Thursday, April 15, 2010

Finding a Usable Future in our Past

Our congregation is part of a mission transformation process called "Partnership for Missional Church" (PMC) run by Church Innovations and sponsored by our local judicatory (called a Synod in the ELCA). The purpose is to engage in a process that will help our congregation become more missional in our local community based on the gifts, strengths and energies of our specific congregation. There's not a set program to implement because the missional focus is different for every congregation based on their particular community (demographic analysis) and the charisms of their congregation. So it's a process of discovery--discovering the needs and character of our community and how they can be met in a specific way by the gifts, abilities and resources of our congregation.

One step in the process is to do a congregational Timeline--not just a history of the congregation, but the highs and lows people experienced as part of the congregation. One of the missional questions to reflect on is "Can you find a usable future in your past?" It's an interesting question because it implies that to become mission-focused in a new way in the present does not mean making a break with the history and traditions of the congregation--those may be the very source of an idea on how to move forward in the present and the future.

One example Church Innovations gave us was of a congregation that was started as a Sunday School. Several decades ago, the founding pastor spent an expensive 30 cents to take the trolley from one end of town to the other to develop their congregation, but could only begin a worship service or a Sunday School and the people voted for a Sunday School. In it's missional process, the congregation reflected on the importance of ministry with children and their families that has been present since the founding of the congregation; this focus shaped their outreach in the present to families in the community. People in the community were so busy with children's activities, that the congregation developed a family worship service, somewhat structured like a Sunday school lesson, which enabled families to worship and learn together. They found a usable future from their past.

I have been reflecting on this with regard to the congregation I serve. After months of reflection, it finally occurred to me that perhaps our future is in our first name: First English Lutheran Church--St. Mark's was the first English-speaking Lutheran Church in the St. Louis area. While other Lutheran congregations were still offering services is Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, German and so on, St. Mark's identified itself as a congregation that speaks the language of the culture. This language is still English of course, but more and more this language is being spoken through the use of technology. How might we use more advanced technology to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our community? As a congregation, we are at the very beginning stages of using more advanced technology. We don't use screens or power point in worship, but we are expanding our presence on our website, Facebook and using more advanced technology to share information with the Board. We are hoping to reach out in mission to the hospital down the street from us. How this all works together with the charisms of music, food and fellowship, I am not sure; but I am glad to be here and see what the Spirit does next!

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