Congregational adaptability in new worship/bible study formats using Zoom, Facebook Live, or YouTube are STRENGTHES. The freedom that has come to invent new ways of being ‘church’ during the pandemic has created change out of necessity. The importance of service to community was also mentioned as we live out the call of the priesthood of all believers. There is a rekindled trust and hope as we see those who had not previously been engaged in the work of ministry stepping up in new ways. This time of pandemic has also reinvigorated the Church’s call toward being a prophetic voice as it speaks to the injustices that have also been a part of our communal reality during this last year. The importance of renouncing white supremacy and privilege while working for racial justice has both been a strength and threat to the gathered community as differences rise up to the surface.
The “Dying Church”
Some of the WEAKNESSES that came to the surface began with the reality of ‘dying’ churches having the timelines toward closing increasing in pace. A real look at how we partake in the work of evangelism and its failures showed how it is not often part of our regular and consistent ministry priorities. A sense of wider community is also a weakness in how leaders connect with one another as well as rising up a next generation of leadership. There seems to be an involution where congregations are turning in on themselves out of a survival mindset. Instead of relating to the culture and diversity of the local community in which congregations are found, there still seems to be a forced conformation to the culture of the congregation for those who would pursue membership. This culture centric reality also impedes the ability to focus on the Gospel and work of Jesus in a relational way. And finally a continued weakness that plagues the synod is the real work toward diversity and welcoming that is so important in how we relate to our localities.
“The Virtual Community”
OPPORTUNITIES that were shared most of all focused on the new ‘borderless’ reality that we are able to live in a new template of Zoom/Facebook/YouTube interactions. We are able to keep engagement and interaction happening with those who may be ‘snowbirds’ or who have been a former part of the community. Because the distances are less of an impediment those who are willing to learn some new ways of interaction through technology are able to continue building those relational connections. Many are also looking at an opportunity to revisit the use of facilities and staffing choices. Expansion of those tasked with leadership can increase as teams are created to investigate other opportunities.
THREATS that were discussed often were related to either/or type of thinking in how we interact with one another. The current political divisiveness has made its way into the congregations and people are set against one another. There is a breakdown in community when differing views are not taken into account with respect. Another threat that reflects this reality is thoughts on immigration and how it impacts our communal welcome. Another resulting reality from this inward vision is an increase of envy between leadership and communities. There is a fear that there will be those congregations that ‘succeed’ and those that are seen as ‘failing’ as they shrink or disband.
Thank you for the opportunity to have these conversations.
Rev. Scott Peterson
Dean, Foothill Conference