Forums for Our Future
Dear friends at Trinity, we need to act on having some challenging, frank, loving, and wide-ranging conversations about our future ministry at Trinity. I have been talking about having these conversations for several months in my sermons, at the Annual meeting, and through some of my columns here in the Circulation newsletter. We’ve talked about some of these ideas at Bible Study on Wednesday mornings, and during our Council meetings.
But this can’t be a conversation that just a few people or even a few groups have. Trinity needs your ideas. Our Council will be hosting some “Forums for the Future” in the upcoming weeks and months that will help facilitate this conversation in our congregation.
Sometimes the seed of ministry nourished by a long-lived congregation can bear new fruit through new ministry. In February, I went to Houston to learn the skills of a redevelopment pastor for use at Trinity. The hard news of redevelopment is that few congregations generate new ministry in the place of a ministry that has, by all accounts, run well its course.
The harder news of redevelopment is that Trinity is not in a place for official redevelopment at the moment; that would require us to define an undeniable movement of the Holy Spirit in a new way, not only to sustain or regenerate our ministry, but to connect with our wider community and become absolutely vital in the lives of those beyond our doors.
Ministry is not about sustaining buildings, or keeping doors open, or even getting new members or generating new programs. Ministry is about mutual care in the name of Christ, and care chiefly for those beyond our walls.
I want as many voices as we can get to be part of this conversation on Trinity’s future. We are going to begin this conversation during worship on this Sunday, May 6th. We will have some structured, yet open, time in the place of the sermon that day, and continue that conversation on Wednesday morning, May 9th during the time of the Bible Study at 10:00am. We will be looking for further opportunities to bring you together after those days—please come with some ideas if you are able, or contact me, the church office, or a member of the Council if you can’t make it on the 6th or the 9th. Future Sunday dates will be a part of this conversation.
No doubt some will be concerned that we will be having conversations about closing our congregation. It is natural to be anxious, and it is OK, if we work together to guide that anxiety into a good place. Like the butterflies in the stomach that performers (and pastors!) get before making a public presentation or concert, that anxious energy, positively directed, can help fuel our best ideas.
In the words of the Prayer of St. Francis, “For it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” Trinity will likely not have an eternal life as an ELCA congregation. But we can have a flourishing life, and we can engage this life intentionally.
I have seen congregations sell or move from their historic homes and live; it is possible, and new life can come from it. I have seen congregations rise through the Spirit to have a new life, and a new form, and a new beginning. God is the God of new beginnings. Jesus is the proof of that, and so am I, and so are many of you.
I want to emphasize that I am not hopeless, or disappointed, or anxious about our future. In taking a realistic view of the future, as with the past, Trinity has much to be proud of in our ministry. I love being your pastor and wish to stay for years to come. But I also want to be the most responsible shepherd for you that I can be, and to do that I need your help.
So, some questions, dear friends: What would it mean for Trinity to stay and work, or determine where else our ministry is needed? And what would it mean for Trinity to go in peace from its ministry?
Most of all, how will we live our joy and love for our neighbors in the time to come? Whether we have a year, or five years, or ten years, or a hundred years, this is a crucial question to determine the answer to together. Because Trinity is a loving, committed, and caring congregation. I think Trinity is a courageous congregation too, one that can have frank, open, and Spirit-filled conversation about how to approach our future together.
I have some outlandishly creative ideas. At some point I’d be happy to share them, after this process has gotten underway. But I am more interested in your outlandishly creative ideas. Or your very sensible ideas. Or just your honest, frank, and sincere ideas. Let’s have these conversations together. I will be with you for them, praying and rooting for our ministry at Trinity.
More importantly, Jesus will be walking with us, and he has been through some of the hardest times life can give us. We have nothing to fear with the King of Love on our side.
May God bless you every day!