High River United Church of High River, Alberta
     

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28
Mar

Welcome, Connect, Pray, Grow: 4 verbs for HRUC

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Almost a year ago the HRUC Council and a small visioning team began the work of discerning our congregation's mission goals for the next few years.  At that time, we invited the congregation to imagine what it would be like if we were Noah and his family standing on the threshold of the Ark’s big doors peering out and across the landscape of their new normal. 

 

The story of Noah is a powerful narrative for us.  We know the territory of the flood very well.  And we know what it’s like to live into a new normal post disaster.  I imagine that we share our mixed feelings in common with Noah and his family.  To recover, heal, and adapt to our new surroundings is quite a journey

 

The thing that I’ve been noticing, is the unique opportunity we have to welcome the new normal and live into its potential.  Noah and his family stepped off the Ark into a new landscape filled with God’s possibilities and promise. I think that’s the kind of energy that is ours to embrace as we move into the next few years… a new landscape full of God’s possibilities and promise.

 

Going forward, with the support of our Council, the Visioning Team has cast the net widely in order to hear from our congregation, it’s key leaders and representatives from our town.  Four main goals have been distilled from everything that the visioning team heard and experienced.  These goals were approved by our congregation at its AGM in February of this year.  And to distill those goals even more, we’ve arrived at four verbs that express our sense of mission:  welcome, connect, pray, grow.  We have developed a colourful pamphlet that expresses more of what each of these words mean for us as we shape our mission for the next few years.

 

So that’s a little background.  Where do we go from here?  I’m mindful of a phrase that came up in the visioning process that led to the eventual renewal of our facility and its purpose-driven plan designed to serve our mission.  That phrase was, “We don’t shy away from anything”.  That is very true even now and even more important given that there are some things ahead that require our courage and conviction.  We don’t shy away from anything, because we are a community that is “rooted in the love of God and grounded in the teachings of Jesus.”

 

I feel that we need to be more intentional than ever about being a corporate expression of God’s love in the world.  For me that means we continue doing what we are doing and then advance that love even more.  We do that by committing to being the welcoming place where God’s unconditional love is embodied and shared freely and without exception.  Brian Maclaren says this.

 

“What I believe can and should happen is that tens of thousands of congregations will become what I call “schools” or “studios” of love.  …What I care about is whether they are teaching people to live a life of love, from the heart, for God, for all people (no exception) and for all creation.  These churches would aim to take people at every age and ability level and help them become the most loving version of themselves possible.  They would help people face the challenges of life—challenges that could make them bitter, self-absorbed, callous, or hateful—with openness, courage, and generosity.  They would help people recognize when they’re straying from the way of love and help them get back on the path.” (Maclaren, “The Great Spiritual Migration”, p.54)

 

There’s lots I like about what Maclaren says.  In a multi-generational context like ours, we are to teach and live love from the heart for all people and for all creation.  I like the notion that we are a studio of love.  Now, think about that for a moment and wonder about how significant that is for our time.  Salvation comes when we practice and live God’s radical and revolutionary love.  We are about loving one another, loving our church, loving our community, loving the created world around us.  This work--this mission--does not stop no matter our age or capacity.

 

I want to name something that happened a little while ago that disturbed me and Susan.  In a public event designed to give feedback on the future planning direction of our town, a senior man at a table group discussion said, “I don’t really care.  In a couple of years, I’ll be dead… whatever happens during the next thirty years doesn’t matter to me”.  While there’s no denying that some of us may be closer to the end of our lives than others, there’s no excuse in my mind to absent ourselves from being part of God’s mission and working towards God’s future transformation which may or may not be ours to see.  I found this man’s attitude to be self-indulgent and frankly, sad.  But also potentially contagious.

 

We are a congregation where the larger demographic is in the 65 plus cohort.  This means that as a congregation we are on the cusp of a big baton pass as we look to the next up and coming generation to begin owning and growing the mission of High River United Church.  It’s a delicate time.  And a time when we need to immunize ourselves against any contagion that might hinder our capacity to create room for the future.  One of those contagions is for the older generation to expect their version of church to be embraced by the next generation.  It is after all quite excellent and very comfortable. 

 

To be a multi-generational congregation means that while generations may live with different values and expectations, we are already noticing that our assumptions about the other may be wrong and probably are.  In a studio of love, boomers and millennials create room for each other and I will say quite emphatically, the impetus for creating room lies with the older adults, not the younger ones.  So… choosing to be a multi-generational congregation is quite a statement of faith where the older members of the community are about the patient work of extending the invitation to the following generations—a loving and warm invitation to exist as they are, generations filled with the hopes and challenges of learning to live according to the ways of Jesus in real time, in their world.  You might see why I was troubled by the “I’m-gonna-die-whatever-guy”.  There was no invitation. 

 

That’s why I believe it is so important to invest in our goals and the future of our congregation.  We are about the task of making room for the next expression of High River United Church.  Our goals are designed to address the next phase of our congregation’s life and development.  Knowing that we are a people who don’t shy away from anything, it is more important than ever that we cast our eyes across this new landscape trusting in God’s possibility and promise.  We will need to be innovative and faithful.  Creative and spacious.  Open and inviting. 

 

The next generations are distrusting of institutions and organizations.  But they are hugely committed to making a difference and growing in their spirit.  I believe that in terms of capturing the hearts and imagination of those who will become the future graduates of our studio of love, we are very well positioned.  The United Church already holds the values and capacities to engage the next generations while at the same time creating home for all generations.  We are very able to strengthen our multi-generational abilities in a way that is rich and good.

 

I know that the future is unpredictable.  I get that.  But, I do hold a future that includes a strong United Church presence in this community we call High River.  It used to be that this was guaranteed.  It no longer is.  We can’t rest on the past and trust that this will be enough to strengthen our presence into the future.  What we can do is deepen our trust in God, be the studio for teaching God’s love, be the meeting place of faith where we can welcome, connect, pray, grow and together, be the faithful neighbour, the caring friend, the wise leader, the vibrant expression of God’s compassion, the epi-center of peace and right relationship, the source of social innovation, the beacon of hope and promise signalling our awareness that…

 

God is calling us to be an intentional, multi-generational community of faith where we create and share a vital, purpose-driven ministry that makes a difference in our neighbourhood and the world we live in.  The vision I cast is our corporate belief that we are called to be a meeting place supported by a Christian spiritual practice and theology that is progressive, inclusive, vital, and vibrant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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