From your Director of Community Engagement

Dear Friends,

I am going to miss you. We made it through 18 months of the pandemic together. And I have slowly but surely fallen in love with you. You are the first church I have served as an intern and as a staff member. And I will remember the ministry that we have done together as a time of trust, creativity, and improv. I certainly didn’t know what to expect when I started, and could not have anticipated the constant changes, revisions and questioning of how to do church together and be a community that cares for one another in this time. I’d like to offer you this reflection on St. John United: I see you as a church that cares deeply for one another and for this neighborhood: the people and this place. Above all, this is a kind community.

Church is one of the few places and institutions where we can make inter-generational friendships and connect with people who we might not encounter elsewhere in our lives. As a person in my 40s, I get to spend time with people  who are one and two generations older than me and two generations younger than me. In other workplaces there has not been such a spread.

I’d like to offer a few highlights on my time here. I love how much you all enjoy breaking bread together: the Lenten soup lunches, the Italian dessert auction, and so many fellowship hours. The first time Holy Communion was served since pandemic, you shed tears. The sanctuary was filled with a joyful spirit. It felt magical to me. I saw you come alive again. It felt like a resurrection of the spirit of your community.

I’m very proud of the green team who had the courage to articulate a big vision of going carbon zero for the congregation, despite not knowing what that would involve and what that would mean. In a year and a half the team has taken many small and a few big steps, generating enthusiasm, commitment, teamwork, hard work, and fun. We can see the physical results of their work all around the building.

I’m also very proud of our church council, for steady, thoughtful investment in maintaining operations in a good way.  The SJU Council and Pastor Anna chose to invest in staffing that would help the church weather changes, and make good use of the late pastor Ruecher’s legacy request. I can’t imagine a better way to honor his gift to SJU then by making sure that the community continues to flourish during a hard time. 

The low points for me have been those times when I was not able to connect with you in the ways that I had hoped. When we were not able to offer more support especially for families, and for folks who have access needs that we weren’t able to meet. I didn’t expect to spend so much time in the liminal space of uncertainty and confusion as well. Some of you know about the many behind-the-scenes conversations that Pastor Anna and I and the council shared on how to re-open our doors, how to restart fellowship, how to reengage or building users, how to revise expectations, how to communicate about what was new. Moving into and through the unknown was a great deal of faithful effort. 

As I go forth from here, I just want to remind you that each one of you embodies wisdom about how to build community. And that is a wisdom that people in your other social circles deeply need.  It is a blessing that you bring to your workplaces, to your retirement communities, to your classmates, your next door neighbors, and online community spaces. The world needs you and your wisdom on how to build community fabric. May you be blessed each and every day as someone who embodies the work of building a Beloved Community.

With gratitude,

Victoria Poling

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