whether God is in fact leading us across this sea, into a merger with Sanctuary UMC.
Some of you still have questions as you listen for God’s voice in this process. Pastor Kevin from Sanctuary UMC and I will hold Coffee With the Pastors five times between now and the end of March (see below). We encourage you to come talk with us, ask us questions. You are also welcome to talk with any of the task force members, who are happy to answer questions or hear your concerns. Or, email us your questions.
In the meantime, please continue to pray for this process and for the sea to be parted in a way that it is clear how we are to move ahead. And pray that we, as a church, may be “all in” with following God, whatever that might look like.
See you soon.
- 8:30 a.m. Traditional service in Sanctuary and child care in Rm 15
- 10 a.m. Traditional service in Sanctuary and child care in Rm 15
- 10 a.m. Youth and children’s Sunday School and child care (except fifth Sundays)
- 10 a.m. Livestream premieres on YouTube and Website
To access our livestream service:
- From the main menu on our website click “Worship.” -OR-
- Go to YouTube and search for UMC St. Mark’s Oro Valley or use this link.