Reimagining Church

Thriving Congregations Initiative: New Models for the 21st Century

Flocking Power

Molli Mitchell

Starlings flock in unique patterns, undulating over the fields, thousands of little wings and heartbeats, never smashing into one another. Leaderless, they actively sense the movement of those next to them, lifting, turning, creating patterns together that would be impossible on their own or even to replicate en masse.

Examples like these remind me that no matter how much we believe we can control, codify, preserve for future generations, the most meaningful impact we have is on those flying closest to us. Indeed, it’s what lifts us into flight!

I arrived at divinity school with just such a lift from my church family at Bridgeport UCC in Portland, OR and a recent flocking experience facilitating conference-wide listening sessions in the Central Pacific Conference. I arrived there from an unlikely spiritual upbringing: After facing the trauma of being told my disabled little sister wouldn't be accommodated and wasn’t welcome in the church, my parents walked out and never went back.

The potential for a truly life-changing community I found within the church didn’t happen until early adulthood. It compelled me to dig deeper into my calling, beyond the anti-oppression and social justice practices of community-based social work in which I was trained. I remain curious about root causes, themes of transition and change, and how best to facilitate institutional repentance when needed; in churches most of all.

That first experience of being cast out shaped what I understood about in-group out-group dynamics. It was a story told and re-told after I would ask why we didn’t go to church like everybody else. They don’t want us.

Storytelling matters.

What I hope to gain from participating in Reimagining Church alongside my beloved UCC Tolland is a regaining of our story as a church and community. Who are we now? Where are we and who is next to us? Why does that matter? What shapes could our flock take?

I believe a whole lot more is possible for our church communities. I believe that God is still speaking to us, even now. I believe the quality of our relationships with one another and our ability to respond to the movement of our neighbors is what helps us gain the courage to lift off into flight.

Photo by James Wainscoat, “A Whale in the Sky”