Reimagining Church

Thriving Congregations Initiative: New Models for the 21st Century

With Gratitude

Ray Andrewsen

Reading and discussing Tyler Sit’s book, "Staying Awake", during his appearance at our monthly gathering was impactful. One of Tyler’s comments hits hard and has stayed with me: if it weren’t for New City Church (Tyler's church in Minneapolis) it’s likely most everyone in the congregation would not be attending any worship service, anywhere.

Wow. Even a theoretically “liberal” and “open and affirming” church like Spring Glen UCC would still not be perceived as a place to nurture and celebrate the true self for many marginalized people who have found a home under his established ministry. Does this increase the value of New City and diminish the current value of Spring Glen? Perhaps our Spring Glen reimaging working group should explore this difficult question.

We are living in an era of “non-joiners” with increasing isolation and loneliness, even before the tragedy of COVID becoming the reality. Shared spaces, even those sacred, are unattainable as we mask-up and socially distance. Epiphany: members of marginalized communities had been living in a COVID-like world prior to 2020. Needing safety and self-protection, having to socially distance to stay safe, avoiding the virus of micro-aggressions and hurtful pain. Masking over an identity or deeply held feelings of fear and isolation. Masking identities that should be as easy to express as breathing. Until, like George Floyd, you can no longer feel yourself breathing and start to slowly die.

We are an Easter people. To resurrect we must first sacrifice. I plan to look deeper into our church culture and practices to determine what needs to go and be held up and sacrificed at the altar while we seek new and more freeing ways to express our love of Christ. Or, what just needs to be quietly adjusted so that we may be loving place of emancipation and incorporation. To a new face already within the congregation and to new faces appearing at our doorstep I plan to really see them. I was blind but now I profess to start to see.

Our Spring Glen reimaging working group is well on its way to discussing all of this. Now, we will need to draft specific remedies for strengthening our bonds and community while we grow in our ability to not just “open” but “affirm”. Because we are the church of the comma (God is still speaking), I look forward to what is expressed and commanded after the comma in the phrase “Open and affirming,……….”. The comma remains a powerful instrument for change.

Finally, my favorite chapter was Tyler Sit’s exhortation and homily on gratitude. It ties in to all the other chapters of his book. To me, an awareness of grace, beauty, and God’s omnipresent love starts with this important sentiment.

Without gratitude we see no possibility and void ourselves of the love within to express outwardly. A grateful person does not fire a gun. A grateful person does not assault. A grateful person does not hoard. A grateful person easily shares. A grateful person is vulnerable and strong.

I am ever so grateful for our Saturday time together and await a rebirth of our church community with our neighbors and beyond.