Tony's paper helped me understand why I feel such a deep commitment and passion for Small Group Ministry. Small Groups, or similar environments based on deep listening and spiritual reflection, truly seem to be the fertile ground that can create a mission-driven, relevant, engaged faith community that understands what "saves them" and then wants to live that out in the world. We're still tinkering with our Small Group model, but we're clear that some environment like this really matters.
Just this morning, I read this piece by the Alban Institute, "Rational Functionalism," by N. Graham Standish, which dovetails nicely with Lorenzen's piece. Here's an excerpt that really spoke to me:
What I have consistently noticed in almost all thriving congregations, however, is that what makes the difference is the extent to which the community is open to God at its core. Many churches simply aren't open to God. They let the will, ego, and purpose of the dominant voices in their congregation, whether the pastor's or that of a few strong members, drive the agenda. Instead of seeking God's call and purpose, they argue over who is right and wrong. Declining churches tend not to be open to God's presence.First Universalist Church feels like a "thriving congregation," (and by many metrics, we are) but after I read this piece, I had to stop and pause. If Standish is right, and if Tony Lorenzo is right (and I think, in general, they both are), then we have a lot of really important spiritual work to do at First Universalist. We have definitely started down the right road, and as a body, we're beginning to seriously reflect on the question, "What is Love/Life/God calling us to now?" This deep reflection and listening will be especially important as we move into our Strategic Planning Process in the coming months.
But it's not easy. As Unitarian Universalists, we can get hung up on the language of God or God's Presence. We can get focused on the functional task in front of us, and fail to step back and listen and reflect. And speaking from personal experience, it can be a challenging, scary (and life giving!) process to truly listen to Love's call (God's call) on your life, or the life of your community.
But it's critical we do this, and continue to do it, because the core of the work is about getting our egos out of the way, and truly discerning how we and First Universalist can be instruments of healing love in the life of our community.
And I think both these articles point to ways that can happen.
If you can't tell, all of this has stirred me up! So dear readers, First Universalist members and others, please chime in, I'd love to hear your thoughts!