(Written by Erica in October 2008)
I’ve been blessed to participate in a thriving and mission-driven Community of Christ congregation. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I began to have some doubts.
Years ago, a small group of disciples recognized a need in their community. They recognized their own giftedness and skills that could help, and they bravely explored a call to minister to their community in a new way. Church for them began to take a whole different shape. They had to rethink what church would look like in order to serve their mission. As they sought to follow God’s unfolding call, they darkened doors of opportunity and met the challenges of ministry that those opportunities held.
It was not a simple or easy process to become a community shaped by God’s call. It was not a quick process. But gradually it became the congregation that I attend today. It’s a ministry that touches lives every day. And it creates disciples.
Not too long ago, the group convened a business meeting. After a weekly worship service, we gathered with our usual casual atmosphere. But when the meeting began we realized that the business we would be discussing was much more than “casual”. We would be dealing with issues that hit right at the core of the congregation.
You see, over the last few years, as the congregation has followed God’s lead, little by little we have grown! Our vision was expanding. We were succeeding! Now we were discovering that if we were to continue to grow, it could require substantial change.
So in that business meeting we began to envision the future for our ministry. We were faced with some questions. They cut to the heart of who we are, our identity.
What do we call ourselves? Why?
To whom do we choose to minister? What does this mean for our mission?
Where do we meet to accommodate that mission?
What would we be willing to change in order to grow? Is change really necessary?
One by one, members – long-time congregants and new participants – offered their hopes, ideas, and concerns to answer these questions. As you would imagine, these are issues with a lot of history. Some had built this ministry with years of dedicated love and effort. Some felt a strong responsibility for the future of the congregation. Everyone held deep love and concern for this community as it is and as it will be.
As each of us layered our perspectives on this issues…as the meeting stretched on…and a sense of urgency mounted…tension grew. Tempers shortened.
We struggled through the process as gently as we could, but we were not approaching answers. The tension continued to rise.
Finally at one point, in the intensity of the discussion, one person accidentally misspoke. A comment was made that was received as hurtful. The tension reached its limit. We burst into a small confusion of frustration, disappointment, and bruised feelings. One person stormed out. The agenda was lost in the need to care for those who felt injured and to clean up the mess the meeting had created. We decided we would have to come together again to approach these big questions. And again. And again.
But in that moment many in the room were left feeling unsettled, unfinished, embarrassed, offended, worried.
What is this?! This is supposed to be sacred community!
Then one long-time member who has served as a mentor for many, including me, stood. “Let’s close with a prayer.” He motioned for us to all to form a circle and link our hands. And he prayed.
He acknowledged that each of us are fragile and imperfect creatures, trying our to serve in the best way we know how. He thanked God for the blessed community we have had the joy of building. He thanked God for the deep concern and love each one has for the welfare of this ministry, and those it is called to serve – though our ideas and experiences may be different.
Above all, he thanked God for the unifying love we all share in our collective discipleship of Jesus Christ. Finally, he thanked God for the hope we have together in the God’s continued and faithful ministry through our community.
As that prayer concluded, a spirit of peace rested in the circle. The wounded emotions and frenzied concerns of the congregation were soothed. We could see again that our stumbles and disagreement were far less important than our unity and hope in Christ. God’s presence among us would heal the brokenness that would come when we stretched our community in search of our mission. And in fact, to be faithful to God’s call into the future it would be necessary for our community to meet the messy challenge of discussion, discovery, conflict, and confusion. Even in the moments of discord God was forming us into a community that could best reflect God’s will.
Our challenge was – and is – to recognize Christ’s unifying presence in the midst of the journey. And to let Christ be guide to us all on the path.