fain | fān | archaic

fain | fān | archaic: adjective: 1. pleased or willing under the circumstances, eager. 2. obliged. adverb: gladly

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What’s Going On at Good Shepherd? Part Six in a Series

What Can I Give Him, Poor as I Am?Christina Rossetti asks this question in her poem, “A Christmas Carol,” which is known to us as the hymn text “In the bleak midwinter.” (The Hymnal 1982, #112) She reflects on this question as a response to God giving his Son as the Incarnate, Jesus Christ. The Christian scriptures are persistent in their regular asking of a similar question, “Who do you say that I am?”

The Usual Approach
We are all familiar with the stewardship approach that invites members to make an annual financial commitment to the work of the parish for the upcoming year by completing a pledge card. In fact, those cards and letters are going out, or will be going out soon, to more than 300,000 Christian congregations all across America. Sometimes these pledge cards are accompanied with a request to complete a “time and talent” card as well.
These cards normally list the various ministries the congregation is carrying out and invite the member to find their “spot” and “fit in” with what parish leaders have determined constitutes the life and ministry of the congregation. For several decades this has been the standard approach to meeting the financial and people needs of the institutional congregation and it has worked well. It inadvertently however, limits members to thinking of the gifts they can offer only in terms of what the congregation is doing when unbeknownst to them, they have so much more to offer.

Another Approach
Asset mapping is the name of another approach to identifying the gifts that we can offer to God’s glory and service. A couple of preliminary understandings:
● An asset is a gift known for its usefulness
● There are five types of assets:
- Individual
- Associations
- Institutions
- Physical
- Economic
● The asset questions are simply:
- What are you good at doing?
- What do you like to do?
- What do you have that’s useful?

Key Points!
The kinds of assets we are thinking about here might also be considered as blessings, things like: I love working with young children; I am a breast cancer survivor; I speak Spanish; I have a van; or I am good at fixing things.

Key, Key Point!
A blessing from God remains a blessing only if it is offered to glorify God and to benefit others, elsewise it is no longer a blessing and may even become a spiritual burden! Blessings are to be shared. God has blessed us for his purposes not just for our own benefit.

The Exercise
About 100 parishioners took up magic markers and post-it notes and began to list the assets they could offer to God. It started slowly and gathered steam. Soon the parish house walls were covered with sheets of newsprint, themselves covered with yellow post-its, nearly 1500 in all! You could feel the energy rise in the room as those seated at tables engaged each other in conversation, light bulbs going off in people’s minds one after the other, as it became clearer and clearer to them the gifts that they and others at the table had to give Emmanuel.
When this was completed and the sheets of newsprint were posted all around the room, our leaders pulled off five post-its at random. Reading them out loud to the group, they asked each table to create a ministry plan with those five assets to be shared later with the whole group. It was quite amazing to witness the creativity involved as each table “cooked up” a ministry making use of a coach, someone with military experience, someone who likes to tell jokes, a big kitchen, and someone who loves to teach art to children. (HINT: Something to do with military families and Wounded Warriors.)

Key Point
This was fun! Our eyes were opened to see ourselves and what we could offer for God’s glory and the benefit of others in a different light. We are the people God has blessed and sent into the world to be a blessing to others. Don’t let your blessings stop with yourself but be a blessings conduit!

Christiana Rosetti saw herself as poor compared to the great God who gave his only Son for the world. Oftentimes, we too, see ourselves as poor, but not in comparison to God but to others around us. Consequently, we don’t believe we have anything of value to offer God, or when it comes to our collective ministries we are anxious that there is not enough.
All those post-its presented us with a very different dilemma: how can we possibly use all that God has put in this place for his glory and the welfare of his people?

Next time we explore seeing the world with God’s holy perspective.

Friday, September 17, 2010

What’s Going On at Good Shepherd? Part Five in a Series

Quirinius who?Luke tells the story of the birth of Jesus by locating it in human history, in time and space, when Caesar Augustus was emperor and while Quirinius was governor of Syria (6 - 4 BCE). The God who has created everything that is and who transcends all limits has entered into human history, come among us redemptively , as Jesus born in Bethlehem. In the world, God’s activity occurs in a context, in a particular place and at a particular point in time; therefore, efforts to renew our congregational life, or efforts to serve others in the name of our Lord, must take the place and time in which we live seriously. The context exercise was designed to do that by looking at Augusta, the place of our ministry.

The People in Your 30904 Neighborhood
Good Shepherd is located in the 30904 zip code of Augusta and draws members from 10 zip codes. Making an intentional difference in the lives of others, or making life easier for others involves knowing something about the people you wish to serve. Fortunately today, there are a number of resources that provide detailed demographic information about the people living in a particular area.
We use information provided by the Percept Group who have been providing ministry area profiles for over 20 years. For the purpose of this exercise we confined ourselves to reviewing data obtained only from the 30904 zip code, though clearly, a complete ministry plan would require studying the information for the other nine zip codes where we have members. Through the generosity of our diocese we have easy access to this information. If you would like to see the Percept data for the 30904 zip code, it is available by calling the parish office.

What Did We Learn?
About 190 participants were asked to list any new information or surprises from the data that were different from what they already knew about our neighborhood. Some of the observations were: the population is decreasing, the poverty level is higher than the national average, the average age is younger than expected, there is a higher percentage of single mothers and non-traditional families and a high percentage of church goers attend for recreational purposes.
From this information each table was asked to identify five issues that Good Shepherd might address on behalf of the community. Some of the suggestions included: literacy programs, single parent support and education, mentoring programs, home repairs and life skill training.

Key Point
Effective ministry and outreach requires knowing the needs of people and their life circumstance. Decisions about ministry plans should be data driven and led by the Holy Spirit.

Every Sunday we are sent out to serve in the name of the risen Lord and to share his love by loving others. There are significant numbers of people in our own neighborhood, even at our very doorstep, who need a helping hand and to hear good news.
It is all too easy to ignore their situation (Luke 16:19-31) but surely a parish named in honor of the Good Shepherd must be willing to follow the Good Shepherd’s own example and actively seek out those who struggle with the many manifestations of lostness (Luke 15:1-7).

Friday, September 10, 2010

What’s Going On at Good Shepherd? Part Four in a Series

Mining for the Mind of ChristWe begin this process believing that God had already given us everything that is necessary for Good Shepherd to join with him in his mission to the world. The people of this parish are collectively, the repository of these insights and assets for mission. All that is needed is a way to discover or uncover what is already here. The five exercises and the year-long time frame provide one method to “mine” what God has revealed to the people here in their common mind. Entering into this discernment we hope to be inspired by Paul’s guidance to the church at Philippi: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5-11)

Getting Started
You can never go wrong by reflecting on the grace of God who has ordered, sustains, and purposes our lives and that is how we began this work at the start of the year. Once an Energy Team of 16 parishioners had offered themselves to manage and shepherd this renewing work on behalf of the parish, we prepared for the Thin Place Exercise.

Thin Places
The idea of thin places is taken from Celtic Christianity as practiced in Irish and British churches until the seventh century. The Celts believed there were actual, physical places where the boundary between heaven and earth, between this world and the next, was so thin that you could get a glimpse the other reality. People visiting these places often experienced something like a door opening between the two worlds, cracked for a moment, offering understandings of things constantly hoped for, and only rarely seen.

So, we were introduced to the idea that the Church of the Good Shepherd, at 2230 Walton Way, is a thin place, a place where every once in a while, in ways subtle and profound, people here experience God’s own presence. All jokes aside, it is an awesome notion that people might actually experience God in this church or among its people! The Thin Place Exercise asked small groups of parishioners to gather in the host homes of fellow parishioners and invited them to share their best experiences of God either at Good Shepherd or through the life and ministry of this parish.

Thin Places at Good Shepherd
This past Lent, 350 parishioners of all ages were involved in a cottage meeting for the Thin Place exercise. Many participated even though they were skeptical, or did not quite understand what we were trying to accomplish, or are basically shy or reserved persons. Some gladly looked forward to the opportunity to meet other parishioners and to engage in conversation that matters.

Some shared their experiences of God at Good Shepherd, some did not. All spoke or listened appropriately. Some people enjoyed the exercise and expressed hopes that something like it could continue in the parish. Others were amazed by the depth of experience, and some were surprised at how much God is present around Good Shepherd and in the lives of people here! This preference of God to act and be present in the ordinary more often than in the extraordinary, was evident. All drew encouragement to look further for the signs of God’s presence around and among us.

Key Points!
We are all very busy, so busy in fact that we miss a lot of what God is doing in the world. Because we miss it, we might become habituated to not even look for it. Scripture is persistently telling us to wake up! Open our eyes, seek and trust God.

There are all “sorts and conditions” of people at Good Shepherd, each one unique, each one having much in common. Yet, nurturing and encouraging each one in their discipleship of Jesus will require nimbleness and creativity from parish ministries.

In the new apostolic age, some of us will need to move beyond the instinctive Episcopal reservation about talking about matters of faith and learn how to winsomely engage others in conversation about Jesus and our Christian practices. We have all promised to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.

See! We are already making progress at strengthening broad ownership and increasing stakeholders in the mission of God at and through Good Shepherd. The Energy Team of 16 planned and prepared for this exercise. Thirty-four Good Shepherd parishioners offered to open their homes for cottage meetings, 45 volunteered to be trained to facilitate the meetings and 350 of you participated. Not a bad start!

One of the hallmarks of Anglican theology is the understanding that the great eternal God, who is beyond time and space, makes himself known in time and space through the use of the things of this world: art, music, bread, wine, water, creation itself can all become outward, visible and apprehendable signs of a God whose reality is beyond our comprehension. The Thin Place exercise affirmed for us that our church building is itself a sacramental sign of God’s presence sought, desired, and experienced by those who have gone before us in this place. But more importantly, it affirmed for us that the Body of Christ in this place is built of the living stones who share this time and their lives with us. Together, we are a living sacrament set forth to share God’s love and grace made known to us in the most amazing sacrament of all - Jesus Christ our Lord.

Next we will take a look at the neighborhood and community we live in which is the context, or the place where God has put us for mission.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What’s Going On at Good Shepherd? Part Three in a Series

Where do we go from here?There is a saying: “If you don’t know where you’re going, then any way will get you there.” The Vestry has resolved that this will not be true of Good Shepherd! We are presently involved in a year-long process to accomplish three things:

1. We hope to renew and replenish the sense of energy and excitement at Good Shepherd about the mission God has given to us. Our goal is to move to the early Prime stage of the Congregational Life Cycle. (See Part II.)
2. We hope to discern more particularly how God would have us be the church in Augusta, Georgia. (More later about our context in Augusta.)
3. We hope to become an effective and faithful parish for Jesus Christ in the early decades of the 21st century. (See Part I.)

The five All-Parish Gatherings that have been planned for this year are designed to work together to help us realize these hopes and aspirations for our parish. Again, they include:

Thin Places: Sharing our best experiences of God in this place
Context: Looking at Augusta, the place of our ministry
Asset Mapping: Identifying the gifts we want to offer to God
Everyday Creativity: Exploring the holy perspective God has given us
God in Our Lives: Discovering God’s purposes for Good Shepherd

Please note the active verbs that characterize this effort: sharing, looking, identifying, exploring, and discovering. The process depends, to some extent, upon as many of us doing these things together as is possible, hence the all-parish nature of these gatherings. Broad ownership is the key to renewing energy about out mission here!

Key Point!
Broad ownership, increasing stakeholders, is the key to energizing the mission and life of the parish. The more people feel that they are a part of, they have a stake in our efforts to make disciples of Jesus Christ, to serve others in the larger community and world in his Name, to care for, support and encourage fellow parishioners, to catechize our children and youth and to worship Almighty God both in our lives and in our liturgy, the greater will be the sense of excitement about God’s purposes in and through Good Shepherd.

Unlike much strategic planning, where a process is initiated and…presto!…out comes a plan 12-18 months later, this is a rolling process. By which we mean, we are actually getting to where we hope to get as we do the work together, rather than waiting for an outcome some months hence. This can prove a little confusing, even frustrating, when we would prefer “map quest”-like directions to our destination. We are reminded of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus (John 3:1-16) where Jesus compared the uncontrollable movement of the Spirit to that of the wind: it blows where it chooses, which can be disconcerting enough for all of us!

Next we begin to consider individually, the five exercises that give form and structure to our discerning work.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

What’s Going On at Good Shepherd? Part Two in a Series

“To everything there is a season”These well known words from Ecclesiastes (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8) acknowledge that God is the one who determines events, their time and their timing. This refers in equal part to those events that just happen to people, like being born and dying, and to occasions to which people must respond, like planting and harvesting. The words also describe poetically the journey that each person makes as their own life unfolds from birth to infancy, to childhood and adolescence, to young adulthood and the prime of life; from maturity to old age and finally to death. Books describing the stages of life use this imagery and are thusly titled The Seasons of a Man’s Life and The Seasons of a Woman’s Life. While every person is unique, there are enough similarities between persons that allow for useful generalizations to be made about life’s different stages.
Just as people move through the phases of a life-cycle, some have observed that the birth to death progression could also be used as a way of thinking about the vitality of schools, businesses, organizations, programs, or even relationships. Marti Saarinen is one such person who has devised a way to apply the life cycle concept to religious institutions.

The Congregational Life Cycle

This diagram illustrates how the life cycle could be applied to a congregation like Good Shepherd. Some explanatory notes are in order to help interpret the diagram:
1. Religious organizations have a “gene” structure made up of four major components: energy, program, administration, and inclusion. Energy refers to the level of excitement and participation in the life and ministry of the congregation. Program includes all the organized ministries in a parish and those to the larger community, things like Sunday School, fellowship, outreach, etc. Administration includes communications, fund raising, maintenance, staffing and all those functions necessary to sustain an organization’s life and purpose. Finally, inclusion names that part of the community’s life that has to do with attracting, welcoming, involving, and serving members.
2. At each stage there is a presentation of the gene structure that describes and defines that phase. An upper case letter indicates increasing function in that particular area, the lower case indicates diminished function.
3. Please note that each stage of the growth side of the cycle is always characterized by an upper case “E” for high energy. Correspondingly, the decline side is always characterized by a lower case “e” for decreasing energy.
4. A congregation like Good Shepherd, 141 years young, has undoubtedly been through this life cycle several times already! Unlike human beings, organizations are always cycling through the stages.

Key Point!
Moving to the decline side is inevitable and unavoidable for congregations. The challenge for leaders of these organizations is to recognize when that has happened and to begin to take the necessary steps to renew and revitalize the congregation’s self-understanding and purpose. The further the congregation descends on the decline side, the greater the dynamic of denial in the congregation about its true situation. It also follows that correspondingly the deeper the descent into decline, the greater or more radical change that will be needed for rebirth.

Application Beyond Good Shepherd
Before applying this to our parish, I’ll offer a few opinions as to how this way of looking at religious organizations might be applied to some other religious organizations that interest us, such as our diocese and our national church.
I think that the Diocese of Georgia is in the Birth stage of the life cycle. We have a new bishop who is just beginning his ministry and there is much excitement about how the Diocese of Georgia might renew its mission and purpose. Diocesan leaders are reassessing programs, the Diocesan staff has been restructured and new efforts are underway with respect to administrative functions. We’re just getting started! Yet no one can know how long, or how challenging, even bumpy will be the journey to Prime, fully firing on all our cylinders, so to speak for, the sake of Jesus Christ and this church in South Georgia.
How about the national church? In my opinion, and there is sure to be disagreement with this assessment, the Episcopal Church is in the Bureaucracy stage. Like all mainline denominations experiencing decades long numerical decline, we are caught in important controversy, incurring significant legal expenses, and stuck in Christendom (see Part One) assumptions about the church. Again, in my opinion, denominational leaders are in deep denial about the state of our denomination and it seems that many of them are pursuing authoritarian approaches to try to stem the hemorrhaging of people, assets and energy out of the church. As noted in Part One, our denomination is significantly impacted by the dramatic shifts well underway in our culture.
Remember: the Anglican Church has been on the American scene for four hundred years and has been constituted as the Episcopal Church since 1789. Obviously, the Episcopal Church has been through this cycle before.

Application to Good Shepherd
So, where do you see Good Shepherd in the congregational life cycle?
When the Vestry and Staff first asked ourselves this question in early 2009, almost all of us placed Good Shepherd somewhere between the Maturity and Aristocracy stages.
We have struggled for some time to interpret some parish trends. For instance, Average Sunday Attendance at Good Shepherd has declined from a high of 575 in 2002 to 480 in 2009, yet Great Wednesday participation has been going up and remained steady all throughout this past year. The average financial pledge keeps increasing year after year, even in the down economy, from an average of $2,837 in 2002 to $3,839 in 2010; but the number of households financially contributing has decreased from 539 in 2002 to 467 in 2009. Our membership has held steady and we have even experienced 1% growth. Participation in service ministries has remained strong but participation in Christian Formation opportunities has been soft.
The Congregational Life Cycle model was helpful to us as we worked to understand and interpret what was going on at Good Shepherd. More importantly, this model offered a way to renew and redevelop parish ministry and move us forward to the energy side of the cycle again.

A Last Piece
There is one last piece to assembling the puzzle of what is going on at Good Shepherd. As Christians we follow Jesus who said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21) We are called and sent into the world to share the love and revelation of God as it is presented to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. In Christ, God is loving and saving the world for his purposes. Put another way, God has a mission to the world and he also has a church that is to be an agent of his redemptive project in the world.
This point was powerfully made for the Vestry at the retreat at Kanuga in January of 2010. The Reverend Dr. Reggie McNeal spoke convincingly about the full blown post-Christendom culture in the United States (see Part One). The Vestry enthusiastically received his comments as both accurately descriptive and a call to congregational response. A series of articles have since appeared in The Shepherd’s Fold reviewing Dr. McNeal’s book, The Present Future, that addresses the shifts in emphasis that congregations need to make in order to partner more faithfully with God in his mission to the world in the 21st century.

Putting it Together
The Vestry participated in the annual Vestry Conference at Kanuga in January 2009 and January 2010, not expecting anything more to happen than having a good team building weekend together, reviewing the past year at Good Shepherd and establishing some goals for the upcoming year. Little did we know that the presentations there on two separate occasions, each separated by a full year, would each speak to us clearly and in tandem of the call to renew and refocus congregational life and ministry at Good Shepherd so that God’s purposes might be honored and that people might be led to more intentionally follow Jesus as Savior and Lord in these times.

Key Points!
Since moving back into a wonderfully renovated Parish House in November of 2004, parish leadership has sought new focus for Good Shepherd’s mission and ministry. A number of worthwhile and productive efforts have been undertaken, but none of them have successfully addressed the sense of complacency at Good Shepherd, most widely experienced as diminished energy about the parish, its life and its mission.
The Congregational Life Cycle as a tool helped the Vestry and Rector to name its sense of what was happening in the parish and to begin to address it creatively and constructively.
Reggie McNeal’s inspiring and exciting vision of a God of mission on the move in the world persuaded the Vestry that Good Shepherd should ask God to show us a way to more faithfully and more fully align our energies and efforts with his purpose, at this moment, in this place.

We began this section of the series by quoting Ecclesiastes, “to everything there is a season,” and acknowledging that God alone is the one who determines the who, what, where, when, and how of his purposes. Exciting things are happening all around the world where Jesus Christ is concerned. There is a new movement of the Holy Spirit at work in the world. We have determined to discern how Good Shepherd, by God’s grace, might be part of it. As much as we would all like to know exactly where this is headed we must remember that God’s call never comes with a detailed plan but only with the assurance that if we say yes, that he will be with us.
Look to Part Three for an introduction to the year long process of discernment, now in progress, to renew and refocus our mission and ministry in Augusta.