Space for Grace: Old First E-pistle 07.23.15

Space for Grace: Old First E-pistle 07.23.15

Listening to the candidates applying for the outreach coordinator position, one could not miss how the job is interesting to people because the church itself is attractive to them. Basically, we heard candidates excited about the opportunity at an open church that serves deeply.

We actually do specialize in direct service– clothing, feeding, sheltering, community-building, guiding, teaching. It is a deep, almost intrinsic part of who we are as a church. In our understanding of the faith, helping our neighbors materially is central to our practice.

Direct service is so true for us that some of us try to push our community towards more advocacy — that we might also work on conditions that produce the social needs we try to meet. Direct service is so true for us that sometimes I wish we focused more and articulated better how changing lives with spiritual nurture is central to our mission as the church.

Now admittedly, interviewing people for the Outreach Coordinator position, we ought not be too surprised that our small sample turned out to be a self-selected group with a high regard for social service and outreach! Still I think it’s fair to say that Old First has a bigger than average footprint when it comes to translating our faith into food, shelter, clean clothes and community.

Secondarily, we heard people’s excitement about a church they perceived — even from afar — as non-dogmatic, welcoming, eclectic, diverse and affirming of differences (our website is working!). Multiple candidates shared their needs or hopes of finding a church they could call home. We may not be what they are looking for, but I trust we are special enough to be worth their time looking at us.

It’s affirming to see our strengths reflected in newcomers’ admiration. And helpful in our day when doing and being the church can feel like an uphill struggle. But I wonder sometimes: in our relationships of trust with one another and in our commitment to this faith community, could we also make room for and be able to hear from one another what we’d like our church to be better at?

(If you have ever read Peter Senge’s “The Fifth Discipline,” I’m talking growth towards group problem solving using the a systems thinking method in order to convert churches into learning organizations. If only we could develop three core learning capacities — fostering aspiration, developing deeply honest and humble, reflective conversations, and an understanding complexity.)

If you have an answer to the question “what I’d like our church to be better at” — or even a list of suggestions — I’d love to hear what you have to say. And then to think with you how we might share your ideas more widely.

One more thing about our outreach interviews. One of our participants shared with me that our deliberations were an example of what’s to love about Old First:

“…the complexities, the oddities, even enigmas, and the unlikelihood of reaching consensus with so many seemingly incompatible agendas in play, on the way to what we hope will be a potentially transformative decision.”

In somewhat of a conclusion — or at least a reminder — of how Old First adds to our lives:

“It shows us again and again how working together and outside our comfort zones can sometimes lead to amazing moments of grace.”

Amen.

See you in church,

Michael