Today is Town Meeting Day in Vermont. That means that throughout the state residents are trudging through the snow to their town halls in order to sit through an hours-long meeting about the place they live. Perhaps surprisingly, they remain popular here, and in other places throughout New England.
This is a regional phenomenon that was unfamiliar to me when I moved here. Democracy is exercised not just in the confines of a voting booth, but in community. It’s complicated, and time consuming, and messy. But it’s also pretty effective. And in the end, the community is enriched by the chance to actually sit down and participate in governance.
It’s not lost on me that the town meeting system here is modeled on the governance of early New England Puritan meeting houses. My own church is descended from that tradition and our meetings look very similar to town meetings.
Sometimes this means that church gets messy. The pastor does not have absolute authority. There is no bishop who steps down from on high and mandates things. And decisions are made by whomever shows up, not by the whims of one person.
It also means we spend a lot of time in meetings. Time that some complain could be used for better things.
I’ll admit that sometimes I’m among them. But then I remember that the act of coming together and discerning God’s will for our congregation is indeed holy work. And as we pray to God for the wisdom of the Spirit as we meet, we accept an invitation to seek God in the place where we are gathered.
So, I’ll keep going to the meetings. Both the ones at town hall, and the ones in the church basement. And I’ll keep talking and voting and praying. Because I believe God is most present when community is gathered, and that even in messy disagreement, wisdom can arise.