I find myself consistently marveling at all that has happened during the 10 weeks of my leave as well as at how grateful I am to be back in your midst. I missed you all! There are too many thank you’s to list all of them here, but I want to say a special thanks to Rev. Elizabeth Endicott; our staff Nikki Glantz and Staci Hennings; our re-entry team Myer Haux, Kathy Miczulski, Craig Bialy and Mary Kauffman; our A/V wonder-folks especially Jon Haux, Craig Jump and Paul Heintzleman; and to Brian Kukus and Bernie Depperschmidt who did untold hours of work to prepare the building for re-entry. I know that there were countless others who gave of your time, your skills, and your prayers these last ten weeks. Thank you!
One of the things that has amazed me is the movement we have made as a congregation over these last months. We are now well into our Discernment around Open and Affirming. We have embarked into the world of hybrid worship. Our Mission and Outreach Team has identified an area of focus. Our building is in even better shape than it was pre-pandemic. Oh! And have you heard some of our recent testimonies? The Holy Spirit is moving in and through this beloved community.
As I return, I want to share some reflections from the two leadership retreats we have had since the beginning of 2021. At the first retreat in early February, Associate Conference Minister Rev. Erin Gilmore invited us to delve into the question of “Why?” “Why does our congregation exist?” “What is our purpose?” “To what is God calling us?”
It is easy in our week-in week-out existence to focus on maintenance (and maintenance is important) – maintaining our building and grounds, our staff and volunteers, our membership and programs, simply maintaining our existence. But our purpose, our “WHY” is not simply to exist or to ensure that we exist in twenty years. Our purpose is about something more than that.
As our elected leaders reflected together on this WHY, a few themes emerged about our purpose: welcome, acceptance, love, rest & renewal. We are a community that values welcome and acceptance of all people whoever they are and wherever they are on their journey. We seek to be a place where we experience and share love. And we value time together as an opportunity for rest and renewal, especially in our worship.
In my own prayerful reflections, one word emerged that, for me, encompasses the five themes identified by our leaders: BELONGING. Nora Smith then reflected on the two parts of the word: “BE” and “LONGING.”
The being part is the work of understanding our basic goodness in relationship to the Divine. We ARE children of God. It also connects to the experience of being “met where I am, not where you are.” This BE-ing of BELONGING invites us from our heads (where most of us spend a lot of time) into our hearts. The second part is the LONGING – that sense of wanting our soul to be met and fed. We long for the Holy Spirit. We long to experience God’s presence and call. We long to feel seen and heard and valued. We long for a sense of purpose. We long to become who God has created us to be and to live in God’s beloved community. BELONGING then is so much about an inner journey towards authentic being and then towards God and God’s call.
The idea of BELONGING also invites us into an outer journey: who in our wider community and world does NOT have a strong sense of belonging? Who needs to experience welcome, acceptance, love, rest and renewal? How do we cultivate the inner journey as a community and then share what we experience through that inner journey with the wider world?
I hope and pray this summer that you will spend some time thinking about the idea of BELONGING as it relates to our church community. Do you think it captures some of who we already are and some of who we wish to continue becoming? How does the idea of BELONGING point us to God’s call and our purpose? How does it relate to the things we do week-in and week-out?
I know we will continue to deepen in conversation around these ideas and around our purpose, but I think our leaders are on to something. And I am so grateful to be around to journey with you.
In love and gratitude,