“Forward Chats” gathered for the first time yesterday, Sunday, March 31, 2019, directly after church in the parlor. Thirty-three people attended. This blog entry first reports what was discussed, and then reflects on what we learned and where we might go next in our discussions.
First, for those of you who couldn’t make it, here is a summary of the meeting itself:
OPENING: Wendy opened with a prayer that our conversation together might serve to build up the church. Then Bonnie read the church covenant, which provides guidelines for loving communication.
QUESTION ONE: All 33 people in the room in turn gave a brief answer to the question, “Describe one thing that would characterize your ideal church.”
INTERLUDE: Because communication had come up so frequently, we talked about the theater improvisation technique called “Yes, And.” Briefly:
• “Yes” means you accept whatever premise is stated by the other person even if you disagree. You look for the kernel of truth - or at least you accept that it is true for them.• “And” means you add something to it.
This habit discourages knee-jerk negativity and keeps the momentum going forward.
QUESTION TWO: Then people responded to the question “Why do we bother going to church?” What does church offer that you could not get from:
• A walk in the woods - for personal spiritual meditation
• Volunteering in the food pantry - for outreach
• An evening out with friends at the local bar- for fellowship
CLOSING: Wendy began a closing prayer and other people added to it.
After the meeting, we took the raw data from both questions (available by the end of the week) and organized it around topics such as “communication” and “acceptance.” We call this the “Bulleted Summary.” It is the first step toward absorbing what we learned from this first meeting. I encourage all of you to take a look; it is posted as a blog on this site.
For this writer, drawing together, categorizing and organizing all these individual comments helped the entire conversation come into focus. My personal summary of the “sense of the meeting” would be:
The ideal church is a sanctuary from stress where communication is kindly, where we work together effectively, and where we can find spiritual nourishment in the company of others.
The ideal church is a sanctuary: First and foremost, it is a place where people feel safe – not just physically but emotionally and spiritually, where they are warmly welcomed and accepted as they are, where they can escape from the stress of daily life and recharge their batteries for the coming week.Having companions on our spiritual journey is essential, and we expect to be nourished by the rituals of worship, sermon, music, and spiritual conversations we share together.
Flowing directly out of this idea that church should be a haven from stress, was the idea that the ideal church communicates kindly and effectively. People described this as listening with the intent of truly hearing the other person, assuming the other person’s good intentions, and accepting differing opinions. Comments also touched on communication among the church’s various working groups.
The theme of communication overlapped with the idea that the ideal church knows how to work together effectively. This concept included having a “common end,” a clear and widely-understood vision, rooted in spiritual principles, that encourages more people to participate and helps them figure out how to put their energies into things that matter instead of getting stressed out about minutia. It includes having a widely understood governing structure where it is clear who is responsible for making which decisions. It also includes a culture of openness, spontaneity, and willingness to change.
This summary glides over some of the nuances and implications(like “work effectively” at what?). But it is interesting to notice what did NOT come up. Nobody brought up any theological points except for love and acceptance. Very little was said about the rituals of worship except that familiar rituals allow people to center down more quickly. Surprisingly, very little was said about outreach, though that may have been because people feel comparatively satisfied with the work we are doing already. Given the level of commitment to Family Promise, Community Suppers, Recovery High and Community Happenings, it is hard to doubt the church’s interest in outreach.
So at our next meeting, we may need to fine-tune this brief sketch of our ideal church. I suggest that everyone give some thought to this question: “What is the purpose of church [in this time and place]? What are we supposed to be accomplishing?” Can we put it in a single sentence? We will ask every person present for their answer at the beginning of the meeting.
Having established a description of our ideal church community AND a statement of purpose, it is then logical to ask how we measure up against our own ideals:
• In what areas are we doing well?
• In what areas are we falling short?
• Where we are falling short, what work do we need to do to close the gap?
• How do we get buy-in for change?
• Most urgently, what leadership qualities are best suited to get us to the place we want to be?
In an ideal world we would have many weeks to mull over questions like this, but the need to find a new pastor is now looming over us, and these conversations can serve as a resource for the search committee. So we are going to try to cover a lot of territory quickly in the next couple of weeks, hoping that we can return to some of these issues in more depth later on.