Grand Rapids was a lovely, lovely town. Being there, and then on to Grand Haven and Lake Michigan, were highlights of the trip, no doubt about it.
Having said that, though, I was ready to get home. I had not seen my family in a week, and hadn't seen Christopher and Jack in almost two weeks.
Our reunion was powerful, loving and typical. True gladness to see each other. Hugs and kisses all round, then back to the computer, phone and xbox.
Like I said...Ahh, home again.
The Grand Rapids experience, for all about it that disappointed, offered both clarity and epiphany to my practice of ministry.
As alluded to in previous posts, my disappointment stemmed from several observations. Among them:
- Events of this sort should model the excellence it posits we who lead congregations must exhibit. This one did not. As the General Boards eval this event, I trust they conclude a split event weakens the message...whatever that message is.
- A prevailing bias toward a particular approach to church starts and turnarounds that assumes only a certain methodology of being a congregation will make a difference...they said over and over again that context matters most - that may be true, and I believe it is, but they trumpeted one approach above all others.
My clarity and epiphany are two fold. First, I am convinced more than ever that a congregation like the one I serve is essential to the ongoing work of the Realm of God. Granted, it may well be that such a congregation is the only one left for me to serve, and I can live with that - I don't know if they can, but I can.
What does that mean? St. John's, its clergy and laity, all of us, must step it up. We have to continue to seek ways to innovate our worship, our operations, our ministries, our message and our community to make real what we say matters most to us as a congregation.
We have to employ every manner of media at our disposal to communicate with our congregation, network with our partners in the community, and show who we are and what we're about. Website, audio, video, podcasts - everything. And we must excel at doing it.
We have to establish our place in the connectional church by regularly and continually satisfying every expectation of the conference upon us - financially, offering ourselves for conference leadership - and gladly doing so as partners in ministry. As I attended a "teaching church" in Grand Rapids - one in which I did learn quite alot - it occurred to me - I'm serving a "teaching church."
We cannot nor should never be ashamed to announce our Wesleyan distinctiveness as United Methodists. And even though there is plenty about the United Methodist "system" that often confounds and needs to be changed, we stick with it so that we may be architects of reform. At heart, being a Wesleyan is about a particular view of discipleship that is open, loving and accountable. The tranformative character of grace is expressed in our life together and in ministry to and with the least among us.
And finally, we, each of us, must plug in, step up, and do our part to make this thing we love so much, the companions of Jesus, the people called Methodists who worship at Peabody and Bellevue, vital and vibrant for this generation and the next.
We'll do this not because we are desperate for what our future holds - a sentiment that guides too much of this "congregational renewal" business, but because the authenticity of our fellowship, guided by the Spirit and bound by the grace of God through Jesus Christ shines light on the Way of Jesus - to which all are welcomed and all may find sanctuary.
All. Everyone. Period.
The second thing is this -
I come back with thoughts that are beginning to take root - some of which have been germinating for some time - and convictions that were confirmed by my experience in Grand Rapids, and my firm belief that while I didn't get what I expected from the leadership in Grand Rapids, through conversation, discernment, worshipping at a vital urban congregation, I was able to discover what I needed.
I doubt I'll ever go to this event again, but there is value to being away. It's at a distance I can look back over my shoulder and see things with greater perspective. There are times we must pull away to see where we are and where we're going. That alone is something I need to take with me hereon and integrate into the practice of ministry.
It has to be more than a half day. All of us who serve must find times to leave our context completely in order to see it completely.
Why did Jesus retreat to the mountain to pray? Was it to gain perspective...see the big picture...get ready for what needed to happen when he came down? I think so.
So, in retrospect, I'm glad I went.
And I'm bound now with confirmed zeal for who we are becoming - not tomorrow, but today.
Right here. Right now.