Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.James 3:18 The Message (MSG)
The first part of my strategic plan of how to get through the next year or two of change in the church was to “stay calm,” and I wrote about that last month in my note. This month, I want to cover the second part of the strategic plan – “Stay Connected”.
The culture of the day is incredibly polarized, and with our significant connections coming from hand held devices rather than from holding actual hands, we are less and less likely to be connected well to other people, and to communities of people. Loneliness is rampant, and yet people do not seem to remember how to have significant conversations or connect on a deeper level than our latest video binge (Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee – ask me about it later!). So to say we should stay connected seems simple advice, but it is literally counter-culture at the moment. And yet doctors tell us that people who connect to communities of friends, and in churches, or with hobby groups; live longer and happier lives.
We in the church should have the answers. Jesus was the original small group builder! We gather around table together and share a meal as a sacred part of our journeys. We see community and connection clearly in our theological understanding of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And yet when I send people out as mystery worshippers, to worship anonymously in a local church, they often aren’t welcomed, aren’t spoken to, and aren’t connected to others in the community. We are comfortable with the existing connections we have, and seemingly – no others.
Staying connected will be hard work for the church, but this is sacred and necessary work. We probably need to leave our buildings and form groups with non-Christian people and do life together. We probably will need to open up our lives to people different than us – in age, in ethnicity, in language – in all sorts of ways. We will probably need to define community in new and different ways – across political, social and economic divides that are often invisible, and yet have built high walls around us.
As a District, we are working on intentionally staying connected with our clergy and our laity. We spent the summer meeting with the clergy in clusters, asking questions, and training around the StrengthFinders 2.0 book. We held a meeting with our laity leadership in August, and asked more questions, and heard more creative ideas around leadership development, communications, and outreach. Charge conferences are coming up, and we will do these by connecting and networking with other churches of similar size and location; we hope to help each other through these connections.
We are also working on developing new forms of connections, through church planting and fresh expressions of church communities. We see this is the new Restoration Loudoun church, and in the re-launch of the Vine at Graham Road, as well as the small groups of Arlington Commons and the newest project, Tysons Community Church out of Korean of Greater Washington UMC. New ways, new groups, new people connected to God in new and developing ways. Experiments and new attempts at connecting are alive and well in the Arlington District.
Connecting has strengthened us as a District, and we intend to seek more ways to be in connection. How can we connect better to your congregation? What gifts and talents can your congregation share with the other churches of the District? How can your church, and maybe others around it, connect more deeply into the neighborhoods and communities around you? We are listening…stay connected with us as we find the answers together.