Advent, Christmas and Epiphany are all about expectations, reflection, change, and journey. We begin this sacred time by making our hearts ready. What is God? What does God want from me? What do I need from God? We move towards the manger not sure how our images of God may be challenged and need to shift. If God rests in a pile of hay as a vulnerable baby needing my care and attention, what does that say about my relationship with God? We sit in the manger and may be taken by surprise as we discover the depth and breath of God’s invitation to be with God and to be with each other. As I gather in the manger, who did I expect to see here? Who was I surprised to see? The truth of the matter is what I am expecting and what is the reality may be thousands of miles apart.
I typically spend the twelve days of Christmas with theologian Howard Thurman. He shares, “The symbol of Christmas—what is it? It is the rainbow arched over the roof of the sky when clouds are heavy and foreboding. It is the cry of life in the newborn babe, when forced from its mother’s nest, it claims the right to life. It is the brooding presence of the Eternal Spirit making crooked ways straight, rough places smooth, tired hearts refreshed, dead hopes stir with newness of life. It is the promise of tomorrow at the close of every day, the movement of life in defiance of death, and the assurance that love is sturdier than hate, that right is more confident than wrong, that good is more permanent than evil.”
As your interim rector, I am on this journey with you for a brief moment in time. When I interviewed for this transitional ministry, I proposed a lens to your wardens as a focus of our work during my time here. I had adapted an interim framework which sought inspiration within Public Narrative based on the work of Marshall Ganz and Caesar Chavez. I have been moving from within their proposed work which is in three sections; story of SELF. story of US. story of NOW. My time with you began by intentionally reflecting upon our individual stories, the stories of self. (Ganz, Public Narrative).
During my first four months here, I have been working through the story of SELF. During this time, I have listened to most of your individual stories. I have done this through many one-on-one intentional conversations. I still have several to schedule so expect a call! This is a holy time for me when I sit and meet with individuals for intentional conversation over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.
The story of SELF began with me being called to serve as your interim rector. I have served now for 3 months. I had 3 primary introductions to the parish. I heard reflections for our wardens Rich and Anne as I interviewed for this position. I was introduced to data collected in the CAT – the congregation assessment tool. And, once a call was issued to me, Daphne generously met with me to share insights about the people and ministry of St. Elisabeth’s. Additionally, in Sunday Forums and Workshops, we did several journaling exercises to individually identify a sacred story in an individual’s path that had a profound impact on the spiritual journey.
The story of US, the second part, begins during the month of January. It is a time when we reflect upon the stories that have been shared and connect them to the congregation’s mission, ministry and timeline. January is the ideal time to be doing this work. We gather together at the annual meeting to celebrate the congregation’s work during 2019. During January and February forums, we will work on creating a congregational history timeline. During these fun, interactive sessions for all ages, we chart the history of St. Elisabeth’s and plot our individual sacramental transitions within the larger story.
Our final work together will be the story of NOW. This concluding work coincides with the Search Committee’s call recommendation to the vestry and begins to close my ministry with you. We prepare to welcome the new rector during a time of celebration, conclusions, sadness, excitement, evaluations, and good-byes; all of which ultimately fills our spirits and souls with hope and expectation; almost a mini-Advent!
During the story of US, we start to utilize CAT data with congregational realities. The CAT is a lens which provides data for areas of curiosity, action and mission. According to your responses, the Cat revealed the following priorities:
• Make necessary changes to attract families with children and youth to our church.
• Develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to reach new people and incorporate them into the life of the church.
• Provide more opportunities for Christian education and spiritual formation at every age and stage of life.
• Create more opportunities for people to form meaningful relationships.
During this second stage of my interim ministry with you we examine and name together challenges for leaders and disciple during busy times. We will discern how Missional aspiration matches actuality. Tradition and culture come together and we consider what we want to do and what we don’t. We consider time and priority commitment, current resources – including both people and financial resources – all starting with the strengths and talents which are abundant. The congregation of St. Elisabeth’s is truly blessed.
Three primary areas of focus which have emerged:
- Formation for Adults and Children – FOCUS QUESTIONS – What is currently happening regarding formation? What is working? What is not? What changes need to occur before the new rector is in place?
- Leadership Development – FOCUS QUESTIONS – Who is hanging out where and doing what? What hopes, expressed in the CAT, can we start organizing and empowering leadership to do? What are we willing to pay for? What are we willing to do? What are our untapped resources?
- Missional Budget – FOCUS QUESTIONS – If a visitor asks to see our budget, what missional story does our budget tell? What story do the numbers tell about the mission of the congregation? How have we budgeted and committed to ministry that transforms our lives, the community of Glencoe, Chicago and the world?
For me, these are exciting and life-giving challenges. The Gospel invites us to create a community of transformation and service – service to God, to each other and to the world. My prayer is that this reflection has inspired some creative stirrings within you that you may wish to share with me and with others. The journey of faith within a holy, caring community is the journey of lifetime.