What’s Up with Pastor Todd 4-14-22

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 4-14-22

First Church of Christ in Saybrook Leadership Board is looking for nominations of those who might potentially serve on a Transition Team. The Transition Team is composed of 5 to 9 active FCC Saybrook members in good standing representing the diversity of the congregation in age, length of membership, race, sexual orientation, gender, ability, volunteer involvement, spiritual gifts, and other diversities. 

We hope to have all our nominations gathered by our next meeting, May 17. Please send/email nominations to Moderator Alan Ringen.

The Transition Team meets with the Transitional Pastor twice a month for the first 4 to 6 months and monthly thereafter to guide the congregation through the transition process, which prepares the congregation to call its next settled minister. 

The Transition Team plays a key role in preparing the church to shape its future. Based on my 25 years of experience I can assure you that how a church engages the transition between settled ministers has a huge impact on its future success. It can spell the difference between a call to a long term, healthy settled pastorate and a mismatch that results in conflict and disappointment.

The Transition Team is not the Search Committee. The Transition Team prepares the way for the Search Committee. The Transition Team clarifies essential questions such as “Who are we?” “Where are we going?” and “What kind of leadership do we need to get there?” The result is a congregational profile used by the Search Committee to evaluate potential candidates. 

Nominee criteria: 

  • Is not currently serving on staff at FCCS.
  • At least one person from Leadership Board.
  • Is widely trusted and respected. 
  • Is regular in their attendance and financial support of the congregation.
  • Is committed to the congregation and its future. 
  • Is willing and able to invest the necessary amount of time. 
  • Has a sense of creativity and openness to change.
  • Is able to “Speak the Truth in Love” to the Interim and other members of the congregation. 
  • Is willing and able to listen to all persons and perspectives without becoming defensive or anxious.
  • Is connected to major constituency groups (such as women’s, men’s, youth, music programs, education groups, and social action groups); while this is not a representative process, the ability to have open communication is essential. 

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 3/24/22

Different point of view, an orange colored owl standing out from the crowd. ( 3d render )

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:

  1. Conflict is normal.
  2. Differing viewpoints are desirable because when they are engaged in a healthy way, they actually increase the organization’s effectiveness.
  3. We can learn skills to transform conflict into moments of profound insight and deep connection.
  4. 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.

Worship Resources for the 4th Sunday in Lent, Year C

Rimmington, Eric; The Return of the Prodigal Son; Bradford Museums and Galleries; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-return-of-the-prodigal-son-23177

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.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 1-28-22

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 1-28-22

Many of you likely saw the announcement earlier this week that I’ve accepted a call to First Church of Christ in Saybrook (Congregational). My last Sunday with First Church will be March 6. Between now and then we will consolidating the gains we’ve made during our time together and preparing for the bridge to what’s next. 

My role at FCC Saybrook will be, once again, transitional. The church is interested in doing revitalization work before it considers its next move. I look forward to helping them in that effort. What revitalization looks like during what we hope is the tail end of a global pandemic is a question foremost in a lot of minds and will likely be a key question for FCC Granby regardless of the decision on consolidation. A consolidated church is not necessarily a growing church unless intentional efforts are made to reach new people.

What will church vitality mean moving forward? No one really knows. For some decades now the world has been shifting from the linear “progress” change model to a “disruptive” change model, which makes it very difficult to infer the future from the past. Nevertheless, Carey Nieuwhoff’s latest blog post entitled “Five Faulty Assumptions About the Future Church” rings true for me. Number 2: “The Building Will Be the Center of Ministry,” and number 3: “You Don’t Need to Take Online Ministry that Seriously” seem particularly relevant. Already expectations around online engagement have changed at First Church. We expect that there will be a Zoom option for meetings. We expect a livestream option for worship. What we have yet to develop is how to turn “views” into vital spiritual connections. My guess is that this will be a piece of future vitality. 

Interestingly, another piece of vitality in a time of disruptive change came up at my annual physical exam this morning. In my conversation with my primary care physician the very popular topic of the pandemic and mental health came up. She talked about the importance of staying “grounded” and her personal daily practice of grounding, which sounded like simply finding a moment during the day to still her body and quiet her mind. It reminded me of my childhood church, which emphasized personal “quiet time.” During this pandemic time my meditation group shifted to Zoom and has grown exponentially because of it. Pre-pandemic we would get 6-7 people on a weekday morning. Now we average 20-30, sometimes more. We have folks joining us from places as far away as Columbia, Denmark, the UK, Germany, and Iran. How can First Church, South Church, FCC Saybrook, all our congregations stay grounded in a time of ongoing disruption? If we’re waiting for an extended time of “smooth sailing” to engage in vitality work, we could be waiting a long while. If my meditation group is any indication, leaning into the disruption can actually produce vitality.

All of this is easier said than done. I am not a person who naturally welcomes disruption. I prefer smooth sailing. Psalm 23 says, “He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” I have found that in stormy times the still waters are still accessible. Deep below the surface there are hidden aquifers of spiritual refreshment that will sustain our vitality if we stay grounded, like a tree that reaches with its roots down to the living water. 

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 9-10-21 through 10-15-21

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 9-10-21

Abraham asked good questions. When God appears to Abraham in a dream, God says, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”  2 But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” (Genesis 15:1-2). The dream dialogue unfolds from there. God clarifies the exact nature of God’s plan in response to Abraham’s questions. 

Powerful questions are an important tool for dreaming together. What often begins as a vague feeling becomes detailed vision becomes a concrete action plan through the process of asking and responding to questions. 

Below is a list of questions I came up with regarding the transition process at First Church. I would love to hear your responses to these questions. You can write them in an email or call me on the phone or set up a Zoom. I’ll document the responses in survey form without sharing your identity–unless you want me to. I’m also interested in questions you would add to this list.

  1. What did you think the transition process would be like?
  2. How has it been different?
  3. What about the transition process gives you energy?
  4. What do you find draining?
  5. What is going well?
  6. What could go better?
  7. Where have you noticed God in this process?
  8. When have you felt God’s absence?
  9. What worries you going forward?
  10. Imagine five years from now. Looking back, what will you be most proud of?
  11. Imagine five years from now. Looking back, what do you wish we had done differently?

I look forward to hearing your responses . . . and your questions.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 9-17-21

Last week I noted that Abraham asked good questions. Genesis 15 tells us a story of Abraham questioning God’s plan to give him the gift of a legacy. Abraham says (I’m paraphrasing), “I’ve left everything behind to follow you to the Promised Land, but how will I pass on this land to my descendants when Sarah and I have no children?” What’s the plan? Great question. Abraham could have left it there and just waited for a response. It turns out, however, that behind Abraham’s question lay a feeling of grief and an entire narrative scaffolding built up around it.

Abraham’s exact question, according to the Bible, was, “My Lord God, what would you give me, for I am going to die childless/accursed.” “Childless” and “accursed” were presumed to be one and the same thing in ancient Near Eastern cultures. If you could not produce an heir, something was wrong with you. Abraham was telling himself a story about who he was and who God was and what his situation meant. Storytelling is a profoundly human activity. And Genesis 15 shows us that the stories we tell ourselves are not always accurate.

Genesis tells us that Abraham was NOT cursed. God’s intention was to bless him with a legacy as vast as the starry sky. If we count not only those who trace their biological lineage to Abraham but also those who trace their spiritual lineage to Abraham, we see that God kept God’s promise. Countless billions over thousands of years have numbered themselves among the “children of Abraham.”

Last week I shared a list of questions about our transition process at First Church. Some responses have started to come in. I hope to receive more! Gathering data from open ended questions is called “qualitative research.” For me, the value of qualitative research is not to arrive at some fixed “truth” about the transition process. Rather, the purpose is to uncover the stories we are telling ourselves about the transition process. Then we can evaluate the stories. Are they accurate? Are they helpful? What are some other stories we might construct given the same data? 

So here they are again. And once again you can respond with email or we can talk by phone or Zoom or some other way. Your choice.

  1. What did you think the transition process would be like?
  2. How has it been different?
  3. What about the transition process gives you energy?
  4. What do you find draining?
  5. What is going well?
  6. What could go better?
  7. Where have you noticed God in this process?
  8. When have you felt God’s absence?
  9. What worries you going forward?
  10. Imagine five years from now. Looking back, what will you be most proud of?
  11. Imagine five years from now. Looking back, what do you wish we had done differently?

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 10-1-21

A couple of weeks ago I shared a list of questions about our transition process at First Congregational Church of Granby. If you haven’t yet responded, I encourage you to take a few moments to share your thoughts. You can respond in an email, phone call, Zoom meeting, in-person . . . whatever form suits you. The questions are:

  1. What did you think the transition process would be like?
  2. How has it been different?
  3. What about the transition process gives you energy?
  4. What do you find draining?
  5. What is going well?
  6. What could go better?
  7. Where have you noticed God in this process?
  8. When have you felt God’s absence?
  9. What worries you going forward?
  10. Imagine five years from now. Looking back, what will you be most proud of?
  11. Imagine five years from now. Looking back, what do you wish we had done differently?

So far I’ve gotten four responses. A surveyor always hopes for more responses; nevertheless, we move forward with the ones we have and publish new findings when we have new data. Today we’ll look at responses to just the first two questions:

First a general observation: Respondents identified “transition” with the South Congregational Church collaboration/consolidation process even though there have been other parts to the transition work, namely, vitality, changes in worship, care ministry, and so on. This is understandable since the bulk of our resources have been focused on the consolidation effort.

Question one gets at expectations: Of the four responses, half said the process has met expectations. Half said it has not. More specifically, half said they expected the process to be messy and confusing. Half expected it to be quicker and more straightforward given the preliminary work that had been done during the previous settled minister’s tenure at FCC.

Question two gets at divergence from expectation. Responses identified the following “surprises”:

  • COVID (one mention).
  • Differences between the churches in their self-perceptions of sustainability, namely, FCC perceiving itself as having an unsustainable trajectory and SCC having a perception of a sustainable trajectory (two mentions).
  • Differences in consolidation models each church brought to the table: “lead-church, joining church” model vs. “consolidation/restart model.” (two mentions).
  • Differences in church culture as it relates to clergy roles, namely, “minister-led” vs. “congregation-led” models (two mentions). 

I have some thoughts about the responses received so far. What do you make of them? More importantly, how would you respond to these questions and would you be willing to share your responses? More to come . . .

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 10-8-21

A couple more responses to our informal transition process survey have come in making the current total six. You can access the survey questions here. You can respond verbally or in writing. This week we’ll take a look at responses to questions 5-8:

5.  What is going well?

  • Working Groups/GUCCI (5 responses).
  • Unite events/meeting new people (3 responses).
  • Spiritual practice of open-mindedness and patience.

6.  What could go better? 

  • A perceived lack of engagement/enthusiasm notice both among FCC folks and SCC folks.
  • More meeting in person.
  • Perceived differences in understanding between the churches of the consolidation model: (lead church-joining church vs. merger/restart)
  • Lack of clarity about what decisions regarding consolidation need to be made now vs. after a vote to consolidate.

7.  Where have you noticed God in this process?

  • In depth, face-to-face conversations, joint activities/worship, hearing life stories (3 responses).
  • Not applicable since this is primarily a “secular/business” process (2 responses).
  • In knowing that “it’s the right thing” to serve the church’s mission.

8.  When have you felt God’s absence?

  • The perception that FCC is actively engaged in a transition process and SCC is not (2 responses).
  • Not applicable (1 response).
  • God is always present!
  • “‘Us and them’ talk.”
  • One person responded to this question by offering their own vision for a new, united Granby UCC with a new vision for a mission that is “beyond the Christian club mentality.”

Thanks to everyone for your responses thus far. Next week we’ll take a look at responses to 

9.  What worries you going forward?

10.  Imagine five years from now. Looking back, what will you be most proud of?

11.  Imagine five years from now. Looking back, what do you wish we had done differently?

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 10-15-21

This week a summary of responses to the final three questions of our transition survey. See the full list of questions here.

9.  What worries you going forward?

  • Perceived lack of clear leadership from GUCCI around the decision-making process. (Image: “A camel is a horse designed by committee.)
  • Disengagement of FCCG folks from process and what that will mean for future decision making. (2 responses.)
  • Differences between congregations in understanding of transition and consolidation particularly as it relates to concrete changes in the “way we do things.”
  • Not worried.

10.  Imagine five years from now. Looking back, what will you be most proud of?

  • Playing a part in forming a new church that will: a) have a stronger mission, b) be more effective in serving community, c) be modern and forward looking, and d) ensure a continued UCC presence in Granby. (5 responses.)
  • That we persevered despite differences.
  • That we were MORE active during COVID while other churches were “shut down.”

11.  Imagine five years from now. Looking back, what do you wish we had done differently?

  • Taken more time for congregations to build a common understanding around sustainability, transition, and consolidation models. (5 responses.)
  • Listen to a wider range of SCCG people more closely.
  • Taken more time to clarify decision making process before engaging Working Groups.
  • If the churches decided not to consolidate, that we did not feel a strong enough sense of urgency.

Thanks to everyone who participated. Some themes that I have noticed in the responses: 

1. That energy, optimism, and hope come from connecting with people to create something new. It occurred to me that this opportunity is always and has always been available to us regardless of transition or consolidation process. We always have the ability to connect. This vitality work. We now know how to do this. It’s simply a matter of deciding to step out of our bubble of isolation and reach new people.

2. That a perceived lack of clarity around process, direction, and goal tends to generate anxiety. The more we can work together to clarify What is it we actually want? What is it God is calling us to? And in the meantime create a space of active, expectant waiting. Imagine this time like Advent, perhaps. We’re busy preparing for the One to come. As Isaiah says, “Those who wait upon the LORD will renew their strength.”

What themes, lessons, pointers do you glean from these initial findings? 

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 8-27-21

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 8-27-21

The fall 2021 theme for worship at First Church and South Church is “Dreaming Together.” As a reminder, we will be sharing Union Services on the first and third Sundays of the month. The remaining Sundays we will be worshipping separately. In September and November the Union Services will be hosted by First Church. In October and December the Union Services will be hosted by South Church.

At our “What is Your Why?” workshops way back in 2019 and 2020, we watched a TED talk by Simon Sinek in which he refers to MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Sinek argued that over 200,000 people showed up on the Washington Mall that day in 1967not for Dr. King but for themselves. They showed up because they had already dreamed a dream of racial justice in the U.S. Dr. King’s genius was his ability to articulate a dream that many already shared and to translate that dream into concrete reality.

The purpose of the “What is Your Why?” workshops we shared together with South Church was to invite both of our congregations into a similar “dreaming” process. African Americans have faced and continue to face indescribable suffering due to system racism. The dream of racial justice arose out of that suffering. First Church and South Church are facing our own communal suffering due to diminished human and financial resources to support our ministries. Staff have been cut, beloved events have fallen by the wayside, programs have been discontinued due to lack of participation, volunteers face burnout, members have left, conflict has arisen, fewer people are supporting a greater share of the annual budget, the long term health of our endowments is threatened. The list goes on. Just as a communal dream arose in response to racial injustice, so too, a dream for collaboration and consolidation has arisen in response to decline among the congregational churches in Granby. Godly dreams arise out of real world suffering. Making these dreams real can change the world.

Over the summer six working groups composed of First Church and South Church members have been working on clarifying a dream or dreams of a new, consolidated Granby UCC. Worship at both churches this fall will focus on what it means to dream God’s dream for our lives. The work of dreaming together isn’t for the working groups alone. The dream of a vital, sustainable UCC movement in Granby will become reality when each of us takes up the work of dreaming together. 

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 8-13-21

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 8-13-21

As First Church and South Church face another autumn season with the coronavirus I’m reminded of a time someone jokingly said, “These are the good old days.” This is an important reminder both for us personally and for organizations in transition. As meditation teacher Ram Dass famously said, “Be here now.” Jesus said, “Keep awake!” (Mk. 13:35). Human beings have a tendency to cling to the past and fantasize about the future. Meanwhile, our lives are happening right here, right now. 

When the Israelites were journeying through the wilderness they longed to go back to Egypt even though it meant enslavement. They complained to Moses about his leadership. Moses, in turn, complained to God. Yet, generations later when the prophets found themselves facing the decadence aarnd corruption of an established Kingdom of Israel, they wrote with longing about the simpler times when the Israelites wandered through the desert and worshipped in a tent. “Oh, how close our ancestors were to God!” So, if we find ourselves in a bit of a wilderness time, remember, these are the good old days!

How can we “be here now” in the midst of the pressures and pulls of transition? In a recent article “It takes faith to resist the attention economy,” by Rev. Katherine Willis Pershey writes about the search for groundedness in the midst of a sabbatical in the midst of a pandemic. Her answer is to return to those practices that keep her attention on Jesus, worship being one of them, even when there might be more exciting alternatives to give her attention to. In fact, in this “attention economy” in which social media companies have developed sophisticated algorithms to capture our attention and sell it, devoting our lives to the simple practices of prayer, Scripture, song, and service are courageous acts of resistance to a culture that incentivizes exploitation for profit. Worship, devotion, prayer, and meditation in their many forms can return us to the present moment. Let’s enjoy the good old days while we’re living them!

What’s Up with Pastor Todd

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 8-6-21

Here are some responses I’ve been hearing to my informal survey of the First Church/South Church collaboration/consolidation process. Hopeful signs: Reports that UNITE is uniting! After some initial tension around the type and amount of programming for “uniting” people, it sounds like a “both/and” approach is beginning to emerge. Breakthroughs have occurred as members of the working group have shared their personal stories and what connects with them. Particular sensitivity has been raised around the kinds of events that feel welcoming for people in recovery. This is a great example of how making space for diverse voices expands our perspective, which in turn expands our ability to connect with people.

More hopeful signs: Folks from the property working group have been working with their coach to do yet another critical piece of “both/and” work. With the leadership of the coach they are thinking about “mission.” They are also doing a detailed evaluation/inventory of our properties in an attempt to get a more “objective” handle on the property resources both churches bring to the table. Keeping mission in mind while doing an objective assessment will give our congregations the resources we need to make wise decisions about what physical properties will best serve the new mission of the new church.

I’m hearing questions about what decisions are best made during transition time versus “after the settled pastor has arrived.” My two cents: First, we might want to think of this person not so much as a “settled minister,” but as a “restart pastor,” with the requisite gifts and experience for creating something new. Second, having served as both a settled minister and transitional I can see both sides. There is not a hard and fast rule. Here are some questions we can ask ourselves: 

  • “Are we ‘waiting’ simply to put off making a tough decision?” In this case we’re neither serving ourselves nor our future settled (restart) minister; We might ask “What is preventing us from making this tough decision now? Lack of resources? Lack of information? Lack of willingness? What can we do to address these issues?
  • “Will making this decision now help us clarify our vision for the future so that we can put ourselves in the best position possible for finding a good settled (restart) pastor ‘match?’”
  • “If we decide to wait with this decision, are we really open to letting our future settled (restart) minister lead on this issue? If so, how will we make this expectation clear to the congregation?”

Examples: As a settled minister I have been in situations where church leadership told me that there was a staff member who clearly needed to be let go. Instead of just making that tough choice during the transition, they put it off for the settled minister. This was NOT helpful because it made my job of bonding with the congregation that much more difficult. On the other hand, I’ve had situations where the church hired staff during transition when as a settled minister I would have preferred the position filled on an acting basis so I could have more input in building the team. This same sort of dynamic is at play with properties, finances, program, etc. So, as I said, there is no hard and fast rule; rather, it’s a process of discernment. Starting something new is all about building momentum. My encouragement is to use this transition time when things are in flux to set up your future “settled” (restart) minister for success.