Reflecting and reshaping is what I have been witnessing congregations doing in the ministries of formation. Across the board, in ministries that engage adults, youth, seniors and children, people are ready to venture into new territory. There seems to be a desire, perhaps prompted by new realities, to flex muscles that were awakened during the past few years. Imaginations are being stretched and increased capacity for flexibility and adaptation are present. The ventures I see congregations embarking on have amazed me and infused my hope for the path ahead.
Challenges vary from congregation to congregation, but for most they have felt the diminished energy for volunteering. One response congregations have had is to share the responsibilities of a valued formation ministry among more people. A variation on “more with less:” more folks involved but each carrying a smaller piece than in days gone by.
A good example of this is inserting Special Sundays into the Sunday School schedule. These Specials Sundays are planned and presented by a small group outside of regular teachers. By taking on these Sundays, it spices up the schedule and provides a break for the regular teachers.
When it comes to formation ministries, do our forms still fit our realities and hopes? This question is alive and well among formation/education committees. The pausing and/or adapting of most formation ministries has spurred a revisiting of basic and foundational questions.
I recently listened to a sermon entitled “Authenticity, Axe-throwing: Kyle’s best take on why the cultural waters we swim in means faith barely stands a chance” (longest sermon title ever!). Kyle Penner is one of the pastors at Grace Mennonite Church in Steinbach, Man., and this sermon was a bold and brave attempt to explore the cultural waters, consider and confront our current way of swimming, and invite conversation about the very core of our faith. This service can be found on the Grace Mennonite Church website, dated Jan. 8, 2023 (sermon starts at 33:35). People were invited to stay after the service for coffee and conversation, and 50 people took Kyle up on this offer.
During the pandemic, we took ourselves outside more, and found it was good. Congregations are learning that some of their pandemic adaptions are worth continuing and building upon. Taking Sunday School outside. Gathering small groups around outdoor grills and fire pits. Creating intergenerational learning experiences that happen outside and invite people to bike, walk and rest together on lawn chairs. What began as adaption has now become a growing part of how we are church together.
As part of my own wondering and investigations, I wandered into a Renovaré webinar entitled “Life as Laboratory: What spiritual experiment might you try in 2023?” Richard Foster and his son Nathan Foster explored a variety of questions connected to spiritual formation including: “What are the benefits of seeing my life as a laboratory?” I was quite captured by this question and metaphor, and almost immediately I began to connect this to congregational life. What if we saw our congregations as laboratories? If we embraced this metaphor, might we be emboldened to expand and extend the ventures we have already embarked on? I think we would. I think we should.
Kathy Giesbrecht is director of congregational ministries for Mennonite Church Manitoba.
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