Reimagining Church

Thriving Congregations Initiative: New Models for the 21st Century

How to Imagine Where You’re Going When You Don’t Know Where You’ve Been

By Amanda Bryant

Institutions have souls. This is the premise Susan Beaumont emphasized to the working group members, pastors, and student facilitators who gathered for the first Reimagining Church plenary of our year together. When reflecting on our time with Susan, one of our working group members recalled this image of the soul of the institution remaining with them, particularly that the “divine spark” of the church rests within its soul, and from the soul comes the vision. 

            The institution in this moment finds itself in a liminal season. Liminality, the key idea undergirding Susan Beaumont’s presentation, by definition means that something old has ended, but something new has yet to begin. The working group member agreed that this term “liminal” seemed to fit the season that Woodmont United Church of Christ finds itself in. Some wondered, however, what is this old thing that has ended? What has gone away? 

            I wonder, as we begin our reimagining journey, how we might begin to discern what the soul of Woodmont UCC is if many of its members don’t know where it has been. This sense of liminality pervades, but it is unclear to many what has ended. If the institution itself has a soul, does it have memories? Who carries those memories? In what ways are they passed on in our stories, and what stories get left behind, too painful to be retold? 

            Our working group recently discussed what this thing is that has gone away. Those who have been at the church for a longer period of time had some answers: several ministries, big community events, the number of children and young families in the congregation, certain elements of worship. I thank those members of our working group for naming those things that have ended; it is crucial that we understand where we have been in order to see clearly where we are going. 

            The soul of Woodmont UCC is clearly alive. The fact that so many members of our working group and other active members of the congregation are so new to the church that they don’t recognize what has ended is a sign of new life in the church. The Spirit of God is clearly moving in and among this community. As another working group member put it the last time we gathered, “It is a gift to take this time to figure out where we are and where we are going.” As we continue to reflect on the history of Woodmont UCC, bound up in the soul of the institution, I am hopeful for the creativity and imagination that lies ahead, as we seek to discern what new thing God might be doing in our midst. 

Photo |  Rowan Freeman on Unsplash