Many of you may recall the adult forum on Sustainable Mission on June 11. During our time together, we pondered three questions:
- When do you/have you felt most ‘alive’ at St. John’s?
- What do you ’put up with’ at St. John’s?
- What do you hope for?
I have been living with the responses to these questions over part of the summer, reading them, holding them in my heart, praying over them. I’d like to take this opportunity to reflect back to the community on what was shared so beautifully in this unscientific harvesting of what was in the hearts and on the minds of those who gathered that day: We are optimistic, open, resilient, and determined. We are clear about what’s important to us as a faith community. We desire to stretch ourselves, knowing that we will need to ‘let go’ in some ways to make room for this. There are some emerging key agreements about what sustains us as people of faith, what we want to carry forward, and what is at the core of our life together:
- The vibrancy of the Children Youth and Family programs and Music programs is central to our life together, and those who participate or volunteer in them experience spiritual growth and joy. Wednesday choir nights, mission trips, and pilgrimage trips foster connection and intimacy in that they create community and make a difference in the lives of others. The hope and desire are to carry these important ministries forward, as vital, and central to our life together. Many members voiced the value and importance of small groups, connecting in service and fellowship with other members, to continue to deepen relationships and serve others in the name of Christ.
- Prayer, Spirit-filled worship and music, and the sacraments (communion and baptism at the center) gather us, center us, sustain us, and renew us and this is often where we feel ‘alive’. Worship is important to all, and members have different preferences and likes (time of service, style of worship, etc.). And yet, despite these differences, we come together, week after week, to worship God, to learn and practice how to be Christ-like, to experience the sacred, and to make meaning of our lives.
- We are comfortable gathering outside the building for service, fellowship, and worship. We desire to be more outward facing and to experience renewed engagement of members.
- When the passions of our members and their gifts are brought forth and accepted, it brings purpose and joy to many. And yet, there is an older generation that is fatigued and no longer wants to volunteer. Many are tired and wish for new leadership to step up in their area of ministry.
- Being an open and welcoming congregation is a value that is strongly expressed. There is desire to be even more open and welcoming and offer space in the congregation for those with differing political views, and to wrestle with navigating differences across race and culture.
- There is strong desire and determination to persevere as a Christ-centered and Spirt-led congregation, well into the future, draw upon our resiliency and creativity, remembering how we faired during the pandemic and other difficult times in the life of the congregation.
- Financial longevity is important to members, as is adapting to younger generations and what works for them.
- Members desire to journey together, no matter where we ‘go’, and to continue to nurture people, body, and soul, through worship, music, prayer, connection, outreach, and social justice ministries.
It’s important to note that these same themes were revealed in the systems mapping we undertook this summer. Systems mapping helps us to see an emerging picture of what we wish to create together. The Sustainable Mission Team continues to work with what was gleaned in the mapping sessions and will meet with the vestry in September to further metabolize and integrate this wisdom as we move forward. In late August into September, the Sustainable Mission Team will be interviewing some of the members of two groups: seniors and parents with children. From all of this, we will have a clear sense of where to begin further exploration and experimentation In addition to this, the Sustainable Mission Team is in the process of forming working groups in some key areas of our work together: Communications and Events, Alternative Financial Models, Planning, Experiments and Surveys, and Neighborhood and Community Connections. There will be opportunities for parish members with energy and skills in these particular areas to join these groups. So please stay tuned. Please ‘save the date’ for the next adult forum on Sustainable Mission on Sunday, September 24.
In closing, take heart in the fact that our roots are strong and deep, and that we have strong commitment to go forward in faith, carrying with us what we need and what is ‘good’ into the next stage of our life together. There are many more ‘hopes and dreams’ conversations to come, and there will be spaces to share concerns and to discern what to take up and what to lay down. To use the gardening metaphor, we will think about what to prune to make space for what needs more energy and resources. This is healthy for the system as a whole, and one could say, for us as individuals, too. This is part of our spiritual life as followers of Jesus, and it’s how we can choose, over and over, to live as a community of faith. It’s the process of transformation that sustains, that is regenerative, and life-giving.
My prayer for us is that we will trust in this process, in each other, and in the Spirit’s guidance, and remember how God has been good to us in the history of this congregation and in our own lives. May we surrender ourselves to the future God is calling us to, together.
We will, with God’s help.
In Christ, and faithfully yours,
Rena Turnham, Minister for Sustainable Mission