A country road leads me through the rolling oak-studded hills of Santa Ynez Valley and up the broad, gentle floodplain of Figueroa Creek and the idyllic farmland that borders it. I take the road upstream to the base of Figueroa Mountain. There, suddenly, the pastoral landscape is thrust against complex, steep arroyos choked by landslides of disorganized rocks. From here a trail climbs sharply upward through jagged outcrops looming skyward in a chaos that reflects its violent tectonic history. I've arrived at the Little Pine Fault, which marks the abrupt edge of 100 million years of geologic time.
Earlier in the week I heard a lecture by naturalist Fred Emerson on ecological edge effects along the borders of adjacent but contrasting environments. Emerson, a member of Bethania Lutheran Church in Solvang, Calif., is widely respected for his knowledge, wisdom and gentle leadership. Edge effects are the ways an ecosystem changes along a border, such as where a field meets a forest. So edge effects include changes in vegetation; light, shade and moisture; adaptation; seed dispersal; and species distribution. Likewise, I can see geologic edge effects at the Little Pine Fault: the gouged and scrambled zone of rock caught in its jaws and the sharply different environments on each side.
Yet edge effects are also found at other borders. Social borders. Spiritual borders. Borders of time and space. I don't have to look far to see these juxtaposed environments around my church.
Consider the abrupt edge effects of my congregation's rear library wall — the border between Sunday adult forums and the habitat of homeless people in the alley outside. How are we affecting each other? What access is there across this border and what travels back and forth? Food? Shelter? Clothing? Awareness? Compassion? Caregiving?
Our spiritual borders seem to have mobile, expansive edge effects as we reach out to other faith communities, strengthening and enriching the religious fabric of our environment.
Temporal edge effects can include life's passages as we age. How do we modify our living arrangements and the distances we travel? How do we deal with changing health and energy levels? As a congregation, our declining numbers have now brought us to another border: the carrying capacity of our congregation. We have reached that critical number beyond which we cannot sustain congregational life as we've known it in the past.
Our congregation is also approaching a time of transition where the spatial environment we've known for decades will change its shape, size and usage. Mindful of our social mission, we've voted to replace our increasingly empty sanctuary with low-cost senior housing. Our congregation will become a small human herd moving together through an edge that requires adapting to a new gathering place and a new means of spiritual seed dispersal.
There are advantages to this, equivalent to biodiversity. We are a complex mix of folks in our educational and economic backgrounds, cultural heritages and political persuasions, and we seem to be enriched by this diversity rather than divided by it. By Christ's teaching and example we are sent to love one another and to love the other. In this, we are truly blessed and shall go forward.
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers