This week’s blog post is written by Reverend David Schoen, Minister for Church Legacy and Closure, for the UCC Church Building & Loan Fund.
In the late winter, early spring there’s a lot to do to get fruit gardens ready for the summer. Pruning raspberries and grape vines, as well as fruit trees is something that I always knew was necessary for summer blossoms and harvest.
Now that I am growing strawberries, I have learned that strawberry beds must be cleaned out every spring to produce good fruit. For several seasons, I thought that pulling out existing plants did not make a lot of sense. But last year, I started rotating out existing plants to introduce new plants which increased the health, size and abundance of the strawberry crop. I learned to let go of what was existing in order to let come the opportunities of the new.
Otto Scharmer, senior lecturer on organizational change, writes on making profound system innovation from the emerging future. In his book Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges Scharmer speaks of societal and personal renewal through a process that includes letting go in order to let come http://www.servicespace.org/inc/ckfinder/userfiles/images/dgood/figure3.JPG. Living into the future requires letting go of what was, in preparation to let come something new.
Is it possible that this time of decline and closure of congregations in the UCC (See p. 6, UCC Statistics Profile – Fall 2017) and throughout other denominations is a season of letting go as spiritual and missional preparation for something new?
In his book “Faithful Resistance: Gospel Visions for the Church in A Time of Empire”, Rick Ufford-Chase writes “So I ask people like me who have given their lives to the church, can we admit that this thing we love is broken? Can we confess our fear as we watch our membership decline and budgets shrink? Can we open ourselves to the possibility that God may be working a new thing in our midst? This may be not a sign of the demise of everything we cherish, but instead an unbelievable opportunity to participate in the transformation and renewal of the spiritual life of the institution that has become the church.”
We are not good at letting go or making changes in our lives and in the church. “We’ve always done it this way” is often the unspoken words beneath our liturgies, activities and visions. Truth is, however, that capacity for adaptive change plays a decisive role for churches today. “In a rapidly changing world, thriving congregations are nearly 10 times more likely to have changed themselves than are struggling congregations.” (See p. 15, Faith Communities Today report, American Congregations 2015: Thriving and Surviving)
We cannot continue doing what we have always done if we want to faithfully follow the Resurrection God who is always about doing something new. “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” Isaiah 43:19
So, where today, in this time of letting go, can we also perceive the future emerging?
Reverend Chris Davies, Director of Congregational Assessment, Support and Advancement recently shared a report “Innovation and Inspiration: What’s New in the UCC?!” highlighting new ministries emerging, renewing and reshaping the church. The report shares information from the applications of congregations seeking grants from the New and Renewing Spiritual Communities Funding as well as descriptions of the recipient ministries.
These spiritual communities help us see the shape of missional ministries emerging in our midst. Some of the formative aspects of these congregations can inform possible changes, challenges and opportunities for churches that are looking toward their future, including;
- mission focused
- community and culturally driven
- LGBTQ welcome and embrace
- justice prominence
- healing and safe space creation
- digital and online outreach
- connection with community, cultural and interfaith allies
- primary focus not on Sunday morning
What does the future require of each of us and our congregations to let go of, in order to let come the opportunities of the new in our ministries and lives?
It is heartening to note, that several years ago a prominent church after a long history of significant ministry as well as several decades of decline, closed and gave a very sizable gift to the New and Renewing Churches Endowment Fund in the UCC. Those legacy funds along with many other gifts including the Strengthen the Church Offering now help support the grants given to these new innovative and inspiring ministries.
During these are days of letting go in the decline and deaths of congregations, just as in our personal lives and deaths, we can look toward a future of the Resurrection God’s working. Do you not perceive it?
Rev. Schoen is one of the writers of the Living Legacy; Church Legacy and Closure Resource (http://www.ucc.org/legacychurch ). To contact Rev. Schoen directly, feel free to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.