Blessings to you as we approach the beginning of the season of Lent. Recent conversations with clergy and lay leadership have raised some interesting, provocative, challenging and hopeful wilderness observations:
- We want to offer a vital faith in our churches and our local communities, but the stresses of daily life often keep us focused on the “business” of the church – keeping the building up, paying the bills, etc. – in such a way that little energy is left to deeply explore WHY we have a building and bills to pay.
- The stresses of parish life – pastoral care, an aging population, funerals, increasingly urgent social challenges (hunger, opioid addiction, political efforts that improve the life of a community), as well as the usual round of sermon, liturgical and formation preparation leave us with little time to “catch our breath” and get ahead of the curve.
- I have heard more than once that seminary prepared us for the church of the past, and not the church we serve in a time when change is happening with an ever increasing speed. A frequent refrain is : “I didn’t learn this stuff in seminary!”
- The other phrase I have heard twice in as many weeks is: “I feel like I am running in place.”
- Parish clergy, lay leadership and parishioners are busier and busier – and facing new challenges in church. How do we raise up leaders for today’s church?
- And I hear some weariness, the feeling like we are “alone in this”. Time, vulnerability, and the feeling that “I should know how to do this” keep us from reaching out. Three recent conversations allowed us to see how the recent election has added a layer of free-floating anxiety around the uncertainty of our civil divisions. The phrase “primal scream” has come up twice!
How to preach the Gospel in such a time? How to stay open to the movement of the spirit and learn what we need to learn that is new? How to allow the word of Christ to dwell richly within us and to be spoken in the public square?
Some colleagues and I have been working on several things: tell us what YOU think? Where are the stresses in your life and ministry? What learning curve/spiritual renewal would you actually commit to moving forward that would enable your ability to meet God where God is working in your life and the life of the community in which you live? I hope you will spend some time in prayer and thought over the next couple of weeks and respond: either to me by email firstname.lastname@example.org, phone (413-417-2341, you will most likely leave a message but I will get back to you!) or invite me for coffee and conversation with you, with a group of clergy, with a couple of vestries…).
Here are some things on which we have been working and some things that have been emerging in my own reflections on these conversations:
1. The beginnings of a grant to train a pool of mentors adept at supporting clergy and lay leadership in navigating change in the parish. Ultimately, this would seek to put a deeper sense of mentoring each other “in the water" in our Diocese. What do you think?
2. A vestry “intensive” is emerging. I have spoken with many of you about this program. It is a two year pilot consisting of 4 day long workshops (over 2 years) around new ways of approaching vitality: Building a vital team, speaking of faith, stewardship, mission. It would also include a round of
and clergy mentoring for guiding the parish through changes that need to happen in order to walk toward deeper vitality. What do you think?
4. In February, our bishop gathered clergy and lay preachers for a conversation about preaching in a time of political divisiveness. Would it be welcome to continue this kind of conversation? What do you think?
5. In a diocese far away, a long time ago, I was part of something called a Clergy Consultation Group – 5 or 6 of us gathered monthly with a family therapist. We took turns bringing case studies for discussion and learning. It was immensely helpful. Would developing something like this be of use? What do you think?
6. A while back, out of our Wardens/Treasurers Day, some of the wardens began to develop a distribution list and conversation about matters pertaining to leadership in the church. Would it be useful to revive this? What do you think?
7. How can we best use Clergy Days, Clergy Conference, Fresh Start, other opportunities to best support allowing the word of Christ to dwell richly within us? What do you think?
I realize that each of these efforts is ONE MORE THING to do. When I was teaching study skills, we used to say that it is as easy to have a good habit as a bad one. The challenge is changing the habit. Perhaps this could be shifted to say: It is as easy to have a habit that sees and responds to what God is doing now, as it is to live out of what “used to be”, the challenge is changing how we see Church and act in the world that is no longer like it “used to be!”
an we start/continue a conversation? Be in touch. Invite me for coffee and further conversation; help me to listen and respond. Let us identify a path (or many paths) through the wilderness into vitality and find ways to walk it together.
The Lenten journey is a good time to walk toward Easter resurrection and new life. What do you think? Can we have a dialog in the wilderness?
Resources and Upcoming Opportunities for inspiration, information and transformation:
For Vestries and Parish Leadership:
- Parish Leadership Day, Saturday March 18. Two intensive workshops with Jay Sidebotham of Renewal Works and Mike Wagner (who was our keynoter last year) from White Rabbit Group. Check out Mike’s TED talk.
- Vestry Intensive: 4 Days over 2 years covering Building a Vital Team, Speaking of Faith, Stewardship and Mission. Beginning Fall 2017 – call/email me for more info!
New Church’s Teaching Series (yes, there is a new new Church’s Teaching Series!)
- Good, solid, accessible reflections on the Church in this day and age
- The Episcopal Way, Eric Law and Stephanie Spellers – who are we today in an age of change?
- The Episcopal Story: Birth and Rebirth, Thomas Ferguson – a quick historical survey
- A Faith for the Future, Jesse Zink – a great survey of what Episcopalians believe