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 2: October 28, 2020
Missing Community?
By Lisa Hart

For most, if not all, of us, our lives changed abruptly seven months ago. As COVID-19 took hold across our state, our country and the globe, schools, businesses and churches closed their doors. We found ourselves confined to our homes, perhaps for days seeing no one or just those we lived with. A simple trip to the store became both a competitive effort to acquire needed supplies and a collaborative effort to help friends and neighbors. People brushed up on their culinary skills, pulled out the board games and jigsaw puzzles, and settled in for movie marathons and Netflix binges. 

At times, it felt a bit like a surreal, extended snow day. The difference? Snow melts or is cleared and, within a matter of days, we are back to our normal lives. Not so during this pandemic time. Instead, we are learning how to navigate life in this liminal season which seems to stretch out before us for the foreseeable future.

One of the difficulties of this time is the loss of what we have known. We are forced to be community in a different way, and because we have lost the way we once knew how to be community, we may feel as though we have lost community. We may find ourselves focused on what is missing … gathering with family and friends to celebrate milestones, collaborating in person with colleagues, worshiping with our church family in the same space, or simply meeting a friend for coffee.  We grieve these losses. This is to be expected; this is normal. 

There is, however, opportunity for discovering new ways to experience community. This should not surprise us, as community is central to our faith. God calls us into community and does not limit us to what we have known and done in the past. God presents us with a myriad of new possibilities, we just need to be open to seeing these possibilities. Look, I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it? I’m making a way in the desert, paths in the wilderness. (Isaiah 43:19 CEB). We are certainly going through a wilderness experience. Imagine what is possible if we are open to this new thing God is creating.

Sometimes, we need new tools or skills in order to open ourselves to new possibilities … new ways of being community. Sometimes we need help. We need others to guide us through the uncertainty … to lead us to new possibilities. Sometimes we need a structure or process to follow. Sometimes, we just need a conversation partner to listen and ask good questions.
In mid-April, I invited faith formation and youth ministry leaders to a Zoom gathering. I sensed that they were feeling isolated and out of their element as they worked tirelessly to offer faith formation and youth ministry experiences during this extraordinary time. The Zooms are a way to come together to share frustrations and joys, to ask questions of each other, and to make connections. My original plan was to meet weekly until the end of May and then reevaluate. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure the group would want to meet for that length of time. We are now nearing the end of October and this weekly online gathering continues to grow. We not only share ideas and resources, but have become a brave space where spiritual and emotional support are freely offered and received. During this unusual time, we have formed community. We share connection that did not exist prior to the pandemic.

Just as these faith formation and youth ministry leaders across the country have connected and formed a new community, our congregations are also finding ways to create and strengthen community in new ways. In her book, How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going: Leading in a Liminal Season, Susan Beaumont suggests that it is in these liminal seasons that communitas might emerge. Communitas refers to an unstructured community where old hierarchies are eliminated and people come together as equals. Old expectations and assumptions are discarded and there is freedom to discover new ways to be in community. Beaumont compares it to the experience of going on a mission trip or a pilgrimage. The group is bound together in a new, unknown experience and must, together, figure out how to be in community. It is much the same for us in this extraordinary time. 

Continue reading this article here, then consider the discussion questions below.

Questions for personal reflection or group discussion: 
  • Where do you find community?
  • How do you define community? (Has your definition of community changed during the pandemic?)
  • What do we need to be in community?  
  • Are there different ways to BE community?
  • What real or imagined boundaries has your faith community crossed during this liminal season?
  • Where do you see hope in your community?
Supportive Ministries Resources for Congregations
With this Pandemic, a renewed racial justice reckoning and other uncertainties, our world and our culture are changing. So is our church. As we move into this new reality, we want to bring the best of the past into a future of transformation. Some of the Supportive Ministries offered by the Conference have been adapted to help congregations move into that future. Learn about them below and by following the links. We hope you'll take advantage of these offerings to support your ministry.
Appreciative Inquiry – Better ways of leading change are spreading throughout the world. Appreciative Inquiry is a positive approach to a process of Discovery, Dream, Design and Destiny for engaging people at any or all levels to produce effective, positive change. Contact Art and Cathy Wille.
Coaching – Trained coaches work one-on-one with clergy to equip them to thrive in ministry by building on their strengths, identifying priorities, and working toward ministry goals. The Catalyst Team is currently offering six coaching sessions without cost to Conference Clergy. Coaching is offered in partnership with Catalyst grants (9 in progress).  20 Clergy have been coached to date. For information contact Tim Perkins. (Stock photo)
Communities of Practice (COP) – Clergy groups meet with a trained facilitator to help them “do better what they do.” Clergy interact and gather wisdom from the perspectives and practices of others in the group. The Wisconsin Conference has 18 Clergy COPs and 3 Christian Educator COPs. For information contact Jane Anderson.

Conflict Transformation – A trained team of UCC clergy and lay members is available to improve communication, the pattern of interaction within a congregation, or to help a congregation with strained or negative relationships. Contact your Associate Conference Minister.

Faith Formation and Youth Ministry Leader Support – A weekly Zoom gathering of faith formation and youth ministry leaders (clergy and lay) who share ideas and resources, ask questions, and receive support from one other. Participants join this drop-in group every week or whenever they are able. Resources and ideas are emailed weekly to everyone on the invitation list. To find out more, contact Lisa Hart.
Five Practices for Fruitful Congregations – Provides congregations a laser focus on their hospitality, worship, mission and service, stewardship and faith development. Since 2006, 41 of our congregations have participated and developed plans to enhance their fruitfulness. While this may not be the time to begin a major effort, there are ways Five Practices (5P) can currently assist a congregation as they move forward. One of the essential Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations is the practice of risk-taking mission and service, which is an ideal way to build community. If you have experienced this program, why not take another look to see how you can create new service opportunities and build community too. For information contact Cathy Wille (NE and NW Associations) or Bonnie Andrews (SE and SW Associations).
(Photo taken pre-COVID-19)
Readiness 360 – A congregation-wide online survey measuring perceptions of spiritual intensity, dynamic relationships, mission alignment and cultural openness. A follow-up process helps congregations identify where members may be ready to start a new ministry or program, how to get unstuck, build on strengths and shift focus from maintenance to mission. To date 7 congregations have participated in this assessment and planning process. For information contact Tisha Brown.
Recommended resources for the journey


  • "Showing Up" by Lawrence Peers. As emotions run raw, exhaustion sets in and winter approaches, we may be tempted to just crawl into bed, pull the covers over our head and wait out the effects of the pandemic until spring or summer. In the meantime, Larry Peers advocates for the importance of Showing Up: “As leaders our role may increasingly be to keep our congregational systems moving away from the pull of absencing and toward more presencing, deeper engagement - showing up.” You may find having a conversation partner to process his provocative questions at the end of the article helpful as you rise to face another day.

  • "Five Habits of the Heart that Help Make Democracy Possible" by Parker Palmer, Center for Courage and Renewal. Palmer says, “'Habits of the heart' (a phrase coined by Alexis de Tocqueville) are deeply ingrained ways of seeing, being, and responding to life that involve our minds, our emotions, our self-images, our concepts of meaning and purpose. I believe that these five interlocked habits are critical to sustaining a democracy.” Visit the Courage and Renewal website to find additional resources, including short video clips with Parker Palmer introducing each of the 5 Habits, along with discussion/conversation guides.
  • Liberating Love: 365 Love Notes from God by Sandhya Rani Jha. This daily devotional is a wonderful resource for both personal reflection and group discussion. “In a time when we need more than ever to remember we belong to one another, these beautiful, authentic devotions bring God’s hope for community straight to our hearts. Written with refreshing personal conviction and disarming tenderness, this devotional will set you free and empower you toward a life of love over fear. Sandhya Rani Jha ignites in us both the possibilities and divine presence embedded within as she makes God’s voice accessible and empowering. She pushes us to see all of Scripture as a collective call toward the heartbeat of God, on that steadily beats for those who are forgotten.” - Arianne Braithwaite Lehn, author of Ash and Starlight: Prayers for the Chaos and Grace of Daily Life.

  • Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World by Kathy Escobar. “Kathy’s work is so vital, so needed in our current landscape as the church struggles to navigate a path forward that is healthy, life-giving, and truly an embodiment of good news. Kathy is a faithful companion to those who wander, stumble, and, against all odds, continue to hope.” – Sarah Bessey, author of Miracles and Other Reasonable Things.  “In Practicing, Pastor Kathy Escobar inspires and challenges readers with practical encouragement to live their faith through real action using ten transformational practices. . . By putting our hearts, hands, and feet behind our good intentions, we can transform our groups, our communities, and our world.” From Kathy Escobar.com 

  • How to Lead When You Don't Know Where You're Going, by Susan Beaumont, provides wisdom for these days. Beaumont talks about leadership in in-between times, when the old way is gone but the new way has not yet emerged. I believe that we won't go 'back to normal,' but that we are in the midst of a major shift, that we are being invited into a new way of being and doing worldwide. While we wait for the future to come into focus, we move by the light that we have. We will continue to listen and discern and seek to be faithful, step by halting step. Like the disciples, our worlds have been turned upside down. Like the disciples, we need to learn to lead when we don't know where we're going. And like the disciples, we need to continue to pray and listen and be faithful, one step at a time. Book summary from Margaret Benefiel, executive director of the Shalem Institute
Photo of Supportive Ministries Task Force

The purpose of the newly formed Wisconsin Conference Supportive Ministries Task Force is to identify and develop resources to support clergy and congregations during this liminal time. Through this communication, we will provide articles and resources for clergy and congregations on coping and thriving as we navigate the current turbulent waters. Supportive Ministries Task Force members include:
  • Bonnie Andrews
  • Lisa Hart
  • Tim Perkins
  • Bob Ullman
  • Catherine Wille

Do you have a question or challenge you'd like addressed? Or resources to share? Please let us know.
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