What's below is my August newsletter article to my congregation. I'm really curious to see how the conversation goes since I've only been here a couple of months. What do you think? Is this a message your congregation needs to hear? I'm sharing in case others have need of another person far away saying the hard things and asking the hard questions.
Hey, ya’ll. Pastor Jess here. First, let me say how happy I am to be here and to be your pastor. I love it here, and I so appreciate the honest conversations people are having with me. I’d like to share some of those things now, and then invite you to reflect with me. Also, this is a huge invitation to make time to stay for fellowship hour after church on Sundays. Lots of important conversations about the future of the church are being had, sometimes in response to the sermons, so please make time to stay and chat with us. The community best discerns (prays, thinks, talks, seeks the will of God) when every voice is heard. I want your voice and input on our renewal efforts.
I’ll be honest, since we’re trying to create a culture of honesty. Part of why we have our covenant is because I have experienced, as have many of my friends, churches who say they want to change and grow, but are unwilling to actually do it. What they mean is that they want people to come because we invited them with flyers or parties, and to be just like us. To worship like us, to think about the Bible like us, to be with us doing it our way. In this congregation, we seem to be comfortable facing the reality, as hard as it is, and as much as it might hurt us, that the old way of being church just doesn’t work. It seems that Calvary is at a point of knowing that we must do something in a radically different way than we’ve ever done it before. We will do it together, and with God as our guide. If our model for discipleship is Jesus, then we have all we need to radically change things, because that is what Jesus did, for the whole world.
It seems that we are willing to focus on the mission of proclaiming God’s love and blessings to the world through our congregation, even if it means things won’t be our way anymore. If this seems wrong to you, please let me know. I’m writing to you today to test what I think I’m hearing and understanding. You’ll have to let me know if I got it right, kind of close, or wrong.
I’m wondering if we might like to try adding a mission community to our congregation. This mission community would be supported by everyone who is already here, and everyone would have a role in supporting it. Your role might be to make food for it. It might be to carry around flyers and invite everyone you meet – at the gas station, grocery store, library. Giving them out wherever you are. It might be simply not complaining about things being different, the church being fuller and therefore messier, and the ways that forming honest and mutual relationships with new people change us. Are you willing to invite those from the mission community to share meals with you? Are you willing to get to know any children who come, and spend time with them outside of church? Even if you don’t like, understand, or get the ways the mission community does things, are you willing to financially, emotionally, and spiritually support it as the mission of Calvary? Will you come sometimes to events the mission community holds, and invite them to come to your events, too? Would you rather the church be the way you like it, understand it, and it has always been, but maybe close in a few years, or open, but different? Different congregations make different choices.
If we really believe in our Christian story of death and resurrection, then closing is a faithful choice. Because we’re able to trust that Jesus, through the church, can use the resources to bring New Life somewhere else. It is better to let things go than to hold onto them until we hurt ourselves and others. It is a radical choice to close and trust that Jesus will find a way to bring each person and the resources of the congregation New Life.
We can also decide that our faithful choice is to be radical in our proclamation of the Gospel while open. If we want to do this, as I believe we have the desire and attitude to do, here is what I don’t know: Do we have the energy? Do we have the capacity? Is each person here willing to find their role in forming and supporting the addition of a new community? Is there room for adding something new, and focusing our energy there, while staying grounded in our traditions, our Lutheran heritage, and Sunday Morning worship? With the formation of a new community attached to our congregation, Sunday morning worship would change very little. There would be a solid base from which to live out your faith and the proclamation of the Gospel. Are you ready? How will you help?
Please let me know. Like I said, I’m testing the ideas to see what works and what people think. Also, many of the things I’ve written here I’ve been saying to people at fellowship hour, and I don’t want anyone to feel left out of the conversation. Your voice matters. Your support matters. If most of the people here are willing to name one or two ways they would be willing to support a new mission community, we may have the energy to make it happen. It might be too soon for this conversation for some of us, but some of us are already having it, and every voice matters. Share your thoughts with me and let me know!
Love, Pr. Jess
Second Lesson Every Sunday from July 16 to August 20
Part 1 of our congregational renewal was praying every day. Part 2 is Bible study. By reading the same Bible passage each week, we can fully engage the story and discern together what God might be teaching our congregation. We handed out notepaper and people put in the offering plate, or they e-mailed me answers. Questions were published in the bulletin and read out loud.
Question for This Week: *
Mark 4:35-41, Jesus Stills a Storm
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Week 1: July 16: Which word or phrase from this story stands out to you the most?
Week 2: July 23: What part of the story are you most like, or, what part do you identify with the most? Are you most like a storm, the boat, Jesus, the other boats, the crowd left behind, the wind, the waves, the cushion, the calm? Why?
Week 3: July 20: For the part that you named last week, what are the drawbacks and gifts of being like that thing?
Week 4: August 6: What are the storms around Calvary? Where do we most need Jesus to bring us calm?
Week 5: August 13: Based on the part of the story you are most like, what gifts do you bring to share Jesus and calm the storms? Do you create or participate in the storms? How? What learning, resources, conversations might you need to be part of calming the storms?
Week 6: August 20: What gives you the most hope in this Bible story?
Pastor Jess is all about sharing the life-saving love of Jesus with the world. How she does it is up to the Holy Spirit.
This work is licensed by Rev. Jessica A. Harren under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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