I've been here in Rockford for close to two weeks now, and I've been the official intern for just over a week, and it occurs to me that I've shared nothing at all about my initial experiences here!
As I look back on these past couple weeks, I find that so much has happened I can't even keep track of all of it for myself. It certainly feels as if I've been here for much longer than two weeks - our Chicago apartment seems very far away and already unfamiliar, and my whole pre-Rockford life also seems very far away and unfamiliar. I think that if I were to step back into my Chicago life right now, I'd feel like a stranger. For my first week in Rockford, I think that it felt like I was on vacation, but now that I'm in my second week of internship and my second week of living here, it's becoming more real to me that this is my home base and this is my world. Matt's in Chicago right now for a few days, and when I imagine him in our Chicago apartment, it seems like a completely different world than my own world here in Rockford and here at Trinity. I expect that the thrill of the new will wear off soon enough and I'll be faced with some healthy mourning over all the things that I had grown accustomed to over the past year that I can't replicate in this new place - that small but wonderful apartment, having a pet (missing Emme so much right now...), Trader Joe's (there aren't any here!), the sight of the Chicago skyline from Lake Shore Drive, driving out to my parents' house in the suburbs for church on Sundays, Indie Cafe (best Thai food!), the big brown comfy chair by the window...
I feel as if I had just been plucked from my life and placed in the midst of a new one, and I wonder what it will feel like to go back to the old life a year from now.
In the week that I've been here, I have already participated in worship, sat in on a handful of committee meetings, done a few hospital visits, assisted with one funeral (and am assisting with another tomorrow), eaten dinner with my internship committee (it's really only been a week since that???), written up most of a learning-serving contract (per LSTC requirement), sat in on one of the women's circles, struggled my way through understanding the church's budget, attended a 4th of July picnic and watched fireworks with church people, givenan interview for the church's weekly radio program....
And in the midst of all of this normal stuff, there is plenty of abnormal going on around here also. Like many churches in Rockford, Trinity is trying to figure out how to combat membership declines due to the ongoing shift in Rockford's own identity and population. Trinity was a HUGE church in the 50's, and over time that has been changing, and mixed in with membership decline are financial issues and program issues, just as you'd expect. So there are going to be cuts, and people aren't happy about it. While many people understand that it's the only way to keep Trinity afloat, even if it's a hard thing to do, there are some who will probably leave the church.
People around here often bring up (in a variety of circumstances) the glory days of Trinity, when there were 100 students in confirmation and when there were 1000 kids in the Sunday School program, and they understand to an extent why things aren't that way anymore - the changing face of Rockford and the cultural shifts over the past 50 years that have affected all churches. All of this has given rise to my own thoughts on church membership and decline, and the face of the church in the midst of the world, and I wonder if Trinity is representative of churches in general or if it is an exception. That is to say, is this happening everywhere? Is the church permanently losing is importance and influence? Or is there hope for the flourishing of the church and the plight of Jesus' disciples to spread God's good news to the world?
More on those thoughts later. But for now, suffice it to say that I've felt completely welcomed here and am confident that this is going to be a good year for me. The congregation and staff are warm and wonderful, and even though there will be challenges ahead, both for me and for the church, I am looking forward to the journey.