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)
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.
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.
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.