Stay focused

Stay focused
Image: Ed Schipul

“Keep your eyes on the goal,” he concluded with encouragement.

That’s sort of how President Joey Dearborn of the Conference of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario completed his verbal report to those of us who were gathered for the Executive face-face, which just ended this week. Before I continue with Joey’s intent, let me not assume you know what I’m talking about!

For those who don’t know, this adventure called The United Church of Canada is structured within 4 concentric circles that help us be church in the world: 1) Congregations; 2) Presbytery (think city or rural municipality); Conference (imagine provinces); and General Council (kind of like the federal government). Of course once you get that, you have to know there’s lots of variation, but in general it’s a helpful parallel – well I hope so!

This structure allows us – or has allowed us – to shape how we imagine we want and are called to be the church. In church speak this is called ecclesiology. How process and structures connect with vision and mission is where – when we’re rockin’ it – the proverbial rubber meets the road and we get on with getting on! Problem is that, for sometime, we have known that we’ve not been playing our ‘A’ game.

Joey offered this concluding encouragement after sharing and reflecting that some of the ways we have been trying to imagine newness has consumed more time and energy than might be helpful. In particular, rather than sticking with the goal as the marker to help imagine these new ways of being, it sometimes seems like we are getting stuck in the design phase. And that – he acknowledged – is both frustrating and tiring. How then, can we understand what the goal is and what do we do to keep the passion alive, I was wondering?

The great gift of the church is that we have a lot of really great wise and challenging voices. If Joey’s wisdom opened this door for discernment of the goal, our newly-minted Moderator Jordan Cantwell was present on the second day of our gathering to move the ball forward. During this time, she shared her priorities – more on that shortly – and she also seemed (unknowingly) to expand further upon what Joey had begun the previous day.

So, what’s the goal? To borrow from Jordan, we’re called to follow Jesus. Following: the very image of movement implies two things to me as I started to muse about these connexions.

  1. Motion implies we are not called to be stationary or monolithic, something that happens when we put down roots; and,
  2. There’s no real sense of arrival, which implies a need to be constantly responsive and reflective. In other words, what would a reflexive church look like?

The goal: follow Jesus. Simple enough? So what?

Follow the Yellow Mint Road

Follow the Yellow Mint Road
Image: Neal Fowler

The church often stands accused of looking after its own. Sometimes, we’re even appropriately challenged for causing unspoken hurt and having an agenda of judgement and conversion. How then might we reorient ourselves to this goal, while also realising that the goal may very well help us imagine the structures and processes we need in this reflexive journey? In other words, how can we be both (goal)/and (structures)?

And – this is not definitive remember, just a musing – I think that Jordan’s priorities help as possible lenses to apply to Joey’s initial encouragement and challenge:

  1. Living into right relations with our Indigenous Sisters and Brothers, as recommended through the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission;
  2. Embracing and exploring ecumenical and interfaith relationships that mirror we are a stronger voice for justice and change when our common values align and we speak with integrity mutually; and,
  3. Youth and Young Adult Ministry. We have known – the church that is – that our values align well with those who are not in the church. The challenge is how do we become a relevant voice when no one knows who we are? And for those who have some inkling, how do we begin a new conversation that addresses everyone’s assumptions, when we may seem but a vestige of a past that no one really wants to revisit?

I don’t think I have a conclusion, but I think as Joey’s words began this musing, perhaps Jordan’s might continue the conversation:

“We are called to follow Jesus, the structures and process should help that happen …”