Friends, we have weathered some unique changes over the last three years. This is not news to you! I don’t believe it’s an exaggeration to say that we have been irrevocably changed, by both global and local forces beyond our control. Some of these patterns were trending before the pandemic began, like declining engagement with religious institutions. Others were deeply affected and steered by the pandemic period, like the proliferation of attending worship and other events online. I am inspired and amazed when I reflect on the compassion, trust and tenacity that you displayed throughout it all.
While it may feel as though this particular storm has passed, however, we now find ourselves in circumstances that require a different kind of adaptation and discernment. In her book, Innovating for Love, Kenda Creasy Dean quotes a pastor surveyed during the pandemic as saying, “This is not the crisis. This is the time before the crisis.” A hospital worker might disagree with the assessment, but as far as “the church” is concerned, I hear this as a prophetic statement. We are at a crossroads; a moment of profound questioning about who we are and who we will be.
Someday, we will refer to “the world after COVID” when reflecting on these massive changes and what they produced. For now, we do not yet know exactly where we are going. We know only that we are headed somewhere new and that God is with us in the dying, the regeneration and the new growth.
With gratitude to the gardeners of St. John United, I offer Tending God’s Garden as a guiding image for this 2023 year of planning and imagining. It has helped me prayerfully consider how planning for a sustainable future is a lot like creating a community garden. There will be joys and frustrations, successes and failures, organized plans and surprising infestations, structural prep work and periods of waiting for new buds. As we seek to join God’s creative work, it will be all hands (and bees and blossoms!) on deck. This is prime time to share your hopes, your concerns, and your dreams as we shape our future around what God is doing.
Wood from this house was salvaged to create garden beds in our community garden. What will we salvage, to support what God is growing?
Your church council has approved the formation of a team, tasked with outlining our planning goals and process or “building the garden beds”. That team has put together a proposed process that was approved by council at our last meeting. The summary reads:
“St. John United Lutheran Church is at a crossroads of how to move forward as a congregation and community resource in the setting of currently unsustainable finances, dwindling attendance, and national trends that indicate deep changes in the way people engage with church. This document outlines a plan to engage members and community stakeholders to gather relevant information and facilitate discernment as a congregation to create a vision and plan of St. John United Lutheran Church’s future. The desired outcome is, by the annual meeting in January 2024, to have a budget and decisions that reflect a sustainable plan of St. John United Lutheran Church’s future.”
This work of this team is now almost done. They are currently working on their final task – to build the Phase 1 Strategic Planning Team that will shepherd the first phase of the process; guiding, directing and tending us all along the way. Perhaps they are the sheepdogs of the gardening process? They guide us along three domains:
The culmination of this team’s work will be a Planning Retreat in the Summer of 2023. After a short break for evaluation, led by the council, a new team will be formed. The Phase 2 Strategic Planning Team will pick up from where the retreat left off, developing an action plan, based on a new sustainable vision that has started to take shape.
If you’ve read this far, God bless you! Sometimes, when we talk or write or read about strategic planning, it can get a little blurry. What do these words mean? How is this going to work? The truth is, we don’t have all the answers. We don’t know exactly how we’re going to get to the next phase or what it will look like when we get there. What we do know, and we sense among you, is a readiness to take action and a desire to do it together with God’s liberating love at the center.
Do not remember the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth.
Do you not perceive it?
– Isaiah 43:19
When I read these words from the prophet Isaiah today, I think that we certainly won’t forget the former things, but we also cannot re-member all the former pieces into the same old shapes. We are new. We are different. There is no way, but God’s way. I pray that we can perceive in this moment, the newness that is springing forth.
With gratitude that I get to play in God’ garden with you,
Stay tuned for updates from our new Strategic Planning Team, especially for specific ways you can be involved. Detailed announcements will be made in our weekly email newsletter and in worship. Occasional general updates will post to this website.