What’s Up with Pastor Todd 5-14-21

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 5-14-21

In Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change author William Bridges writes about “using the Neutral Zone creatively.” The “Neutral Zone” is also known as “wilderness time.” It’s the time between the ending of the old way of doing things and the hoped for new beginning. This is the shape of transition: ending–neutral zone–new beginning. In Biblical language there’s “crossing the Red Sea” (ending of enslavement), “wandering in the wilderness” (neutral zone), and “crossing the Jordan River” (new beginning in the Promised Land.)

The Neutral Zone is a tricky part of the transition journey. Much of the work is “below the green line”–that is, it has to do with intangibles such as “information,” “relationships,” and “identity.” It is the inner work that is necessary for something truly new to emerge. It’s sometimes said that at the Red Sea God took God’s people out of slavery. During the wilderness journey, God took slavery out of the people. On the one hand people can become impatient in the Neutral Zone because it seems like “nothing is happening.” On the other hand there’s a danger of becoming stuck in the Neutral Zone. Transitions aren’t meant to last forever.

How can we–in Bridges’ words–”use the Neutral Zone creatively?” Here are two of Bridges’ suggestions. I invite you to share yours:

  1. Consider: “what new roles, reporting relationships, or configurations of the organizational chart do you need to develop to get through this time in the wilderness?” (p.46). One possible org chart change: consider combining committees where appropriate. It’s natural for the old way of doing things to begin to fall apart in the neutral zone. For example, in the wilderness God’s people had to adjust to spending their nights in tents instead of in houses and their days walking instead of making bricks for Pharaoh. One of the things that happens in the Neutral Zone (if things are moving forward in a natural way) is that long time, established leadership will begin to step back, which makes space for new leadership to emerge. What if that new leadership hasn’t emerged yet? My suggestion: combine First Church and South Church teams and rotate leadership or establish co-leadership. Deacons, for example, might consider this. Also the music ministries. Perhaps also the Finance Teams. Rather than try to patch something together, let it fall apart to make space for the new.
  1. “Step back and take stock” (p. 50). This is one of Bridges’ suggestions. I would love to hear your perspective on how things are going thus far. Give me a call (860-990-1073), or send me an email pastor@firstchurchgranby.org. You call also schedule a time on my calendar through our office administrator (sue@firstchurchgranby.org). I’m a data guy and you have data on how things are going. The data are your thoughts, feelings, perspectives, and experiences of this transition time.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 5-7-21

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 5-7-21

In a “Union Service” on April 25, First Church and South Church commissioned six working groups composed of both First Church and South Church members whose purpose is to “imagine a new entity, including: its sense community; its infrastructure; telling its history; its program; its property and its staff and technological communications.” Each of these working groups will be assigned its own coach, who will be meeting with the groups to support their work. 

Many of us are familiar with coaching through our work with Rev. Dr. Claire Bamberg and/or Rev. Paul Nickerson. My transitional ministry contract includes the expectation that I will provide “coaching where appropriate.” But what do we mean by “coaching?”

People use the term “coaching” in many different ways. The definition that Claire and I use comes from the International Coach Federation (ICF), which sets global industry standards for professional coaching. Methodist pastor J. Val Hastings, Founder and President Coaching4Clergy, puts the ICF approach this way: “Here is how I define coaching: As a coach, I help people get the results they want by bringing out the best in them. I’ll also explain that coaching isn’t about fixing people or solving problems, rather coaching is a developmental or discovery-based process. Similar to athletic coaches, we further develop the skill and talent already inherent in the people we coach.”

Coaching is often confused with “consulting.” Consultants tend to “tell you what to do.” They have expertise in a particular field and apply that expertise to your particular situation. Paul Nickerson, for example, uses more of a consultant model. Consulting is helpful. That’s why consulting is such a big business.

Coaching in the ICF model relies on deep listening, powerful questions, and something called “artful language” (which is a discipline of atuning oneself to the client’s preferred vocabulary and style of expression.) These are the basic tools that when deployed effectively can lead to “a-ha” moments of discovery on the part of individuals and groups.

What are some “a-ha” moments that you have noticed in our coaching work so far? Perhaps you’ve had a personal moment of insight. I would love to hear it. Perhaps you’ve noticed a moment in a meeting or one of our Sharing Services in which heads were nodding and there was a feeling of connectedness. The word cloud exercise we did last year that revealed a common “Why” around the words “inspire” and “love” was an “a-ha” moment for many. Discovering these insights and then building an action plan around them is what coaching is designed to do.

We are so blessed to have access to have this much coaching for our project. I’m not aware of any other consolidation projects that have coaches assigned to each working group. I encourage all of us to engage the process wholeheartedly. 

Worship Resource: Mother’s Day

Centering Prayer                                  

Mother God, womb of the world, thank you for mothers, who gave us life from their bodies. Life is the gift that makes all other gifts possible, so we say “Thank you, mom, for life.” A mother’s love can be so intimate as to be overlooked. We repent taking our mothers’ love for granted. A mother’s absence can be so painful as to leave us forever scarred. Give us the grace to embrace our own mothering, as imperfect as it may be. Give us the wisdom to honor our mothers in their full humanity. Give us the will as a nation to pay mothers more than just lip service. We pray for equal pay for equal work. We pray for paid maternity leave. We pray for access to health care and housing and education and all of the tools mothers need to flourish. Amen!        

Worship Resource: 4th Sunday of Easter Year A

The Good Shepherd – John 10:1-16

Opening Prayer                                                                                                                                             

Good Shepherd, teach us to listen for your voice in rumbling traffic, clacking keyboards, complaints, laughter, birdsong, the ringing that remains when all other sounds go silent. Teach us to discern your call amid the myriad voices competing for our attention. Teach us to trust your leading. Amen.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 4-30-21

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 4-30-21

Last week we began exploring the second half of Weird Church: Welcome to the Twenty-First Century by Paul Nixon and Beth Ann Estock. This section describes 21 models, forms, paradigms for doing church that the authors have observed emerging in the 21st century. There are a lot of unknowns about the church of the 21st century, but one thing Nixon and Estock seem fairly certain of is that the “neighborhood, denominationally-franchised church . . . with a weak local vision and identity” is about to disappear.

As I read through the weird church paradigms, it seems to me that a number of them might be components of a new UCC in Granby: “The Simple Cell,” “The Dinner Party,” “The Soulful Community,” “The Community Enterprise,” “The Pilgrimage,” “The Innovation Lab,” “The Tabernacle,” all might manifest themselves in some way even if they don’t become the dominant or “stand alone” model. The book gives current examples of churches following these models. Which one of these example churches would you like to learn more about? 

My hope is that by the end of this process we will land somewhere with some kind of emerging, distinct local identity that new people can connect with. One of the reasons the denominationally-franchised church is headed for extinction is that too often it tries to be everything to everyone and so ends up unable to connect authentically with anyone. In the Book of Revelation, Jesus says to a “lukewarm” church “I will spit you out of my mouth” (3:16).  Trying not to offend anyone, the church as we have known it has feared being weird. 

I’m reminded of our “What’s Your Why?” training. Simon Sinek makes the point that the successful organization connects with the people who already on some level share the organization’s values. That’s why it’s so important as we go through this process to ask “Who is God calling us to reach next?” Rev. Paul Nickerson sometimes calls this person “unchurched Harry and Mary.” All of the weird church paradigms are targeted toward a specific group of people with particular spiritual, emotional, and social needs.

Several years ago Rev. Traci Blackmon, UCC Executive Minister for Witness and Justice, preached at a meeting of the newly formed Southern New England Conference UCC. Her text was the story of the Crossing of the Jordan God’s people were nearing the end of their forty year wilderness journey. Looking across the Jordan River, they could see the Promised Land. Like God did at the Red Sea forty years earlier, God had promised to part the waters for them so that they could cross over. But the waters didn’t part until the people at the front of the procession actually stepped into the water. A way opened up where there hadn’t been one before, but only after the people were willing to step out in faith.

Time and again I’ve found that to be true. And I’m finding it to be true now. I’ve had several exciting conversations with community members who are aware of our collaboration efforts and are interested in partnering with our congregations in creating something new. Every day has the potential to give rise to a clearer vision for our new combined future as long as we are willing and brave enough to continue moving forward in faith.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 4-25-21

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 4-25-21

The second half of Weird Church: Welcome to the 21st Century by Paul Nixon and Beth Ann Estock consists of nineteen short chapters describing different models, approaches, and forms of 21st century church that the authors have observed. As First Church and South Church consider consolidation I encourage you to read these chapters and mind your heart. Do any of these descriptions grab your interest? Do you feel energized? Do you find yourself thinking about how we could do that kind of church here in Granby? One of the keys to success in finding a sustainable future is “following the energy.” 

I find very helpful the “notes of caution” scattered throughout the descriptions. In the weird church era, there are more failures than there are successes. Wise leaders learn from the mistakes of others. One small example that resonated with me: the coffee house church. Back in the aughts I was on a Church Development Committee that oversaw a church restart. The church decided to restart as a coffee shop. We found what Nixon and Estock also discovered: if people want coffee, they will go to a coffee shop, not a church disguised as a coffee shop. Our project ended up failing spectacularly. We also discovered that coffee shop church can succeed when it is supported by a larger organization. Not every creative idea results in a self-sustaining congregation. It’s helpful to be aware of diverse ministry models and the kinds of funding streams they are likely to require. 

As I read through the second half of the book, I realized that I’ve had personal experience with a number of types of weird church. My encouragement is that First Church and South Church folks get out there and visit, experience, and interview people representing as many of these different types as we can. A first step in creating something new is getting a sense of what’s already out there.

For example: “The Neighborhood.” Broadway United Methodist Church in Indianapolis is one of the more famous examples. I met the pastor, Rev. Mike Mather, when I was a church planter in Indiana. I recommend his book Having Nothing, Possessing Everything: Finding Abundant Communities in Unexpected Places. You can listen to a podcast of his approach to “The Neighborhood” here. Closer to home First Congregational Church of Stamford has adopted some of Rev. Mather’s strategies in their restart project. I’m glad to ask if Rev. Mather and/or the folks from FCC Stamford would be willing to chat with us.

There are at least two examples of the “Community Space” type right here in CT. Rev. Dr. Shelly Best is the founder and director of 224 Ecospace in Hartford. I’ve met with Dr. Best and toured the space. She is an amazing person from whom we could learn a lot. The second example:  United Congregational Church of Bridgeport sold their historic building a number of years ago and moved into a community space in which they are developing multiple ministries and income streams. Rev. Sara Smith was very helpful with FCC Stamford and I’m sure would be glad to talk with us. 

I’m aware of a number of other examples of weird churches that we could visit and talk with, but I will save those for the coming weeks.

Worship Resource: Earth Day

Opening Prayer                                                                                                                                       

God of the sparrow, God of the whale, God of quark and quasar, the Psalmist looked at the vastness of the heavens and wondered at your compassion for mere human beings. Thousands of years later we, too, wonder at the vastness of the universe while we exploit and pollute the Earth. Teach us to love our only home the way you love us. Teach us to treat our fellow beings with care. Free us from greed and fear, which drive our self-destructive behaviors. Teach us to trust in your abundant provision. Amen.