What’s Up with Pastor Todd 3-31-22
Who are we? Where are we going? How do we get there? These are questions a church vitality coach/consultant that I’ve worked with successfully for many years suggested we at First Church Old Saybrook consider. This vitality coach, Rev. Paul Nickerson, also told me that this is the bulk of the work he’s doing with congregations right now. Following the COVID pandemic many congregations are feeling a need to reinvent themselves. Worship attendance is down 40%-60% in all sizes of churches and in all denominations. As Americans continue to explore the many options available to us to lead lives of meaning and purpose, where does the local congregation fit in?
This echoes some of the things I’ve been hearing from FCC Saybrook. At a recent deacons meeting one of the deacons raised the issue of identity and the fact that in her opinion the church didn’t have a strong sense of identity–the “Who are we?” question–and is nevertheless moving in a direction to better define that identity.
Paul suggested FCC Saybrook gather a group of leaders for a Zoom consult with him around the questions Who are we? Where are we going? How do we get there? My invitation to you is to consider whether you might be interested in being a part of that call. Stay tuned!
What’s Up with Pastor Todd 3/24/22
What does the word “grace” mean to you? To me, “grace” points to an attitude of openness, trust, curiosity, invitation, and groundedness. It has a feel of lightness and play. Grace is making space for another person to be their best self. Grace–especially in the Christian sense–is a free gift, undeserved and unconditional.
As a child I was taught that grace is the pivotal point of God’s plan for salvation. We were taught that the whole of the gospel could be summarized in three words: 1) “guilt,” that is, the recognition that every one of us is imperfect and in need of forgiveness, 2) “grace,” that is, God’s unmerited gift of forgiveness and healing through Jesus, 3) and “gratitude,” that is, our response to God’s grace in living lives of joy and service.
The word “grace” came to mind this week as I was listening to your stories about First Church of Christ in Saybrook. Many of your stories were stories of conflict, disagreements, differing viewpoints, the heartbreak that results when differences lead to divisions and divisions lead to folks leaving the church.
Grace in response to differences in perspective could also summarize the recommendation of a church leadership podcast I regularly listen to. In his podcast for this week, church consultant Carey Nieuwhof interviews scholar Francesca Gino, who teaches at Harvard Business School, about her latest article in the Harvard Business Review, entitled, “Managing a Polarized Workforce.” I recommend both the article and the podcast.
Dr. Gino offers very helpful and concrete advice based on her research into what causes and what helps with conflict. Rather than try to summarize them here, I refer you to the resources above. Here are my takeaways:
- Conflict is normal.
- Differing viewpoints are desirable because when they are engaged in a healthy way, they actually increase the organization’s effectiveness.
- We can learn skills to transform conflict into moments of profound insight and deep connection.
- Engaging directly in conversation with someone who disagrees is often not as bad as we imagine it will be.
I’m looking forward to creating grace moments with you as together we learn new behaviors for engaging natural, God-given differences.
Call to Worship
Leader: The God of boundless compassion waits for us with patient expectancy.
All: The God of our ancestors stands in the doorway and continually calls us home.
Leader: God’s unconditional love cannot be earned, only accepted.
All: May our worship reflect God’s infinite embrace.
Gathering Prayer (Unison)
God of our aimless wandering, God of our longing for home, with a broken heart you patiently await our return. Teach us to see ourselves and each other as you see us: your children, made in your image deserving of unconditional love. We don’t always show each other the same love you show us. We have a tendency to sort people into categories of those who deserve love and those who don’t. Shake us out of our limited perspectives. Give us the courage and the skills to listen deeply, to speak the truth in love, and to embrace our brothers and sisters even when it’s difficult to do so. Amen.
Prayer of Dedication
We offer our lives in service as we offer our gifts to you, Holy God, in gratitude for the gift of your child, Jesus, who died and rose again that we might have abundant life now and eternal life in the world to come. Amen.
Call to Worship (Isaiah 55:1-2)
Leader: Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters.
All: You that have no money, come, buy, and eat!
Leader: Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
All: Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves with rich food.
Gathering Prayer (Unison)
Holy God, in a place of so much wealth, why is there so much need? In a land that affords every available comfort, why do we find ourselves uncomfortable, discouraged, depressed? What is this food you spoke of through your prophets? Where is this promised land of milk and honey our ancestors sought? Open our hearts to the only true satisfaction our hearts will ever know: your boundless love.