Jury Duty

Jury Duty

Receiving something new is always exciting. Maybe that is one reason we are excited to receive gifts at Christmas and why a New Year arrives with so much celebration. While the flip of a calendar page may feel a little arbitrary as a way to mark a new beginning, in this the second week of 2024 I truly have something new to look forward to, something that has never happened to me before. This week I have been summoned to jury duty.

I will admit when my notice first arrived in the mail my initial thought was not about how wonderful it was to receive something “new”. What came to mind was more along the lines of, “Oh no!” and “How do I get out of this?” After all, when being called to jury duty is depicted in movies and tv shows no one is eager to serve. It is seen as a hassle that gets in the way of responsibilities, and an infringement on precious time. Jury duty is shown to be difficult and onerous, a thankless job that no one wants. The standard trope is that it is something people should try to get out of, somehow!

As the date of my summons approaches, I have wondered if I should have attempted to be excluded. I think of all the work that is piling up already, and wonder how I’ll make it through if I have to sit in court for the next week or more. I’m sure that within our MCA church family there are people who could advise me about how to best frame a rationale for my application to get out of it…

And yet, I believe that there is value in common people being part of the legal process. How can I truly value a part of the system intended to bring a level of fairness and common connection if I act on that impulse to get out of my duty when called? Our justice system is far from perfect, and aspects are in desperate need of change.  I wonder if jury duty itself could use an overhaul to address its critiques and better work towards its intended goals? But in the meantime, it is the system we have. If people who desire better forms of justice don’t serve when called, who will be left to fill those roles?

As I reflect on these tensions I can’t help but think about parallels with the church. Nomination and Gift Discernment committees work hard to call people to ministry. I wonder what the reaction is when people receive that call? I trust it doesn’t have the negative stereotype of a call to serve on a jury, but I do know that at times it can be difficult to find people willing to use their gifts to serve.

What needs to be overhauled in our church systems to draw people in to use their gifts and better address our intended ministry goals? With many congregations becoming smaller do we need to reduce the number of roles we expect to fill? Might we do more work collectively, and share expertise between groups, congregations, and the broader church? Could we find ways to make the demands of some positions less taxing, both in time required and the way burdens might be shared? Would we shift perceptions by taking more time to share the value of what we do as a church, and recognize the difference people make through their service?

As we think about the forms and structures that help us be the church in today’s world, it is critical to shape our roles, responsibilities, and activities in ways that are life-giving. At the same time, we have the challenge to do our best to live well within the systems we have, trusting that they will continue to help shape our community into being the church God is calling us to be.