In November we held a couple congregational gatherings where we invited conversation about “the state of the congregation” and how to best move forward with our mission and ministry and what staffing may or may not be needed to make that happen. Overall we had 56 people attend the gatherings. At each one we had great conversation with people who are committed and engaged in the ministry we share at Christ Lutheran. While many people shared great insights and ideas, two things stick out to me from the gatherings.
First of all, I was struck by a long time member who invited us to remember that the St. Croix River is both our friend and our nemesis (my words not his). In that, for most churches you can draw a circle spanning maybe 5 miles or so in every direction from the church and say this is your primary community that you are trying to reach. We don’t have that. While we do have a few families who travel in from Osceola, for the most part the St. Croix cuts our primary circle of influence in half. For whatever reason this was one of those “aha” moments - I had never made that connection before. I still think it is great that we are located near the St. Croix, but it does challenge us to develop a clearer understanding of who we are and why anyone would travel to be part of the mission and ministry we share at Christ Lutheran.
The other thing that struck me was the fact that not one person, at either gathering, said something like, “Well I remember when we used to…” Nor did anyone say, “Why don’t we go back and ….” Now to some this might seem like a little thing, but I am pretty sure that within the almost six years now that I have been pastor at Christ Lutheran, this is the first time this has happened. In that, I really do believe this was the first time we had congregational gatherings or meetings where we didn’t get ourselves stuck by trying to bring back either the past that was, or the past that we always imagined. This observation filled me briefly with a sense of accomplishment, but soon it turned to a feeling of fear.
While it is hard to talk about and imagine the present and future of the ministry we share at Christ Lutheran, when we can’t seem to free ourselves from the cherished memories of what used to be, it is even harder when you take that away. At least when you “remembered way back then” we could define who we are by who we used to be. You take that away, then you are left with the question of, “Well, who are you?” “What are you about?” Maybe there is a reason why so many of us in our own lives, much less in our life together as a congregation, try to hold on to what was and what used to be. Yes, we all grow from our experiences, and who we are today is certainly an accumulation of things we have learned along the way, but in the end we are called to be a church of the Now, the Here and the This of life today.
So if we no longer define ourselves simply by saying who we used to be, if we no longer hold so tightly to all we used to do to dictate what we are to do now, the question remains ~ Who are We? If you were going to describe Christ Lutheran to someone who knows nothing about us, what would you say? If you could draw an image of what the ministry of Christ Lutheran looks like, what would you draw? What images would use? Who are we?
In some ways, these questions never leave us - we need to constantly be aware of answering them in the context of the present moment. But especially now, as we begin to plan and imagine our congregation in terms of identity and staffing, it is important that we take some time to answer them. Because, “we’re the church that used to…” just doesn’t seem to do it anymore. I look forward to the conversation.
Posted on Mon, January 26, 2015
by Joel Martin