After the Outreach meeting this week, one of the members asked me to lobby the leader of another SLG to begin their meetings with the time of sharing that both the Elders and Outreach usually do. We call this practice by a name I think Beth W. provided: “Reconnecting with God; Reconnecting with One Another.”
It’s actually not an uncommon commitment for church meetings to begin with some time of worship, devotion or prayer. For some years, it’s been a recommendation in liberal church circles: deliberately work to make our meetings more about church and feel less like business. There’s even a phrase “worshipful work” wherein we promise people that there will be spiritual rewards to what otherwise might be looked upon disparagingly as “committee meetings.” Sometimes our Elders dedicate as much as 30 or 40 minutes at the beginning of their meetings to such sharing.
The other night, this leader from the Outreach SLG “confessed” to me: “Ok, I wasn’t a supporter of this practice. I thought, ‘it just makes meetings longer, doesn’t add much, takes needed time away from business, and gets me home later.’” But I’m a convert now. And I want the other SLG I serve on to start this way too.”
What did we do to change his mind or heart?!?!
At the beginning of the the Outreach SLG, Steve asked me how I was going to get the meeting going. I wasn’t quite prepared, so I referred to the questions I posed in Sunday’s Pentecost sermon: “Where lately have you seen either God’s power or peace… either in your own life or at large in our world?” (Remember: I also promised in that sermon to find some way for you in worship this Sunday to share any answers you come up…)
Having offered the prompt, in order to give others a moment to think, I began. I shared, as I had in the Pentecost sermon, the inspiration I have drawn from Tony P.’s example. After a scratch the first time, he’s found the gumption to come back for a second try at finding an anchor for a new life in Philly. In that I see courage that comes of faith.
John O. spoke about two hungry homeless men that showed up on Sunday morning. He invited in them in for coffee and a bagel. Seeing Kris F. in her Cubs jersey, they immediately self-identified as Philly’s fans. Quickly, the Old Firsters waiting for church in the lower narthex engaged these guys in a boisterous, animated back and forth. John saw in the natural and fun-filled connections a sign of God’s power to help the church show up, reach out and welcome in.
Alesha told us how her dad’s doctors had recommended a course of treatment he didn’t want. A faithful man, her dad prayed for another way. In time, he found a doctor who offered a medical alternative. Now, after that other treatment, her dad is doing really well. And Alesha find’s God’s power in her dad’s prayers as well as the better way God made towards healing.
But it wasn’t just the staff that shared or had seen evidence of God’s power and peace.
One of the SLG members talked about a brother-in-law with whom he often has very little in common, but nonetheless recognizes his growing appreciation for how that brother-in-law has helped his mother.
Another SLG member told of an experience when silence inexpicably fell on him in the midst of a crowded, noisy room. In that stillness, he was given to hear some directions — that he ought to leave off with the food prep he was engaged in, in order to move towards and offer support to someone grieving the loss of a loved one.
One more SLG member told of a revelation just the day before. At the Sacred Conversation on Race workshop, the Rev. John Dorhauer, the UCC’s General Minister and President. asked the mostly white audience how their parents had taught them white superiority. Our member’s first reaction was that his family wasn’t in any way overtly racist. And in the next second, having never recognized it before, he came to see how many lessons about “better white and lesser Black in America” he had received from his family.
It often doesn’t take much to spur such reflections, revelations and sharing. I think it’s because people, when they come to church, are actually open to, perhaps even prepared for… or at least promised safe space for such considerations and conversations. Prompts or questions can be as simple as:
Share one thing God’s taught you lately?
What “second chance” do you know that clearly only could have come from God?
What’s your reaction to being identified as a Christian or someone ministering in Jesus’ name?
Meditations like these, and sharing what they occasion are transformative and redemptive. Worth all the time it takes in a meeting. In fact, it often changes the way we then go about the business on our agendas. It’s like Faith has been given a seat of honor at the table.
But it’s not just the meeting or the church that benefits. In exercises like these, each of us is helped to recognize God’s presence and action in our lives. And we begin to learn more about ourselves and one another — below the surface that church sometimes leaves us on and where the more important aspects of our lives run like Living Water.
You don’t need to be on a Standing Leadership Group or a Ministry Team to engage in the spiritual discipline of these kinds of conversations and reflections. But if you join one, you might well enjoy the reflections.
Or you might invite a group of your own choosing to reflect and share together. It’s best if you gather physically in the same room. But a small group of people who knows each other well could probably accomplish this via an e-mail list. Anyway you go about trying this, I’d be more than happy to keep you supplied with the questions or prompts to start your reconnecting.
See you in church,