The space for courageous love

Check out the video above for the video version of this blog – or if you prefer, read the text below…or both! 

You may have noticed that we are often at our capacity on Sunday – these past few weeks, even more so.

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Look at how full that sanctuary is! 

Recently, we reviewed our worship attendance data for the last 8 years, and we realized, that we’ve been at capacity pretty much that whole time.  We’ve flirted consistently with 80% of capacity, to be specific – sometimes above, sometimes below – but never really staying above for too long.  This is important, because studies show that once you hit 80% of capacity, your attendance flatlines because people get a subconscious message that there isn’t enough room for them.  And that’s exactly what our data shows.

Even before the election, we were pondering what to do about this.  But with the results of the election and the many big questions before us, it is even more urgent that we ensure that we are making space for all who may be needing a religious community grounded in the practices of courageous love.  The data shows, capacity is the driver – and so our question is: how do we increase capacity?

With all this in mind, the Board has asked the staff team to explore a “3rd Service Experiment” beginning around February and continuing through April – during which we could figure out what it would take to maintain 3 services over the longer run, if it’s possible, and what will work best.

We know that this will require some discomfort on all of our parts – but as I said in a prior blog post – unleashing courageous love does not mean being comfortable, but only the safe place in which we can manage discomfort, together. So our hope is that we can learn together, grow together, stumble together, offer each other grace – all of which will allow us to truly unleash the big huge love that exists within us and among us.  We need this, the world needs it – now more than ever.

I’ll keep you updated as our staff and lay teams for worship and religious exploration start to figure out the details.  For now, I am so grateful for your partnership at this time, grateful to be learning with you, wrestling with these big questions together, and unleashing courageous love, together.

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This photo is from our gathering at the Islamic center last year….A year later, there are even more souls who are hungry to gather in light and love – how will we make space for all who seek to join together on this journey – the space for the greatest impact for courageous love to be unleashed?

Welcoming Our New Minister

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Sean Neil-Barron

We finally find ourselves in mid-August, and after much anticipation, I am thrilled this weekend will mark the official beginning of Sean’s ministry with us.  He will be arriving to town this Friday, and will be in worship this Sunday.  Please come and introduce yourselves (I’ve told him we save the name test for at least a week) and help him feel welcome in our community.

We have convened a Transition Team for Sean – Anne Hall, Hannah Mahoney, Tim Pearson and Erin Price – who will be helping him get oriented and setting up times for him to meet with as many of you as possible in the next couple of months.  We should have an initial schedule of these opportunities in next week’s Extra.

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Sean and the Assistant Minister Search Committee in May after he had accepted our invitation to join our team

Sean will be spending the next few weeks listening, getting to know people, and learning about our congregation – our values, our stories, our challenges and our hopes.  In the next few months he will begin to take the lead on our membership ministry, our pastoral care, and our small groups.  You’ll see him in Worship on Sundays, he’ll be leading classes, and he’ll be piloting a new program called Wellspring. And more important than any specific thing he may do, I am most grateful to know he will be a caring, wise, faithful partner to all of us as we travel life’s journey together.

Finally, I have to end this otherwise happy announcement with something less so. Because Sean is a Canadian citizen, we have had to apply for a Visa.  Unfortunately, this application process has become more complicated in the past few years, so that a site inspection to verify we are a church is required.  This site inspection has a 6 month waiting list. As a result, we are now anticipating a likely approval of December.  During this waiting period, Sean is able to continue to live in the United States, and I am grateful to report that he has generously agreed to volunteer his time with us.  Rest assured we have been working with legal counsel throughout this process to ensure we and Sean are in complete compliance with the law, and our attorney is confident he will receive his Visa after the inspection concludes.

I hope you’ll all join me this Sunday in welcoming Sean -and in these coming months ensuring that we have a great beginning to a wonderful new shared ministry.

In partnership,

Gretchen 

 

Moving Forward Together

12247140_10153987859389156_6166450952576757111_nOver the past few weeks, there have been a lot of pictures of me up and around.  It’s been a little uncomfortable, I confess.  The process as a whole has been an interesting and important one, for all of us – sometimes uncomfortable sure, but also sometimes funny, sometimes exhilarating – and often filled with love and grace.
Still, I think the more accurate picture, the more helpful picture for us to lift up at this point is the one I see when I am looking out on Sunday: the whole wonderfully crowded sanctuary and social hall, filled with all of you in all the places you are in your lives, the stories I am aware of, the many I am not, the ways you are connected to each other, the ways you care for each other, your commitment to this church and our liberal religious faith, the questions we all have, the struggles and the triumphs, together. Our church and a successful ministry isn’t about any one of us, and definitely it isn’t me – it’s about us – all of us, together.  We are all in this together, all of us.
In these first few days since my call, I have begun to think about the work ahead, and what we will need to do, and when and how we’ll need to do it.  Over and over I come back to the message I offered the first Sunday of candidating week:

Imagine, it is our task to create an environment and the appropriate forums for it to be safe for any of us to speak honestly, about those things which matter most – about our fears, our hopes, and struggles…..Imagine it is our core task to make space for all the different metaphors, and language, and meaning-making any of us might engage along life’s journey….And imagine that in our Big Tent, rather than believing it is possible to hold this much diversity and maintain a perpetual sense of ease, imagine that it is our practice to be that ‘safe place where we can be uncomfortable.’ …..Imagine that central to anything we do is our Big Tent where we make space for all who welcome all.

As your new senior minister, this is my central commitment to you and to this congregation, that we continue to cultivate an environment where all are truly welcome – all those who are willing to practice with us this idea of welcoming all who welcome all.

To begin, I know that there were a number of you who hoped for a different outcome to my call. I’d like to hear from you.  I want to listen to your concerns and your fears, as well as your hopes and your dreams.  I’d invite you to write me a letter, or make an appointment – after Thanksgiving, perhaps.  I promise I will not take your vote personally or hold it against you – I will respect you – in this, and in all things, to come to your own conclusions.  That is what a free church must ultimately continue to affirm – a trust and a faith in the people to freely choose – and to respectfully disagree.  There is no coercion in covenant – choice is perpetual, and choice is powerful.

And just as importantly, for those who are excited about the outcome, I’d love to hear from you as well.  What inspires you, and how do you see yourself fitting in the journey ahead? And, what questions do you have? What ideas, hopes, needs?

Far beyond this moment, over time, any of us may disagree around small or big things.  If we are to do anything of vision or purpose, we are going to disagree.  That is ok! We can disagree and stay in relationship – that is the big and crazy idea behind “we need not think alike to love alike.”  Paraphrasing the Rev. Kirk Loadman-Copeland, we are not going to be like-minded.  Let us strive instead to be like-hearted.  Our hearts affirm that behind our differences, something more important connects us.  And so at any given time throughout our shared ministry that you find yourself disagreeing – let’s talk about it.  Let’s trust each other enough to assume good intent; and trust that we are all committed to what we understand as the good for this congregation.

In her Facebook post on Monday after the vote, Board member Gale Whitman reflected on the past 48 hours, and shared this hope: “Let’s work together to build a better tomorrow; the world needs us!” I couldn’t have said it better.  There are so many places in our world today where life is at risk, and all around us the earth itself is at risk – our world – and we – need us to work together in service of our shared affirmation that all are worthy of love and belonging, and we are all in this together.  We need all of us.  Let’s keep moving forward, together.

With love, and HUGE gratitude,
Gretchen

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