A Reflection on Our Congregational Discernment
by Pastor Ben Heimach-Snipes
On Sunday, November 19th, our congregation gathered after worship to reflect together on how we can serve each other as a congregation. This was the second Discernment Gathering of seven that are planned over the next year. Around twenty-five members spent just over an hour reflecting personally and then sharing communally about our needs as a congregation.
We started this gathering by reflecting on the first discernment gathering in which we assembled seven major themes of identity for Morgan Park Presbyterian Church. You can see those themes captured in the image below.
After this review, we all took time to reflect and write down our personal thoughts about the needs of the congregation. When we started hearing feedback about our needs, I had trouble organizing them into nice and neat categories that were as simple as the themes we developed in October. After taking some time to reflect on our conversation, I believe part of this lack of simplicity is due to the complex nature of our needs as a congregation. Our needs are overlapping and connecting rather than simple and segregated.
With this complexity in mind, I started putting all of our reflections together rather than trying to pull them apart. After getting everything together on one page, four major themes developed for the needs of the congregation: Spiritual Foundation, Service and Outreach, Social Gatherings and a Culture of Respect and Safety. The specific ministry ideas and activities all overlapped into more than one of these themes, so I put them together in the Venn Diagram below.
Connecting: Let’s start by looking at what is in the middle – that meets all four of the themes we developed.
Worship is a social gathering that provides a spiritual foundation for our congregation, using scripture as a basis for inspiring a culture of love and respect. It is important to consider our worship as a service to the community, because it is often the first way that people encounter our church.
Projects with a Purpose was a phrase brought by Pat Naujoks that describes the many ways we serve our greater community. We came up with many projects that allow us to work together, get to know each other better and provide a positive service for the community. This included VBS, Community Dinners, Quilts for Kids, Habitat for Humanity, Feed My Starving Children and supporting our own Safe Corner Sunday School. For many people, service is a meaningful practice that encourages spiritual growth.
There were many opportunities mentioned for Serving Homebound Members that allow us to remain connected as a community even when physical limitations get in the way: Visiting members at home and providing sermons and study resources, bringing meals to families during a time of loss or illness, and organizing rides for members who can no longer drive.
Learning Together came up in many conversations. We need opportunities to learn about God to deepen our faith. We need opportunities to learn about issues of diversity and inclusion in order to maintain relationships in our diverse community. We need opportunities to learn while having fun, inspiring creativity and encouraging collaboration in our multigenerational congregation. This includes VBS, bible study, Sunday School, movie nights (or days), and other special events.
Overlapping: Some needs were more specific to the overlap of two major themes. I will describe each need going around the diagram clockwise.
Listening to Personal Needs came up both as a general practice for all church members to incorporate into their relationships in the church and as a specific goal for church leaders to provide opportunities for listening and responding to those needs. A characteristic of a diverse and inclusive community is the ability to celebrate new ideas and encourage sharing personal needs. Some examples that were mentioned for the church include having a suggestion box to share ideas, encouraging communication with the pastor and elders, and being prepared to respond to what we hear from the community.
Praying Together is one of our themes of identity that we declared last month. While we do provide opportunities for prayer in our worship and small groups, there was a need mentioned for prayer partners and practicing prayer together. A prayer group may support this need. Having a Revival was also mentioned as a need.
Nurturing Personal Gifts and Talents was a need raised when we were discussing our many opportunities for service. Some people may not believe their gifts and talents are welcome in the church, and we could benefit from spiritual practices that help each of us personally discern what gifts we have to share in the body of Christ.
Community Events related to music, play and hospitality. A need for game nights (or days) as well as movie nights (or days) came up as ways for us to socialize as a congregation to get to know each other better. Our musical events are an important outreach to the community and also provide an opportunity for us to socialize and be inspired.
The Challenge and Complexity of Diversity: Each of these needs is informed by our identity as a diverse congregation. I believe the identity themes that we identified last month are great resources to help us meet our congregational needs. However, meeting our needs as a diverse congregation takes commitment and courage. I am grateful to everyone who participated in this Discernment Gathering. Naming our needs required vulnerability, especially when discussing our needs for respect and our grief over losses in the church. I learned that over the years, MPPC has lost members as an inclusive and diverse identity has become more fully embraced. I encourage you to share with me your reflections on this vulnerable conversation as we prepare for our next challenge in this discernment process.
“Who is my neighbor?” This is the question we will dive into in January as we look at the ways we can serve and be welcoming to the community outside the walls of the church. We will look at demographics and important needs and issues in our community. Please consider volunteering to present on a community group or organization in our South Side context that you think is important to our discernment process as a church. We will gather to share on this topic on January 28th.
Discernment Gathering Dates: January 28th, February 25th, March 25th, April 15th, and May 20th.