If it feels like you don't know where you're going, that's okay. Here's something that can help you reflect on what God might have in store for you and your congregation.
Issue 17: July 2022
From Tending to Renewing the Soul of the Beloved Community  
By the Rev. Bob Ullman

For more than two years since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, clergy and congregations have been tending to the souls entrusted to their care in creative ways. These two-plus years have disrupted church life as we experienced it pre-pandemic in many ways. Now, many of us are longing for a return to familiar and comforting ways of being church. But so much has changed. 
Just six months into the pandemic, congregational consultant Susan Beaumont wrote about her observations of the turmoil caused by the pandemic in an article titled “Five Assumptions Failing Us Now.” Nearly two years later, Susan says these “Five Assumptions” are becoming “Five Dynamics” facing the church going forward: “The pandemic has challenged our longstanding assumptions about engagement, belonging and membership. We must carefully examine our assumptions – otherwise, we risk creating barriers to belonging for people trying to engage with us in new ways.” While the tending of the flock will go on, so will the need for our churches to find creative ways to Renew the Soul of the Beloved Community.   
Many congregations experienced a drop-off in participation as the pandemic forced us apart. Some wonder whether those who got out of the habit of going to church will ever come back. Old habits may be hard to break but once broken even good ones may be hard to reclaim. Religion comes from the Latin re-ligio – to “re-ligament.” Religions of all sorts have sought to reconnect that which seemed separate – the sacred from the mundane. What if as we anticipate a “reset” of what it means to be church, we focus on resetting a table rather than setting something that can easily turn into calcified bone? How will we reset what it means to be community in new and renewed ways?  
Writing for the daily reflections produced by the Center for Action and Contemplation, the Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis said: “In its truest sense, religion should reconnect human beings – and bind them again – to the Creation, to one another, to the divine, to love. Religion should reveal to us how much we need one another to survive and thrive. Religion should be revelatory and revolutionary, helping us see how our biases about color, gender, sexuality, and class cause deep hurt to both body and soul.” Religion at its best teaches how to “see” with greater clarity, which increases our courage and capacity to love ourselves, others, even our enemies. Imagine love as our shared spiritual practice, binding us to one another, enabling us to see our connection – that we are all kin in the Kin-dom of God (Center for Action and Contemplation Daily Meditations, May 30, 2022). Or as the writer to one of the earliest Christian communities put it: “We must grow up in every way into the One who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:16).   
Even before the pandemic forced congregations to cease gathering in person, surveys of religious practices revealed declining interest in religious communities, particularly among a growing number of younger generations – the “Nones.” And older generations reported going from “Nones to Dones.” However, those same surveys indicated a deep hunger for connecting with a reality beyond religious rituals. Many people who have left active participation in religious communities responded by saying “I’m spiritual but not religious.” Therein lies an opportunity for our congregations going forward. Renewing the Soul of the Beloved Community will not be something that comes from us but through us with a renewed openness to God’s still-speaking, still-breathing Spirit working within and among us in new ways. We may sing with the Psalmist: “When you send forth your spirit, O God, we are created and you renew the face of the Earth” (Ps. 104:30). Our separate souls brought together as the Beloved Community can be open to the renewing work of God’s Spirit. 
Observers of the church today compare the fallout from the disruptive, liminal times we’re experiencing to the life of the early Christian communities that grew out of the death and resurrection of Jesus. They discovered that the life they had shared with Jesus did not end with Jesus but lived on through them. In a recent reflection on “The Embodiment of God,” Father Richard Rohr wrote: 
“During the apostle Paul’s lifetime, the church was not yet an institution or structural grouping of common practices and beliefs. The church was a living organism that communicated the gospel through relationships. Paul’s brilliant metaphor for this living, organic, concrete embodiment is the Body of Christ: ‘For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them’ (Romans 12:4–6). At the heart of this body, providing the energy that enlivens the community is ‘the love of God that has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 5:5).  
“This Spirit is itself the foundational energy of the universe, the Ground of all Being. Union is not just pious rambling or pretty poetry, but the concrete work of God in loving us. . . .  

“We are essentially social beings, and I am only one part of the reflection of the great mystery of God. We are each of us simply one fingerprint or footprint of God. We are essentially connected with one another. The foundation for community has to come out of Reality and What Is. The best way we can do that in community is to repattern our lifestyles on what is. And the pattern of the universe is that we are one. It’s a benevolent universe, it’s radically okay, and God is on our side. We can be at rest. We don’t have to live competitively. We don’t have to climb or succeed because there’s nothing ‘up there’ that isn’t ‘right here.’”
This fall, instead of calling for a Rally Sunday as our congregations regather, what if we invite people to come to a Renewal Sunday? What if, as we recongregate, we find ways to invite the Spirit into our gatherings so that God’s renewing work can begin again? We can find ourselves singing with Brian Wren: 

This is a day of new beginnings, time to remember and move on, 
time to believe what love is bringing, laying to rest the pain that’s gone. 
For by the life and death of Jesus, God’s mighty Spirit, now as then, 
can make for us a world of difference, as faith and hope are born again. 
Then let us with the Spirit’s daring, step from the past and leave behind 
our disappointment, guilt and grieving, seeking new paths and sure to find; 
Christ is alive and goes before us to show and share what love can do. 
This is a day of new beginnings – our God is making all things new. 

(From The New Century Hymnal, Copyright 1995 The Pilgrim Press. Used with permission.)
Questions to consider for deeper conversation: 

  1. How have you experienced renewal in your life, in the church or elsewhere? 
  2. What would happen if your congregation “reset the table” instead of “calcifying the bone”? 
  3. How would the shift from “Rally Day” to “Renewal Sunday” change you and/or your congregation?
Join the Discussion: Gathering
The Supportive Ministries Team hosts a monthly discussion on topics from this newsletter. The next one, "Gathering: A Renewing the Soul Conversation," takes place on Zoom at noon Central, Aug. 3.

Please join us for a discussion on Gathering, based on the Rev. Bob Ullman's reflection.

“Our God Is Holding Us Together Now”
“Our God Is Holding Us Together Now”
Words and music by Jacob Nault
©2020 Jacob Nault, all rights reserved. 

Jacob is working on a music video of this song for congregations to use in pre-recorded or live-streamed worship services. Until then, you may distribute this audio recording and lyrics to your congregation, or use it in worship. Sheet music is also available upon request, so your congregation or musicians can sing it! Please include the copyright information above in projection and worship aids. 
This song may be used in public worship and any other aspect of congregational life (including live-streaming and archiving on social media for later viewing) for non-commercial purposes only. Please email Jacob to let him know you will be using it. A small honorarium for the use of the song is much appreciated, so that Jacob may continue providing ministry to the wider church in this way. Jacob is a Member in Discernment in the Wisconsin Conference UCC. 

Missed these articles?

Revisit these thought-provoking articles from previous issues. Many include questions for groups discussions in your congregation, or for personal reflection.

Conference Supportive Ministries

In addition to the direct support to pastors and congregations provided by Wisconsin Conference staff, here are some of the supportive ministries congregations can take advantage of. Follow the link below to learn more about this programs and how your church might benefit.
  • Conflict Transformation
  • Coaching Partners
  • Grants and assistance programs
  • Communities of Practice for Clergy or Faith Formation
  • Appreciative Inquiry
  • 5 Practices of Fruitful Congregations
  • Readiness 360
View a comprehensive list with more information about Supportive Ministries offerings.
Photo of Supportive Ministries Task Force
Supportive Ministries Task Force
Through this communication, the Wisconsin Conference Supportive Ministries Task Force provides articles, discussion guides and other resources for clergy and congregations on coping and thriving as we navigate the current turbulent waters. Supportive Ministries Task Force members from top left are Bob Ullman, Lisa Hart, Bonnie Andrews, Cathleen Wille and Tim Perkins.
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