A “view from the table” by Frances Townsend
It was good that we came to the table refreshed after a night’s sleep, because our first task in the compelling vision process today was to dream big. Big dreams are in order as we realize that Jesus has been calling and equipping us to serve the hurting world.
First we were asked to describe some specific needs of the world that our denomination may be called to address, given our gifts and passions. We were asked to name some huge--even overwhelming--concerns that the church, working together, might begin to address. Since most of us are beginning to have difficulty avoiding catastrophic thinking about the state of the world today, this was a useful exercise.
We thought about how the church calls us to a simple, Christ-centered life that values all people, and how sharing that would address many problems in the world today. It gave us hope to realize that we already know of ways to help.
Then we were asked to think of “Big Ideas”– the kind that should be capitalized, like Brethren Volunteer Service, which was a Big Idea when it was first proposed. These should be ideas that surprise us with their boldness, ideas that meet big needs of the world in ways that use our gifts, and that even change the church as we carry them out.
Our table tried hard to come up with something that might fit that description, but we mostly talked about how our congregations are already working to meet the needs we see. But it went further--we described creating more of a culture of service in the congregation. One idea was lifting up the expectation that more couples would try being foster parents, especially when their own children are leaving home. When it is a church priority, individuals are more likely to consider it. Even when our ideas were not fresh or bold, sharing around the table gave us opportunities to hear the passion and heart of each person and their congregation.
The wrap-up question asked us to envision what the church might look like in 10 years as we imagine these ideas taking place, and a compelling vision is carried out. Would it look like what we had imagined when we were asked this same question on the first day of this process? What will it take to become that church we imagine?
Ideas surfaced, such as deep spiritual commitment and re-establishing trust. Some of us were envisioning new people in our churches, not just because evangelism is our job and not just because the amount of work requires more workers. If we are doing mission right, it is not just a hand out, but a hand of welcome extended--an invitation to join us in community as our brothers and sisters. The new people in that church 10 years from now also will be receivers of the Holy Spirit’s gifts and ideas, just like us. Their presence will change the church as the Holy Spirit moves in them.
Change! We processed that idea of change. Most of us are not eager for it. I thought about how God seems to be preparing us for change as the world moves faster all the time. It is like being in a river with the water flowing faster, and rising. We can tread water in fear, just barely coping with the change, or with Jesus’ help we can learn about the joy of swimming and of water sports we can play together.
The compelling vision process gave everyone an opportunity to be heard, and it also gave many opportunities to find hope: in our identity, in our love for one another, in the leading of the Spirit.
Rhonda Pittman Gingrich, chair of the process team, quoted some of the evaluation responses from the tables. Knowing that almost every table was composed of people with diverse views gave additional meaning to one statement that if the eight people at their table could have this conversation, then maybe the denomination could as well.
But maybe eight was not their actual number. Wasn’t there one more participant at each table? As another response said, “I could feel the life of Christ in this room.”
-- Frances Townsend is a volunteer member of the Annual Conference news team, and is “embedded” at a nondelegate table to write about the “table’s eye view” of this year’s compelling vision process.