Thursday, November 3, 2011

Cultivating a Culture of Discernment


So often our experience of church is one of gathering with a large group of people some we recognize, some whose names we know, and occasionally some we have served on a committee or have participated in a program with, but by in large we really don't know the people we have gathered with on a Sunday morning. When was the last time you shared your dreams, your fears, your beliefs, and your joys with someone who sat next to you in the pews (whom you are not related to)?

In September and October we had two gatherings which were open to everyone who walked through the doors of our church. We gathered as a Spiritual Formation Pod and a Mission and Outreach Pod. As a congregation we are restructuring how we work together and these two Pods are the gathering places where people from our congregation discern together how we live out the ministry, mission, and the work of Robertson-Wesley United Church. This may sound intimidating, but it really isn't. Simply put we gathered people to talk in a deep and spiritual way.

Discernment is a process, a spiritual practice which invites us to listen deeply to one another and to God. We listen for commonality, we listen for insights, we listen for passions, and we listen to where God is calling us as a congregation. In these gatherings we sit at small tables with 2 or 3 other people. Then after a 10-15 minutes of conversation we are invited to move to a different table and have another conversation with a different group of people. In these conversations we reflect on our experience, we share stories, we brainstorm ideas, and we LISTEN! The underlining belief of the discernment process is that each person who has gathered has something important to share and we need to provide the space for that to happen. It is with this collective knowledge, experience and wisdom that we are able to discern where the spirit is leading us as a congregation.

These conversations help us to name our purpose as a congregation, it provides a space for people to engage in new ways, to share their ideas, and to identify others who are interested in similar things.

After the gatherings in the fall, one person reflected that these gatherings inspired them, gave them hope, and allowed them to get to know more people in a deep and meaningful way. Others are excited about how these gathering will allow people to find projects to engage in that are short term and flexible.

Here are some of the questions that were asked at these gatherings:
How was your spirituality formed? Who was influential in your spiritual formation?
What words or images come to mind when you hear the word "mission"?
Renewing our faith...how do we do this? How is our faith formed?
Where is God calling us to reach out?

Out of these conversations what stood out for me was how important it is to have mentors, and to build relationships with others. It was clear that the people participating believe that spiritual formation happens in a variety of ways and is not limited to formal programs and the institution. Spiritual formation starts at a very young age. The church offers us and others in our community a sense of belonging, and a safe place to belong where we are accepted for who we are. There is a desire by our congregation to meet people on their own terms, to find ways to help people by empowering them to help themselves, to give back to the community with focus.

This is just a small taste of what happened at those gathering. My hope and prayer is that you will take a risk and join the movement of culture of discernment, and that you will join us when we gather again.

Karen