What is Church? … to me? … for me? … without me?
Recently, the Vestry and I met together on a Saturday for a retreat, the purpose of which was to begin a process of discernment and visioning that will continue throughout this year and beyond. With a little bit of luck, and a lot of grace from God, All Saints will continue to move towards a post-Covid “new normal,” and now is the time to be asking what that will mean for us as a parish community. To be asking: what will All Saints be in the next three years, five years, ten years, twenty years? And to be listening faithfully and prayerfully for God’s answers to those questions.
It’s an exciting time, to be sure! Especially on the heels of two-plus years of pandemic shutdown, when we’ve had to focus almost exclusively on what we couldn’t do. And when we’ve had to work so hard just to hold onto the present and preserve as much as we could of our past. Now, at last, we get to begin looking ahead, towards what’s to come, towards what we might become. Towards what God has in mind for our future. Exciting, indeed!
Folks, I’m happy to report that your Vestry is dedicated to this discernment process, is motivated by a deep love for God and for All Saints Church and you, its people, and is filled with fantastic ideas and great energy for moving All Saints enthusiastically into the next chapter of our lives together in our shared walk with God. The whole retreat was incredibly inspiring to me, and I am eager to continue this work of discernment, not only with our Vestry folk, but also with all of you. I have to say, it feels wonderful to be looking ahead.
As a way of bringing us all to a common foundation and starting point, one of the questions
I posed at the retreat was: “What is church?” We filled and erased and refilled several chalkboards’ worth of ideas from our brainstorming in response to such a seemingly simple question. I’m attaching a photo as a small taste of just one tiny piece of those conversations, to give you a sense of what it was like.
But my main reason for mentioning this part of our retreat to you is to invite you all to explore this same question, both for yourselves individually and also in conversation with your fellow parishioners. What do you say church is?
As the Vestry and I explored that question, we discovered something that I’d like to share with you all. In asking the question over and over again, we realized that, at different times, we actually heard different questions, even though the words didn’t change. Sometimes, we heard “What is church … to me?” Sometimes, it was “What is church … for me?” And at times, it was even “What is church … without me?”
I draw your attention particularly to that last question, because it’s one we absolutely need to face together. Intellectually, we all realize that growth means change. Emotionally, however, we usually experience some sense of fear at the prospect of change. That can be true even if, at the very same time, we also feel excited about the opportunities!
This fear can be even more powerful when it comes up in a parish setting. Why is that? I suspect it’s because we all, at one time or another, have likely worried about whether or not there is, or there will be, truly a place and a home for us in a shifting and changing parish community. “I’m all for growth and trying new things,” we might say, “but what about the things that I need from my church, to feed my soul?”
It’s a very important question. One that we need, I believe, to explore together as a church family. Because we probably will not all answer that question exactly the same way. That’s perfectly natural ~ we don’t all need exactly the same things. But we need to be able to name the things we need … and we need to be able to talk about such things with each other (and to feel safe enough in our community to do so).
Because on the one hand, if we can’t figure out what we need and what our fellow parishioners need, it’s going to be hard to build a thriving future for our parish where we all feel truly nourished by our shared church. That would make evangelism tough, because “you can’t share what you don’t have,” and if we’re going to invite people to our church, it would be good to have an uplifting answer when they reply, “But why should I come to your church?” And on the other hand, if we can and do experience our needs being met here in the abundance of God’s grace, then we will feel freed and empowered to go out and see to the needs of the people in the communities around us ~ which is the work of the Gospel.
So, what is church, to you? What is church, for you? What do you fear might become church, without you? And perhaps most importantly, how does church transform you, empower you, equip you, and send you out into the world to seek and serve Christ in others?
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