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 8: April 2021
Re-entering, Re-orienting, Resurrecting
Durham (England) Cathedral, Photo by Rev. Lisa Irwin

Liminality: A quality of ambiguity and disorientation that occurs in transitory situations and spaces, when a person or group of people is betwixt and between something that has ended, and a new situation not yet begun. During liminal seasons, we occupy space on both sides of a boundary or threshold. We have one foot rooted in something that is not over yet, while the other foot is planted in a thing not yet defined, something not yet ready to begin.
           Susan Beaumont, How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going
 
At this point we have been living in such a state for over a year as people and as congregations. We have learned to adapt in countless ways, not always of our choosing or preference, but we’ve had no choice. Now as we begin to emerge from the seasonal changes that mark winter into spring, we are also beginning to emerge from under the pall of the pandemic. Beginning is the operative word. Ours is not a completed project with a sure and certain outcome, but rather a beginning, a re-emerging, a re-engaging. Three tasks or opportunities lie ahead of us as we cross the threshold of long-closed doors. Scripture and probing questions can guide us.
 
Re-entering
 
John 3:1-8
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.
 
What are you anticipating as you think about post-COVID re-entry? For yourself? For your congregation? What other questions are you bringing to this time of transition?
After a year of pandemic, congregational life has changed. As our buildings reopen and capacity increases for in-person worship, we are not re-entering those buildings in the same way we left them. What was habit or instinctual a year ago is no longer so. Some of the ways we were together in these spaces are no longer available to us because of ongoing health and safety measures. “When we return, we will all be newcomers.” So begins this article “Greeting Our Return When the Old Is Gone and the New Is Here” by Nathan Kirkpatrick, Director of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity.

Re-orienting
 
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and complete. Romans 12:2 (1-21)
 
As we re-emerge from the disruptive days of the pandemic and re-enter our darkened sanctuaries, we’ll need to let our eyes (and hearts and minds) adjust to a new reality.
 
What will you and your congregation need to reorient to? What might feel different and strange? What questions do you think your people will have?
“After a year of scrambling to stay afloat, what’s next? How can we move from responding to the crises of the moment to defining our work over the next few years? Leaders need to find the space to get some rest and to discern what’s next, then what’s next after that. If we have finally reached a moment to pause, re-orient and plan, how do we determine our next three most faithful steps.” So begins a re-orienting article, “The Next Three Faithful Steps” by Dave Odom, Executive Director of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity.

Resurrecting

As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” Mark 16:5-8
 
What can you imagine might lie ahead for you? For your congregation, in your Galilee, the place where you learned from and learned to follow Jesus and to serve the world God so loves?
 
You know where you’ve been and what you’ve done and how many thresholds you have crossed during this liminal time. What we have now is resurrection and resurrection is not something we do. Jesus was raised from the dead. He didn’t raise himself. Resurrection is God’s work. What we need to do these days is simply to open ourselves, our minds, our hearts the way that tomb was opened and step out into the light trusting that it is God who is raising us. It is God who will raise us into a new reality we can’t even imagine at this point.
 
“We are in liminal space whenever past, present and future time come together in a full moment of readiness. We are in liminal space whenever the division between ‘right here’ and ‘over there’ is obliterated in our consciousness.”
                       Richard Rohr – “The Fullness of Time” March 8, 2021
In a recent article Adam Russell Taylor, President of Sojourners, commenting on the recent Gallup Poll research showing that less than half of Americans claim to be members of a church in 2020 (down from 70% just 20 years ago), contends that “It’s Time to Rethink American Churches.” He lays out a way forward as he reminds us that those first disciples were known as “followers of the way of Jesus, rather than as members of a particular church…. Though being in fellowship and regular worship with other believers is a critical part of faith formation and discipleship, I believe that churches which fail to develop a more outward focused mission will fail to meet the challenge of this moment, particularly in staying relevant to younger generations.”

The young man at the open tomb told those early-rising women that Jesus could no longer be confined in the place they thought they left him, but that he had been raised and had gone ahead of them once again back into the world where they had first discovered him, our world. Signs of resurrection are bursting forth everywhere for those with eyes to see and hearts open to follow a Risen Christ. Let us be on our way. 

“Woman, why are you weeping?
Whom are you looking for?”
John 20:15

SEEN (for Easter Day)                      
Jan Richardson, “Circle of Grace”
 
You had not imagined that something so empty
could fill you to overflowing,
and now you carry the knowledge
like an awful treasure
or like a child that curls itself within your heart:
how the emptiness will bear forth a new world
you cannot fathom but on whose edge you stand.
So why do you linger?
You have seen,
and so you are already blessed.
You have been seen,
and so you are the blessing.
There is no other word you need.
There is simply to go and tell.
There is simply to begin.
Unexpected Blessings
While we may want to forget this past year, surely it hasn’t been all bad! In the midst of the changes, what good things have you experienced in your ministry and your congregation that witness to unexpected blessings? 
 
Maybe you have used technology to reach new people and create new possibilities. Cathy Wille, a member of the Supportive Ministries Team, received an unexpected blessing in the form of an invitation for some of the Wisconsin Conference Gospellers to join an experimental choir along with singers from Central Africa, Germany, Madagascar, Mali and Morocco. Using the technology we have become more familiar with in the past year, they sang together in four different languages and created this inspiring video. It’s worth a 3 minute listen.
 
What are your unexpected blessings? Send us a short paragraph, preferably with a photo, or a video describing a situation that would be inspiring to others in the Conference. We’ll post them on the Conference website in the Coronavirus Resources section under Stories of Unexpected Blessings. Use Unexpected Blessing in the subject line and email to the Supportive Ministries Team, Bonnie Andrews. We look forward to hearing from you.
Recommended Resources
Courageous Church Summit May 10-14, 2021. 20 Presenters Over 5 Days, Online

Reimagining Our Common Ground for the Collective Good – What does church look like on the other side of COVID? How do we handle meeting in person while also meeting online? How does this experience fundamentally reshape our ministries? What are the big theological questions raised by this global pandemic? How shall we lead? We’ve come a long way over the past year, and now we face new challenges as we imagine what church looks like moving forward. During the Courageous Church Online Summit, we will dive into these questions, hearing from leading voices and provocative thought leaders on the next best steps for our vital progressive faith movement. Listen at your leisure that week. We will release each day's conversation in the morning and you can catch up as your schedule allows. Free, register here.
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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