CONTINUING A CONGREGATIONAL CONVERSATION
Over the past few months we’ve tried to “cultivate a congregational conversation.” We’ve been asking questions like: How best can we respond to the call of the gospel and the needs of community and creation? This was not intended to be a grand critique, but rather are there people, ideas, needs, and biblical leading to which we can be more attentive, more responsive, and more faithful? Part of the impetus for this conversation was the good things that have been happening at Hope: “Children in Worship, ” paying down the debt, new members, “God Loves Me,” meeting ministry share demands, sanctuary reconfiguration, refugee resettlement, babies and baptisms, the gift and growth of the choir, deaconal projects, new small groups, etc.
So, in a few settings we sought a broader congregational conversation and then at the Council Retreat we tried to respond to what we heard of the needs, concerns, and dreams of congregation, scripture, and Spirit. We found it helpful to use the “Values Statement,” which is based on Philippians 2:1-11, as an organizing tool. While the questions were big and the discussions were lively, we tried to end with clear action steps and concrete decisions. To that end we offer this summary as a next step in the conversation. We don’t see this as the culmination of conversation, but as a continuation. We see this as a hopeful forward leaning response that sparks more discussion and that invites more people into shaping Hope’s future.
There was great affirmation for our worship services. There was encouragement to continue striving to be a broad-minded, open-hearted, multigenerational community that is firmly rooted in the reformed tradition, and while being liturgical, is still folksy, friendly, and accessible. To that end, we identified these needs and responses.
Last year we approved the formation of and funding for a “Worship Music Assistant.” We were unsucessful in our first attempt at identifying and hiring a person for this position. However, there continues to be firm commitment to the concept and a renewed effort to secure such a person. Responsibility for this matter is charged to the Administrative Council.
The sanctuary reconfiguration project has been a blessing to our worship life. Gathering around the sacraments, improved sight lines for worship leaders, air conditioning, more people in from under sanctuary wings, and the new pulpit have all been gifts warmly shared. Our artisan is at work finishing the communion table and baptismal font. But, there are a few other practical details that deserve our attention in an effort to be helpful and hospitable to all who join us for worship.
While the current seating arrangement is the most beneficial for the most people we are concerned about the frequency with which we are setting out a row or two of black metal folding chairs in the back. We believe we can do better than this for our visitors and late comers. Therefore, we invite the Facility Enhancement Committee to give renewed attention to our seating arrangement and explore purchasing more chairs for overflow. The goal for this initiative would be a recommendation to the Hope Council by the summer of 2009.
We continue to receive complaints about the quality of sound underneath the sanctuary wings. While we are not sure if this is an issue of amplification or simply the result of being tucked off to the side under a low ceiling, we would ask Building and Grounds to explore ways to enhance the auditory experience of those who worship under the wings.
There is a fluid quality to our worshipping congregation. The configuration of worshippers is consistently different from week to week and there is a steady stream of visitors. We think the exchange between worshipper and usher is often the first point of contact in a service. We think it is an important moment to be helpful and hospitable. Therefore, we are asking the Welcoming Committee to explore the development and training of usher teams to aid in welcoming and seating worshippers. This does not mean that we would lose the gentle touch of all sorts of folks who serve through ushering, but it does ask for a measure of intentionality and raised expectations for that service.
Our life together is a rich gift. We see it in the care and kindness expressed for those who are ill, grieving, or otherwise struggling. We see it in the life long friendships that take root at Hope. We see it in the delight of new relationships being found and formed here. This rich gift demands our attention and tending. Without some investment in organization and hospitality we miss opportunities to help people connect and develop sustaining relationships. The challenge is to provide this support without being too programmed or too pushy.
Hope has organized itself as a collection of households. That structure has lost some of its luster over the years. They haven’t served a clear shared purpose. To that end we are asking Administrative Council to develop an accessible statement of purpose for households and communicate that purpose and structure to the congregation. We are also asking that they develop tools and patterns that match their purpose. This may be as simple as posting household lists and encouraging annual household gathering events.
Our best initiatives at community life have been those that grow from the ground up. And, while we don’t have a “small group ministry” we do have a wide variety of small groups. We want to keep fertilizing that soil. This new Hope website may help people identify groups and match interest. Welcoming Committee is picking up the challenge to develop creative and consistent events for people to meet and mingle while helping us do a better job of connecting new members with ways to serve and be enfolded into our community life. Activities Committee is committed to hosting four multigenerational events a year; while PC-Squared (
One of the finest gifts of our shared life is leadership in worship. Each week we hear the many voices of Hope as people serve as liturgists and musicians, or as they lead us in corporate prayer. We want to expand that gift. We are a community that is ripe with testimony of God’s faithfulness and we’re wondering if there aren’t ways to share in those stories and statements of faith in worship. Sunday worship is certainly our central consistent gathering point; can we develop patterns for shared testimony and credo that bless our community, that honor God, and that fit and flow in our patterns for worship? We are inviting Music and Liturgy Committee to explore developing patterns for “testimony and credo” in worship with the loosely held goal of one such initiative a month.
Finally, there is consistently a great, joyful buzz as we gather for coffee and conversation in the Fellowship Hall. It is also remarkably difficult to hear anything because that joyful buzz has droning echoey quality. We consistently hear of people’s inability to hear as Fellowship Hall fills up with people. We are hopeful that some combination of Building and Grounds and Enhancement committees could help us identify sound deadening material for ceiling and/or walls in Fellowship Hall and offer proposals during the summer of 2009. It is a great space; with some attention its function could be greatly enhanced.
This seems the hardest to get at; we’re not even sure what to call it. There is a healthy tension between what we do as individuals and what we do as a collective. We maintain that every vocation has culture creating, kingdom building, and redemptive value. We understand our worship to shape and inform the way in which we engage the world. We are exceedingly proud of the wide range of ways in which individuals seek after the kingdom. And, we do remarkable things when we band together for the sake of others. Hope Church is one setting where we can stand shoulder to shoulder to collect and combine gifts in service/outreach/engagement with the world.
To that end we have consistently heard a desire to pursue some manner of mutually enriching partnership ~ maybe both locally and globally. We may have unique gifts to offer as a congregation, but there may also be ways in which turning our face toward others in partnership and service may shape, change, and benefit us. We believe that there may be some school, agency, ministry, clinic, or whatnot… with which we could link for a longer term partnership. This is not to diminish the many ways that we already give, but it is an openness to a relationship where we can serve together.
To that end we are suggesting the formation of a “Task Force for Partnership” to help us identify local and/or international partnership possibilities. And, we are proposing that this initiative be included as a $5000 line item in the 2009 budget. As they would determine goals and assess possibilities we want them to have the ability to explore, invite, invest, and lead.
That being said, we also want to highlight what is already being done by people from Hope. There is a remarkable wide range of involvements in ministries and kingdom causes. We think there is great news to share and have dreamed of something like a “ministry fair,” not as a way to bring in outside agencies but to offer a setting where Hope folks can learn from other Hope folks about what they’re doing and what is available for world/cultural engagement. We would ask the Adult Education Committee to develop such a tool for learning about and celebrating what people are already doing.
Every Sunday ~ as our children bless us with the peace of Christ and we respond with the same and then they parade out while waving to their parents or wailing in distress ~ we collectively whisper words of joyful thanksgiving and are reminded of our baptismal promises. It is a holy moment. We have great gifts and great responsibilities. We are exceedingly grateful for the work of the leaders of “Children in Worship” and “God Loves Me” and we celebrate the work of Sunday School, Catechism, GEMs, VBS, Cadets, YEEPs, etc…. All these are ways that as a congregation we endeavor to teach children who they already are in Christ. Even as we recognize those great gifts we know that we need to look to the future.
Therefore, we are proposing the convening of some manner of task force to look at issues of space, safety, and process for parents and kids. This task force would include people from Education and Nurture, Building and Grounds, Enhancement, and Welcoming committees. They would have to seek the counsel of others about safe church practices and look at the ways in which other churches are welcoming and making space for children and families. We would encourage them to dream big, and consider the future, and by the winter of 2009 offer some ideas about how we can best proceed to meeting our needs in education.
Finally, we are reminded of our commitment to include children in our worship services. Our discussions confirmed the priority of multi-generational worship, but we need to continually hold that value in front of our worship planners. The best way that we know to pursue that end is to consistently place it on the agenda of the Elders and the Music and Liturgy Committee.
There you have it! This is primarily a summary of what we’ve heard from council and congregation over the last few years and months. This is not meant to be a detailed plan sent down from on high. It is meant to offer broad stroke direction as we move forward in the next few years and we hope it sparks hope, stirs up more conversation, invites participation, and asks you to join in writing the next pages.
At the congregational meeting of December 14, 2008 this statement was approved as a way to shape direction and decisions for the next few years.