It has been interesting to watch a sense of urgency surface amongst congregations around the 'need for new members'. This is precisely the problem. The focus should be on the power to change lives, the desire of persons to find our congregations to be incubators for the development of the faith and vehicles for sending Christians out into the world to witness in word and deed to the glory, grace of love of God.It has been an interesting couple of weeks at St. Edward's. A little more than a week ago, our Vestry gathered together for a Strategic Planning Retreat and began to talk about the long-term plans and future of St. Edward's--with a key difference. We didn't break out reams of paper and start brainstorming about things we wish we had or could do. Instead, we talked about the results of a demographic survey of the local area and how that might impact our future. Long about lunchtime, things were at a sort of a low point--this remains a challenging mission field. Yet as we transitioned from defining where we are now to looking at the possibilities for where we might be in the future, a fresh breeze of the Spirit began to waft through our little "upper room." We began to look towards future possibilities, not present or potential difficulties.
- Mary M MacGregor, "Everything is Transitory" in the blog The Missionary Leader
At the same time, these last two Sundays have invited us to look at the beginnings of the church--the giving of the Holy Spirit to both the disciples in the upper room and to the crowds on Pentecost Sunday and then the Great Commission (or, as my colleague Lauren Stanley preached: Go. Baptize. Teach. Need I say more?) yesterday (Trinity Sunday). As I mentioned in the announcements yesterday, this is priming the pump for a "summer of discernment" at both the parish and diocesan levels. At the diocesan level, we're working our way through a strategic plan that will hopefully be adopted by Diocesan Convention in November and will be implemented in the months and years to come. On a parish level, we're more than halfway through my own three-year tenure as Priest-in-Charge and it is a good time to look towards our long-term future.
Yet as we do all of that, the desire and need to sustain the institution of the church can block out What is really important--our relationship with God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. To the extent that we as a congregation and as a diocese function as incubators of faith, places where spiritually hungry people can not only get fed but can help fed themselves and others, we will be doing what God has called us to do and we will grow. To the extent that we focus on drawing people in so that we can sustain the institutional church we will devolve into just one more nonprofit organization with its hand out, looking for a piece of the increasingly smaller charity pie.
So, this will be a summer for discernment--for talking and listening. We'll talk about St. Edward's, about the changing demographics of the community around us, and about the evolving plan to engage that community with the transformational Gospel of Jesus Christ. As we do that, my prayer is that we will remember that it is our call to prepare a place where people may experience God's transforming power.