Author: Karen Hoover
Some of you will remember what we learned to do “back in the day” when we came to an unguarded railroad crossing—we stopped, we looked, and we listened to determine if it was safe to cross. Interestingly, these three words—Stop, Look, Listen–are attributed to a train engineer who, sometime in the late 1880s, thought that they would be the most accessible way to communicate a safety warning to immigrants who often had limited English vocabularies. As railroad crossings became increasingly automated with lights, bells, and gates, we no longer needed to do the work of “Stop, Look, Listen” ourselves.
This early memory of an important safety message came to mind recently as our congregation embarked on our visioning conversations. The conversations are a valuable opportunity for our congregation to pause, even stop, as we begin to emerge from COVID and then to really look and deeply listen to ourselves and to each other. And after completing this full assessment of the crossing we have reached, we can determine that it is time to proceed.
We had our conversation group last week and in stopping to really listen – to ourselves and to each other – we generated important reflections about ourselves, shared them with each other, and learned from each other about how we met the challenges of our COVID experiences and what we had learned in doing so. And then we turned the conversation to the challenges we faced as a congregation, and what we learned and how we had grown as the Body of Christ while remaining distant. Only then, in our second gathering, did we reflect on what our church community learned that we want to continue, and the ways in which God is inviting us to learn and grow and embrace new calls to ministry.
These tools — stopping, looking and listening — should also be applied more widely by each of us. Are we coming to a full stop to recognize the challenges others are facing? Are we allowing ourselves to really see what is going on around us, in communities near and far, and the forces that are at work behind what is visible on the surface? Are we listening to the voices of others – minority voices, immigrant voices, economically marginalized voices through conversations, books, news coverage, movies—to actually understand their perspectives and experiences and demands for justice and equality?
I think we’ve all gotten a bit sloppy relying on automated lights, bells and gates and we need to strengthen our stop, look and listen muscles! I’m thankful we are making the crossing together and that we are becoming equipped to do so.
Prayer: As we seek to minister to our broken world, we need only to follow the example of Jesus who stopped, looked and listened in his ministry and in doing so was able to minister fully, in his lifetime and even to this day. With his example and God’s help, we seek to be his ministers in our time. Amen