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 4-2-21

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 4-2-21

In light of the February 14 decision by First Church and South Church to pursue a path of collaboration, I met with leadership to revise the addendum to my transitional call agreement. This addendum spells out “micro-plans” and “big picture goals” for our ministry together. One of the things that makes transitional ministry different from settled ministry is the inclusion of specific ministry goals in the contracting process.

Our assistant moderator, Lisa Reinhardt, is writing a piece this week on the updated goals for the transitional minister. The first of the updated “micro-plans” is to “remind people of the role of the transition pastor to the congregation.” 

After nearly two years of serving together, my guess is most of us have a pretty good sense of the role of the transition pastor in the congregation. A transitional minister contracts with a congregation for a certain period of time in order to get a certain piece of work done, which the transitional minister and congregation define together. In our case, the piece of work was to find a sustainable future.

For about 18 months we explored a number of options. Six weeks ago we decided to pursue consolidation. The reason for updating the addendum at this point was so that it reflected a focus on the consolidation path. In terms of worship, this will mean more energy focused on worshipping together with South Church and developing a common worship liturgy. In terms of program, it will mean focusing more energy on developing collaborative projects with South Church. In terms of pastoral care, it will mean focusing more energy on working through whatever grief may arise as certain familiar aspects of what it means to be First Congregational Church are let go so that new, vital ministries have the space to sprout and grow.

Years ago in one of our conversations my spiritual director refered to a poem by Richard Wilbur entitled “Seed Leaves.” I keep a copy of it pinned to bulletin boards in both my home and my church offices. To me the poem speaks about the hard choices the path to maturity demands of each of us. When we try to be everything to everyone we often end up being of no use to anyone. Wilbur writes:

“This plant would like to grow 

And yet be embryo; 

Increase, and yet escape 

The doom of taking shape;”

Yet the “stubborn” life force demands the plant take shape. A maple tree becomes a maple tree with its distinct characteristics. It can’t be an oak. Like a tree if we are to grow we can’t escape the doom of taking shape.

The great blessing of transitional ministry is the opportunity it creates for new, distinctive, and focused ministry to take shape.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 3-26-21

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 3-26-21

“To Improve Your Team, First Work on Yourself” is the title of a 2019 Harvard Business Review article that caught my attention this week. This concept is the foundation of my approach to ministry for the past 25 years. It is the bedrock on which family systems theory is built. Family systems theory, first developed by psychiatrist Murray Bowen and adapted for congregations by Rabbi Ed Friedman, has had a huge influence on generations of clergy. This includes my counterpart in the First Church/South Church consolidation effort, Rev. Denny Moon, and our consolidation coach, Rev. Dr. Claire Bamberg. I encourage you to check out the short article both for your own personal edification and as a springboard for conversation as First Church and South Church move into our next stage of work together.

GUCCI, the steering team for the First Church and South Church consolidation effort, is organizing work groups to lead the next stage of our work. The work groups are: 1) “Getting to Know Each Other,” 2) “Nuts and Bolts,” 3) “Properties and Memorial Gardens,” 4) “Staffing, Technology, and Communications,” 5) “History,” and 6) “Program.” 

Considerable thought is being put into the size and composition of these work groups as well as how to build a culture of healthy communication in the work groups so that our time together is productive and to build a healthy foundation for a future congregation.

Which brings me back to the Harvard Business Review article. The author recommends teams master three “foundational capabilities” to improve their functioning: “internal self-awareness, external self-awareness, and personal accountability.”

Internal self-awareness involves understanding your feelings, beliefs, and values — your inner narrative.” The article goes on to give examples of how increasing internal self-awareness affects interactions. For more details on building self-awareness see this HBR article. I have found maintaining a daily meditation practice key to building self-awareness. Coaching and therapy are also incredibly effective modalties for increasing this “foundational capability.”

“External self-awareness involves understanding how our words and actions impact others.” How do we understand how our words and actions impact others? Ask! I have observed the most effective leaders, including Claire, pause a meeting to ask about body language: “You just scrunched up your face. What was happening in you then?” Or repeating what was said and asking, “Did I get that right?” Or “Are you getting what you need out of this conversation?” It can feel risky to ask for feedback, but all of the best leaders do it.

As for accountability: “When we think of accountability, we typically think of holding others accountable. But the most effective leaders and teammates are more focused on holding themselves accountable.”

Years ago I was meeting with a group of church leaders. We were trying to revitalize a dying downtown congregation that had once been the largest in the state. The team had been attempting to engage the wider congregation in the turnaround effort with little success. The meeting devolved into a complaint session about how we had a congregation of freeloaders who needed an attitude adjustment. By some miracle the conversation shifted to looking at our own attitudes and behaviors as leaders. Finally the light bulb went on and the team leader said with conviction: “Nothing will change until we change.” Long story short: after seven years of hard effort, the congregation was completely transformed. Moral of the story: “If you want to improve your team, first work on yourself.” 

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 2-19-21

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 2-19-21

Congratulations! First Congregational Church of Granby took an historic vote this past Sunday in a process of “re-uniting” with our UCC siblings, South Congregational Church of Granby. The “engagement” decision means that the two congregations will begin a more formal process of taking steps to become one, new United Church of Christ in Granby. 

I’m aware that as a congregation we are experiencing quite a mix of feelings: grief, disappointment, hope, excitement, confusion, doubt, impatience, elation, and many others. This is normal and doesn’t necessarily speak to the “rightness” or “wrongness” of the decision. Our congregational ancestors handed down to us this practice of congregational meeting in which we prayerfully seek, to use the words of Jesus, that “not my will, but thy will be done.”

So, we did our best to seek God’s will and the outcome is that we will be pursuing consolidation with South Church using a “marriage” model (see last week’s column). And while there are questions of “what’s next” that the GUCCI team is working to answer, I encourage us to take a moment to sit, breathe, and appreciate this new place in which we find ourselves as a congregation. What does it look like? Feel like? Sound like? 

Years ago I did training with the Mennonites in spiritual discernment for congregations. Mennonites practice Christian peacemaking. They come from the same branch of the Christian family tree as Quakers, Amish, and Bretheren. As I remember it, an important part of the discernment process is “resting,” that is, once a decision is made, take some time to search your heart. What arises? Was something overlooked in the process? Is something unresolved that needs more conversation? Is there a sense of peace? Regardless of our personal feelings about the outcome, is there a sense of completeness that allows us to take the next step forward with confidence? 

I invite us to take this moment to deepen our walk with God.

Lent Worship Resource: Welcome/Benediction

Welcome/Benediction Script Lent 2021

Welcome

Reader One: The Bible says that after Jesus’ baptism the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness where Satan tempted him and angels protected him.

Reader Two: The Bible says that Moses led God’s people on a 40 year journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land.

Reader Three: The spiritual path leads through the wilderness because the wilderness is where we meet God.

Reader Four: This Lenten season we will follow the examples of Jesus, of Moses, of countless ancestors before us and step into the unmapped and unknown areas of our lives. We will examine our doubts, fears, questions, visions, possibilities, and promises for the future trusting in God to guide us. Let’s prepare our hearts for worship. The adventure begins!

Benediction

Reader One: Our hearts are rested; our souls stirred; our vision sharpened; our bodies energized. We step into the new week with courage knowing that whatever we encounter, we are not alone. 

Reader Two: Go in peace to love God and share the good news of new life in Jesus!

Worship Resource 3rd Sunday after Epiphany, Year A

Opening Prayer

Holy God, your Spirit calls and our hearts respond. Your Spirit calls and our world is overturned. Your Spirit calls and our spirits awaken. Your Spirit calls and our minds clear. Your Spirit calls and our bodies relax. Your Spirit calls and anxieties depart. Your Spirit calls and old ways diminish. Your Spirit calls and a new future is born. Amen.