Inviting the Newcomer into the Life of the Congregation

Inviting the Newcomer into the Life of the Congregation

by The Rev. Diana V. Gustafson

I came to myself, in a dark world, where the direct way was lost.’
                                                                        Dante, The Divine Comedy

If you have ever taken a personality test, you may have identified personal strengths, such as the ability to organize people or ideas or to express yourself musically, and weaknesses, such as a fear of speaking in public. It can be fun to gain insight into who we are and how we operate in the word. But consider your spiritual gifts and personality. How might tests to identify spiritual gifts give you insight into your relationship with God and your church?

Perhaps no one is more interested in this question than the newcomer to a church and the people dedicated to walking with them on their spiritual journey. Identifying and honoring newcomers’ self-identified talents is vital to guiding them on a path of discipleship.

St. Paul teaches us that:

There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same God; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  ~ 1 Corinthians 12

For the newcomer, understanding their abilities and desires through a spiritual lens is an important first step in their path of discipleship and participating in the life of the congregation. At St. Margaret’s in DC, we invite newcomers into just such a practice of discovery. In our class, “St. Margaret’s Go!,” newcomers journey together, exploring who they are as spiritual beings and the life that God is calling them to. In three one-hour sessions, newcomers identify and explore their spiritual gifts and discern where they are along a pathway of faith. Just as they are learning about the church’s mission, values, and ministry, they discover what this church can offer them and consider how they might participate in and contribute to a community of faith.

The Go! class begins by using pictures of common objects and events, such as crayons in a box or a child crying, to explore the kind of relationship with God they would like to have.

Go! then helps the participants identify where they might start on the threshold of their discipleship paths. Are they “Experiencers,” engaging with God through song, prayer, and fellowship? Or “Searchers,” at a point of questioning Christian theology and investigating concerns about racism or tasting other faiths. Other places along the path are for ‘Belongers,’ who locate themselves in community and corporate worship, and for ‘Owners,’ who regularly pray on their own, and are ready to teach others from their experience and wisdom. Together the class looks at each person’s spiritual gifts, such as “mercy,” “hospitality,” or “wisdom.’” Go! also asks participants about the individuals who have influenced them.

Through such exploration, participants gain a greater understanding of who they are as spiritual beings. They are better equipped for involvement in the life of religious community and worship because they have a stronger sense of self in relation to God. They are ready to self-identify intelligently as disciples.

Discoveries made during St. Margaret’s Go! informs not just participants but leaders as well. Clergy and formation leaders can use participant’s self-identification to plan formation offerings and general forums through the church year. “Experiencers” may be drawn to bible study, for example, while “Searchers” may benefit from classes, such as Sacred Ground, that explore the church’s response to racism. Formation is focused on guiding disciples along their spiritual path toward deeper relationship with Christ. An understanding of spiritual gifts and desires also helps participants and clergy identify ways laypeople can take part in the life of the congregation. The participants may feel a call to join an outreach group, serve as an usher, or attend weekly healing prayer.

You can learn more about the Diocese of Washington’s path of discipleship at www.edow.org/path and learn more about how St. Margaret’s is using that path and spiritual gifts discernment to meet the needs of newcomers at the upcoming course, Spiritual Gifts and the Newcomer noon on November 16. Learn and talk about the needs of the newcomer and how your church can implement a newcomer’s Go! program.

 

Guard the Good Treasures that Are Within You

Guard the Good Treasures that Are Within You

In 2 Timothy, the writer encourages Timothy and his second century Christian community to “guard the good treasures entrusted to you.”  Amid increasing religious disaffiliation today, we may do well to consider doing the same. 

But, what is this good treasure? Is the good treasure our buildings? The sacred items inside our buildings – tables, basins, and pews? Is it the grounds on which this building stands? The pandemic may have shifted our understanding of the place of these material things in our common life. Is our good treasure what we do as a faith community – praising God, sharing meals, baptizing, proclaiming, celebrating, burying, sharing, serving?

What if, as the writer suggests, the good treasures are the gifts God that has sown within you – a relationship with Jesus that presses you to go out into the world to share the good news of God in Christ? What if the good treasure is a way of life that witnesses the presence of God and God’s love for the people in your neighborhood?

The good treasures entrusted to your care begin with your faith – your relationship with Jesus and the trust you have placed in God.

“Guard the good treasures entrusted to you.” 

Twenty-four congregations in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington have now embarked on a three-year journey to guard the good treasures entrusted to them called “Tending Our Soil.” These congregations have been challenged to name, and then steward their good treasures so that they will remain vital bearers of God’s love in this time and place in a rapidly changing world. 

The word entrusted suggests two actions: passing down and caring for. Indeed, our faith is a gift from God passed down through the generations. Just as Timothy’s faith first lived in his grandmother Lois and then in his mother Eunice and finally in Timothy, we are inheritors of good treasure(s). We are the inheritors of faith from your own grandparents, parents, and those who built and stewarded this parish over the centuries. 

Yet, because faith is transmitted from elders to younger generations, the good news of Christ is always one generation away from extinction. 

Today, with declining religious affiliation in the United States, we are acutely aware of this possibility. Every Christian denomination in the United States is now declining. Younger generations in the United States are less and less religious. More than 40 percent of the Gen Z and Millennial generation (those born after 1981) have no religious affiliation compared to 25 percent of Baby Boomers and 20 percent of the Silent Generation.  

Yet, we have been entrusted with good treasures – a gift of God that lives within us – that we are called to share. 

Gen Z and Millennial generations have not stopped seeking the spiritual. Young people today continue to seek identity, purpose, and meaning beyond what can be seen and touched. They continue to ask questions and they do not need to answer life’s big questions alone. 

Tending Our Soil is based on this belief – that local congregations will continue to be the primary form of Christian community… places where Christians gather regularly to worship, teach their religious traditions to their children and youth, extend care to one another, and proclaim love for their neighbors through acts of service and hospitality.  Every congregation serves as a foundational building block of Christian community and a central carrier of faith.

Over three years, the congregations participating in Tending Our Soil will explore and understand the rapidly changing social and cultural context around them; gain greater clarity about their values and mission; and draw on Christian practices from the Episcopal tradition and theology to adapt their ministries to the concerns and gifts of their neighbors. The ultimate aim is to strengthen congregations so that they can better help people deepen their relationships with God, enhance their connections with each other and contribute to the flourishing of their communities and the world.

As Episcopalians, we have been entrusted with much to treasure: good news that our neighbors so desperately want to hear – that they are loved, have infinite value, are called to lives of purpose and meaning, and are not alone. God loves them with a love that endures all things. These are the treasures that are meant to be given away.

You can join by taking part of the many courses that School for Christian Faith and Leadership offers every congregation. Some of these courses feature the very same speakers in Tending Our Soil. The course “Pathways of Discipleship” by the Rev. Dr. Douglas Powe is just one live course. A whole suite of on-demand courses are available too, including these short-courses that focus on parish vitality.

Which course this fall will help you guard the good treasure that is entrusted to you?

Life On The Ground In The Holy Land – A Special Three-Part Series

Life On The Ground In The Holy Land – A Special Three-Part Series

Toward the close of the annual convention of our diocese, Bishop Budde encouraged congregations to enter deep conversation about life in the Holy Land. In response, St. Alban’s is inviting respectful listening to the lived experience of a variety of voices from the Holy Land answering the question: What is life on the ground in the Holy Land like for you personally, and politically?

On June 2nd we will hear from a Palestinian Christian, the Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem, The Most Reverend Hosam Naoum

On June 9th we will hear from two people in dialogue with each other. They bring differing perspectives and experiences. Yossi Klein Halevi, Senior Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and author of Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor (strongly recommended reading for the series) and one of his correspondents in the most recent edition, Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi, who is the former Weston Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and is Director of the Wasatia Academic Institute in Jerusalem. We will also provide registrants with some reading suggested by Professor Dajani Daoudi.

On June 16th we will hear from Stephanie Saldaña, a writer, teacher and journalist who specializes in religious diversity in the Middle East, with a focus on refugees. She lives in Bethlehem and is author of a stunning memoir of her time in Jerusalem, A Country Between: Making a Home where Both Sides of Jerusalem Collide.

There is no cost for participating in the conversation, but registration is required. Please register for the event here.

If you have any questions, please contact the Rev’d Jim Quigley from St. Alban’s Episcopal Church.

Life On The Ground In The Holy Land – A Special Three-Part Series

Life On The Ground In The Holy Land – A Special Three-Part Series

Toward the close of the annual convention of our diocese, Bishop Budde encouraged congregations to enter deep conversation about life in the Holy Land. In response, St. Alban’s is inviting respectful listening to the lived experience of a variety of voices from the Holy Land answering the question: What is life on the ground in the Holy Land like for you personally, and politically?

On June 2nd we will hear from a Palestinian Christian, the Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem, The Most Reverend Hosam Naoum

On June 9th we will hear from two people in dialogue with each other. They bring differing perspectives and experiences. Yossi Klein Halevi, Senior Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and author of Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor (strongly recommended reading for the series) and one of his correspondents in the most recent edition, Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi, who is the former Weston Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and is Director of the Wasatia Academic Institute in Jerusalem. We will also provide registrants with some reading suggested by Professor Dajani Daoudi.

On June 16th we will hear from Stephanie Saldaña, a writer, teacher and journalist who specializes in religious diversity in the Middle East, with a focus on refugees. She lives in Bethlehem and is author of a stunning memoir of her time in Jerusalem, A Country Between: Making a Home where Both Sides of Jerusalem Collide.

There is no cost for participating in the conversation, but registration is required. Please register for the event here.

If you have any questions, please contact the Rev’d Jim Quigley from St. Alban’s Episcopal Church.