Rev. Dana Bainbridge, Minister in the Disciples of Christ and Rev. Nicole Lamarche, Minister in the United Church of Christ, joined in conversation to talk about what is sprouting up, what possibilities we see for spiritual communities in the next season, what trends we notice and what dreams we have. This is just some of what was shared…
I have always been a part of church. So many of the commitments that I hold, those of radical inclusion and true equity, wild generosity and deep love, all of these and more, come from the ways I have been nurtured in Christian community over the course of my lifetime. I am all in on the concept!
But this church planting experience has forced me to see how weird we look from the outside. Don’t get me wrong, I love weird, but when it comes to drawing the circle wider in a faith community, I have learned that most people have little tolerance for weird. A lot of the things that feel comfortable because they are familiar to us, are simply not, to increasingly more people.
Here is a list of just some of the weird stuff I could think of:
- Reading ancient poetry out loud
- Singing songs as a group from the 1700’s and later
- Showing up for others every week
- Giving money to something that has trouble demonstrating what you get for a membership
- Hearing spiritual lessons from one person, while you sit and listen
- Intergenerational, post-niche, non-customizable crowd
In this post-institutional time, we can’t help but to be abnormal in some ways and we want to be, we need to accompany one another when it gets hard and not conforming for the sake of love has a price. And yet, what if we could be weird in fresh ways?
I think this is the time to live into some different questions:
- What from our tradition is worth holding onto in this time of rapid change?
- What must we let go of in order to sustainably share the best of what has been passed onto us for generations to come?
- What if people are looking for a faith community of spiritual depth and a heart for justice, but want to create it in new ways?
- How can we become excellent listeners to the pulse all around us?
In our religious institutions, the measurements are mostly about how much we give back to the Denomination and how many people are in our worship gatherings All around the measurement seems to be: how many do you get inside your building to do this one thing? So I understand why I couldn’t get out of that way of thinking.
A lot of us well meaning religious do-gooders ask: How we can get more people to the stuff we are doing? Am I right? But I see now that the problem with this question is that it exists upon a variety of assumptions that may or may not be true. And anytime we are aiming to explore how we keep growing in spirit and in numbers, how we continue to reach beyond where we are right now, I think are called to keep asking questions.
Instead of asking, how we can get more people to the stuff we are doing? What if we asked:
- How can we create containers for healing, hope, inspiration, the arts and joy?
- How can we serve as a connector and a bridge for people to be engaged in meaningful social change?
- How can we collaborate to make the neighborhood more alive?
- What possibilities can we see right now for how our gifts can meet a need?
What is emerging?
I keep coming back to the possibilities that emerge when we are offering containers for magic to happen. Because I think this is a time to draw on what we are good at, let’s go to our strengths. We church people know how to create spaces where magic can happen; we put some ingredients together and trust the Spirit to do the rest. How can we do that in interesting ways? How can we use the spaces we have to bring people together and let magic happen? And going forward, I wonder if this next season invites us to get into smaller groups with higher commitment, instead of being large worshiping communities. Our systems are built for more people, so how do we create sustainable, responsible, nimble, meaningful structures for the Spirit to show up in our lives as She always has? For engagement, service, learning and transformation?
I am often asking myself about sustainability, both personal spiritual sustainability, as well as financial sustainability of even our scrappy spiritual startup. I see how quickly the religious landscape is changing and how unlikely it seems for full-time ministerial leadership to be sustained. What are the possibilities?
I am drawn to thinking about social entrepreneurship and the intersection between spiritual community and social good.
To me, emerging church is any group of people who are committed to the Greatest Commandment and equally committed to letting go of our own idea of how to get where we are going.
Drawing James 5:7-9, how can we be patient with what will sprout up?
7Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.
8You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 9Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged.
We should note what Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.”
The only way I know how to be patient is to cultivate with the long view, while also being present to the moment and what is already. Second, to keep showing up to share my gifts, to invest both in what is already and love it and to welcome what could become. I believe that sometimes there is time between what is and what is not yet because we need time to get ready, to grow our capacities and widen our networks and assess our gifts. What can we do right now?
In 2017, I am dreaming of creating a Rock Choir and exploring how to connect newly awakened people with ways to be engaged, maybe offering prayer for activists and non-violence training. I will carry on and keep showing up. I will also continue in some old fashioned discernment, where time in silence with God is set aside. How can we hear what God is saying? Where is the Spirit already at work among us? Where is there possibility? What is already sprouting up?