Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Please join us reading Christianity for the Rest of Us

Recently I asked a few people at St. Paul's to join me in reading Christianity for the Rest of Us, by Diana Butler Bass. I chose this book hoping to start a conversation about our mission and our future here at St. Paul’s. Why are we on this corner? What is God calling us to be in our second century as a parish? How will we live out our baptismal covenant to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?”

Now I would like to invite you to read this book, and join me for conversation each Wednesday evening in Advent beginning on Dec. 1 at 7 pm following our community night dinner. If you can't make our gatherings on Wednesdays, let's continue this conversation on-line. I've set up this special blog for this book discussion.

Please leave your comments at the bottom of the posts each week. I will be moderating the discussion -- posts will need to be approved by me to prevent spam and non-topical comments.

The book surveys how 15 very different churches are living out their mission in their own particular way. Some are large, others small, but all are growing spiritually and inclusively as each hears God’s call to them. The book is not a statistical survey or a recipe guide for membership growth. Rather, Butler Bass takes us on a tour of what congregations can be when faithfully hearing God’s call and being courageous enough to act. All of these congregations have this in common: they began by recognizing not only who they are, but whose they are.

I am not asking us to critique the book, but to use the book as a catalyst for our own conversation about our mission as a parish. This is very informal; it is not a committee or a task force. It is not a focus group. We won’t be marking up butcher paper on the wall. I am not looking for recommendations to come from this. But I hope we will find insights from our collective wisdom and experience – and will be open to asking the deep hard question about our mission and ministry that we share together. And I expect we will hear a surprise or two along the way.

Let me tell you a little about the conversations I’ve had so far with a few people at St. Paul’s about the book.

We focused on a number of topics covered in the book, especially discernment of God's calling to us as a parish – how to know when we see it. We talked about the signposts, or markers, we see for how God is leading us in our faith community and in the community beyond our walls. We talked about hospitality and how we are called to be a welcoming community, and how we can build on this strength.

We did NOT engage in problem solving but rather offered ideas and observations about what discernment and hospitality looks and feels like especially to new people here in our parish. We grappled with how St. Paul's is a spiritual home to some, while others struggle to find their place here even after being here for many years.

One of the topics discussed in the book that resonates with many people is how discerning God's presence and guidance often feels non-linear. The destination is not always clearly in sight; the path is as important as getting there. “Discernment is an odd guide, however, for it not only points the way on the journey but it is a sort of destination in itself.” (p. 96)

Where this conversation is going I don't know, and that is also a marker of true discernment. I would like to keep this conversation going and growing, and continue walking the path with you as we see where God is leading our parish. Please join me in Advent in reading this book and being in conversation.

One more thing: Diana Butler Bass will be speaking at St. Paul's, Richmond, April 18-20, and I'd like us to go together to hear her speak. Click HERE for more information about her appearance.

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