Thriving Congregations Initiative

Reimagining Church

New Models for the 21st Century

How Do We Reimagine?

Rev. Barbara Libby and Ray Andrewsen

Two Reflections by Spring Glen Working Group Members Rev. Barbara Libby and Ray Andrewsen

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By Rev. Barbara Libby

When I first came into this program called “Reimagining Church” I wondered aloud at one of our first meetings whether the title “Reimagining church” meant re-imagining “our” church or re-imagining the big “C” Church community that is all around us in so many different settings both locally and around the globe.

As the months have progressed I have come to believe that our conversations have really been about both of these communities trying to figure out what it means to follow Jesus Christ. The more we shared the more we realized the pandemic has impacted all our conversations. Even in thinking about our own local church it has become clear to me that we are confronting an enormous reality: change is happening not only in our local church but also in The Church around the globe. As we witnessed and talked with a few innovative pastors leading their congregations into new and powerful ministries we became witnesses to how the Church and churches are being touched by the power of the Holy Spirit bringing us all into a new and changing place and time.

In a recent post about Epiphany in her Piloting Faith email series, Cameron Trimble suggested: “Epiphany is a journey that requires intuition to sense the inbreaking of the Spirit who whispers, ‘Come, follow me,’ even as the world says, ‘stay with what you know.’ We have come too far and learned too much to pretend that we have not changed. We see differently now - ourselves, each other, our world. We see where we are broken, where we are lost, and where we can heal.”

Yes, indeed, we have come too far to pretend that we have not changed!

In my experience it is a challenging time to figure out what we might “become” or even to look too far out into the future to have it all make sense. This worldwide pandemic has impacted each and all of us. While we thought we were moving out beyond its impact the variants of Covid have come back to haunt us again and again. It has not been an easy task to imagine out into the future. It has been tough to do much imagining at all! As the ground beneath our feet has shifted and changed in ways we could never have imagined at the local church we have been pushed to change and adapt and then change again in multiple ways. Who could have imagined just a few years ago the kind of changes we are now seeing in our local churches here in CT?

A number of recent publications on our changing faith and leadership models have noted: regardless of what we might have planned, returning to “normal” church life will never ever be the same. Our churches will never be exactly what they were before the pandemic. Change is happening; the “new thing” is already in our midst - even if we have yet to fully grasp it. Change has already happened; change will continue to happen even as some of our church folks may hope and wish that we could return to what we once considered “normal” and “familiar”.

What do I dream about for my church in Hamden, CT? I dream of a place where we can let go of the way it has “always” been and welcome the power of the Spirit to move amongst us. Yes those changes will pull us (yes, perhaps kicking and screaming) into a new place so we can do and be a new thing! I dream of a community of people who are willing to lean into doing it differently and trying out new ways. Yes, we will make mistakes! Yes, we will not get it right each time! Yes, we will need to trust one another! Yes, we will need to be truly open to the movement of the Spirit!

May God continue to walk with us each step of this new journey of faith in our churches and in The Church.

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By Ray Andrewsen

As we have completed almost half of our committee’s engagement in the Spring Glen Church UCC Reimagining Committee process, I submit a few personal thoughts.

It has been an enlightening process to engage in as we have heard from and processed the remarks of two special speakers. I have reflected on Tyler Sit’s book and Becca Stevens ministry in two separate forums within the church: newsletter (Sit) and stewardship (Stevens). I really enjoyed engaging with both speakers and found their messaging moving and relevant. Their words and thought make my UCC muscles flex harder.

Taking away my thoughts from our group conversations and presentations, I am encouraged by a willingness to experiment and change longstanding church habits to grow the church of the future. Our broad-based discussion of what “affirming” means now rather than what the original conception was when our church became Open and Affirming in 1997. The times they are a changing, and for the better. We seem to be growing into the Church of the Risk and not just the Church of the Comfort. In this we are moving towards an affirmation of the reality that the diversity of experiences informs who we are and is welcome in the wider church. We could be well on our way to becoming the Church of the Future, the Church of the Protected Past. Invigorating thoughts! Now, the comfort only coming from the idea the parachute works when we all jump out of the plane.

The calling to serve “the least of these” and those most vulnerable has always been a sincere hallmark of the Spring Glen tradition. Now, we seek to expand to serve all marginalized people and be outside of the church building welcoming the entire community in through contemporary meeting space, music, the arts, social media, and heightened community engagement. The new church becomes a new community center for all.