As leaders, we began quite apprehensively. A process that involves being assessed by peers, council members and members of the congregation for adaptive leadership capacities was for me and other a bit scary. After all who wants to hear the ministry would benefit if they changed the way they lead?
But, in trust, we began the journey. More than fifty lay people representing twelve congregations gathered in Red Deer, Alberta. Some came hopeful they would learn how to live into the future God had planned. Others were praying something would change for their congregation and they would survive. Some were very concerned that the pastor wasn’t at the helm on this journey and others relaxed hearing permission to move forward on their own as a team.
We all seemed to recognize that how we saw ourselves in the world, along with the expectations of being church, culturally and historically needed attention. Together we entered into an unknown process, still hopeful, trusting that God’s presence would sustain us as we were challenged to develop leadership capacities to function in ways different from “the way we have always done things.” The ways we know are comfortable and comforting and they are often our deeply held default. Being sent into the world, into the neighbourhood, to learn from our neighbours was not our usual way of being church.
Throughout this year of listening, attending and discerning, we wondered and pondered in groups, seeking God’s guidance and direction, specific to our Synod, congregations and ourselves. For many, this year could be described as “kairos,” that is an opportune or Spirit led moment in time. Step by step we learned to discern and trust in God’s plans for our ministries and what being sent might look like for our context.
Now we are experimenting, that is trying new ways of being in the neighbourhood, listening and learning as we go. The congregations’ Guiding Teams are testing the waters as they go out together to build relationship, to understand others’ perspectives on life. Some are meeting in neighbour’s houses for conversations, two teams are hoping to share in ESL programs at a local elementary school and the neighbourhood library. Others are reaching into the neighbourhood, joining a game night for seniors, connecting with newcomer migrant workers in the community at a welcome dinner and intentionally listening to an ethnic grandmother group.
The pastors are also experimenting, learning new leadership skills, in ways that challenge them personally, connecting with the neighbourhood. One pastor is experimenting with facilitating community mentors, another developing relationships with people outside the church, and another building relationships with community leaders.
We grow in faith and hope as we continue to recognize God at work in us and through us. Thus far this journey has taught us the importance of listening without judgement as relationship are built and deepened. We also learned we cannot do this alone, needing each other for support and encouragement. The journey continues . . .
Rev. Dr. Julianne Barlow, Assistant for Mission, Synod of Alberta and the Territories, ELCIC