Would you recommend Connecting Communities to other parishes?
“Absolutely. Whatever happens, it opens possibilities otherwise unimagined - and certainly not at the forefront of our conversations when we are focused on ‘butts in the pews’. It's gentle and rigorous; scripted and patterned; and free-flowing and adaptable.” – The Rev. Jan Smith Wood, Grace Church, Sandusky
“YES! Connecting Communities became an important piece of the lifeblood of our church. It engaged and mobilized our parish to get in touch with themselves spiritually, and to pour out love into our communities.” – The Rev. Matt Wahlgren, St. Paul’s Church, Fremont
Connecting Communities – a process to help Diocese of Ohio congregations connect more deeply with God, each other, and their neighborhoods – begins a new year in March 2020 and your parish is invited to join. Here’s how it works: congregational teams of four to six people and their clergy (if they have clergy) attend three Saturday training sessions over nine months. At the trainings, they learn three practices – listening, experimenting, and sharing/reflecting upon stories – which they take back to their churches. The exercises begin with learning to better see God in our lives and to listen to faith stories of other members of our congregations. From there, we move to trying simple experiments that help us do the same outside the walls of our church buildings; for example, taking a walk through the church’s neighborhood looking for signs of God, or being part of a community event in which we do something similar. From there, we share and spiritually reflect upon our stories of those experiments to see what God might be saying to us through them.
In these ways, the three practices of listening, experimenting, and sharing/reflecting begin transforming the way we understand what it means to be sent into the world. We no longer go into our neighborhoods primarily for the purpose of gaining new members or even solely for serving those in need. And we no longer judge such ministries successful only if they result in more people coming to church or more people being “served.” Of course, growing our churches and serving people are worthy Christian endeavors. They just aren’t the fundamental purpose for which we are sent into the world. The Scriptures are the story of God working to reconcile, restore, and redeem relationships so as to bring the fullness of God’s reign to bear within this world. That is God’s mission, as best witnessed in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. And that’s why we say the mission of the church is to work alongside God to “restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” (BCP, 855). Everything else we do is best understood as a means to that end.
What many congregations have discovered through Connecting Communities is that working with God in God’s mission of reconciliation is what brings life, vitality, and new purpose to a congregation; and that doing so is what we are most talking about when we say “and now send us out to do the work you have given us to do." A year ago, the Diocese of Ohio sent a team of four people – Michelle Killin-Keith from St. Peter’s, Lakewood; Kate Gillooly from St. Luke’s, Cleveland; the Rev. Alex Barton from Church of the Redeemer, Lorain; and myself – to learn this process from Dwight Zscheile and others at Luther Seminary. About twenty other dioceses and Lutheran synods have now begun the process in their parishes. In 2019, twelve congregations and about 75 people completed the process here in our diocese.
Connecting Communities uses experiential teaching to introduce these ideas and practices to congregations. That means participants aren’t taught theology in a classroom style and then asked to “go do it in the world,” but are instead taught actionoriented exercises to try and reflect upon. This kind of action/reflection model is a way that adults learn best, and it’s a lot more fun as well. Most people find Connecting Communities to be fun and inspiring. But it isn’t easy. It clearly, but gently, challenges the long held ways we understand our role and work as Christian churches and people in the world. And, at its best, it isn’t a ninemonth process to “complete.” Rather, it is an ongoing way to be the church – a body of Christian people constantly in the process of seeking God in our lives and neighborhoods, listening carefully to our friends and our neighbors, and discerning what God might be saying to us in this moment and the next.
- The three training dates are March 7, May 30, and September 26 at various locations, still to be determined. Expect more information to follow through diocesan emails. Email the Rev. Brad Purdom with questions.
- The cost is $200 all-inclusive for the parish. The link to register is dohio.org/connecting-communities and the deadline is February 17, 2020.