What we have before us lies on the cusp of being either depressive, discouraging, and potentially panic filled - or an opportunity to see this time as one asking us to be adaptive to the challenge, open to possibility, hopeful, and therefore quite possibly transformational.
I have invited us to approach this time, from the end of December until today, as a process of discernment and prayer keeping ever mindful of the need for a good sense of humor.
Discernment is an ancient Christian discipline, a practice that involves self-reflection, asking questions, taking risks, and…paying attention to what is going on deep inside. This paying attention requires us to focus on the subtle and the sublime – listening to overtones, paying attention to what quickens inside of us, surrendering ourselves to God’s love. It’s paying attention when we are not at all sure where we are going. Diana Butler Bass in Christianity for the Rest of Us says, “Discernment is an odd guide, however for it not only points the way on the journey but is a sort of destination in itself.” Pg 96.
Mark McIntosh, who led our adult forum several years ago and preached a sermon on being distracted from prayer by eating Doritos, suggests that discernment entails more than just listening for the spirit. Discernment has five phases: faith, distinguishing between good and evil, practical wisdom, sensitivity to pursue God’s will, and contemplation of wisdom. Together these take us past a technique driven or self interest self help spirituality. Discernment happens on an individual and a communal level.
Today we are not going to engage in a problem solving solution based process with quick fix answers. I want us to spend some time in silence and some time talking with our table groups. And then some time sharing with the group as a whole.
What we are going to look at are ideas for how we can adapt to the challenges before us – these challenges are – how to be good stewards of the resources we have before us. How to best use our resources of time, talent, and finances, to shape and form us for the future of this parish.
I want us to be careful to not get so bogged down by nuts and bolts that we lose sight of our real job here today. I don’t want us to rush into problem solving and coming up with solutions. I want us to be calm, focused, and willing to engage in creative conversation, silence, and prayer.
The process will look like this:
The treasurer will give us the report on the parish finances, how we ended up 2006 and also the proposed budget for 2007. You may ask us questions about the report and budget but let’s not have a problem solving discussion. Refrain from saying, at this point in time, “Let’s do this” or “let’s do that”. Try to suspend all impulse in that direction for the time being.
Following the treasurers report we will watch a power point presentation that guides us through our recent history. Then we will move into some discerning time: to do this, I will offer a prayer, invite some time for silence, give you a question, invite more time for silence, than ask you to discuss the question as a group at your tables.
I will repeat this four times for four questions. Between each question we will come together as a group and see what has risen up among us.
Clarify what matters most. Remember don’t focus on nuts and bolts stuff, move to a deeper level of what matters – move beyond simply needing more money or more people to what really matters most.
How is this most important aspect in balance with other things?
What is the trade off?
What is the central task for our parish to live into what matters most, balance the other things, and live with the trade off?
(The rest of the meeting will be determined by what has happened up to this point...)