Mid Councils Newsletter | January 25, 2016
There has been a crisis in Jazzercise in Peoria. Now, I imagine you have not heard about it on the national news or anything, but for the several dozen women whom this effected, it was serious enough that they might have expected to see it there!
A little background. Jazzercise has been around for decades. It is an aerobic form of exercise that is based on dance moves and is set to Top 40 music. When it started, the (mostly) women who were the clients of these independently owned locations probably actually listened to Top 40 music in their cars. Now, at least in the places where I do Jazzercise (Peoria and Louisville) I would say that there are not many of us who go to Jazzercise in the morning and then have to wait on a rope line in the evening to get into a club where the latest dance music is played. When I have mentioned to people from time to time that I go to Jazzercise, I often hear them say “ Oh, is Jazzercise still around?” It kind of evokes the days of Jane Fonda in her leotard with leg warmers and a sweat band around her forehead. Nevertheless, for those of us who find it to be a form of workout that keeps us coming back, it is important.
Last fall, Armageddon happened at the Peoria facility. There were three people teaching there (including my daughter whom I introduced to the program when we were in need of more teachers. I knew she would like it and I figured I had paid enough for dance classes for her over the years that this would be a way she could pay me back—by becoming a teacher so there could be more classes.) The owner of the facility who is one of the teachers got a full time job as an elementary teacher. Another teacher took a fulltime job at the visitors’ center of a large manufacturer in Peoria which shall remain nameless. The third teacher—my daughter—became a visiting professor at a college located an hour from Peoria. That meant that the most popular class time (9:15 on Monday and Wednesday mornings) had to be eliminated.
You would have thought that the three teachers had decided to stay home eating bon bons and watching the fourth hour of the Today show or something worse. The women who usually attended that class became hostile to the point of carrying off some of the exercise equipment before the class was over with for good. These are mostly women who are either themselves fairly highly educated or have daughters who are. They might have celebrated with their teachers for finding employment that used their educations. Instead, they left in such high numbers that the facility has had to close. (Luckily there is another facility that is nearby and some of us have made the change—new place, a little bit different atmosphere, but same good work out.)
Of course, all of this made me think about congregations and the way they sometimes react to changing circumstances. Here is one of the things I noticed. The women who had been at the Peoria facility for some time were very territorial while it was still open and were not welcoming to our sisters from nearby when they came to work out with us. I never felt very welcome there. I just kept my head down, sweated for an hour and went home. When I started going to the other facility, I found them to be only marginally more friendly. I overheard two of them talking one day. “Have you met any of the Peoria people who have started coming here?” “No. They were never friendly to us so why should we be friendly to them?” I guess the Peoria group (the big sisters in this scenario since it is the mother ship of the franchise around here) had set the tone for Jazzercise forever more in Central Illinois. Just so, the DNA of a congregation is often set and even if people from that congregation merge with another or the founding families have all died out it seems to continue on. It is very hard to break this kind of cycle.
The other thing that reminded me of congregations was the narrow-minded nastiness that ensued when the “9:15 ladies” had to make a change in their routine. These are almost all women who were not planning around their working hours to get there. They had more flexibility in their schedules than some of us do. But this was “their” class and it had to either stay the same or they would not participate at all. Surely you have dealt with this kind of situation in some of the congregations you serve. The time of worship changes. The congregation merges with another and they have to decide “whose” communion set to use on which communion Sundays. No one really needs a full meal at 3 p.m. after a funeral anymore and the five ladies who are left to prepare it complain bitterly about having to do it, but if the pastor tries to suggest maybe coffee and cookies would suffice, there is an all-out war in the church. “The way we have always done things” may need to change for very good reasons, but it still is uncomfortable and we do not want to have to do it. In many congregations there is more than one person who would say, “Can’t they just wait until I am dead to make these changes?”
What is your counsel to the congregations or presbyteries you serve when they get caught in this kind of struggle? How do you support the leaders as they face the onslaught of pain and anger and resignation? What practices of resilience do you encourage (and do you practice yourself) to provide strength and perspective in the face of this? In the book “The Art of Possibility” the authors suggest that in the face of failure or discouragement we teach ourselves to say “How fascinating!” and find what we can learn from it. I saw something on Facebook the other day that reminded me of that. It said that when something unhappy or unexpected happens to us we simply cry “Plot Twist!” and move on.