Reimagining Church

Thriving Congregations Initiative: New Models for the 21st Century

How will we be together?

David Potter

This question anchored the first session of the working group for the Episcopal Church of St. Paul and St. James (affectionately known as “St. PJs”). In launching into our shared work together, we had some important details to cover to create the supportive structures for this process of imagining.

But more so than just accounting for things like coordinating calendars and deciding whether we’d meet virtually or in-person, engaging this question was the imperative guiding our session. How will we be together?

Common commitments are the foundation for meaningful dialogue and relationship. Whether it be a committee or congregation, the flourishing of community life relies on some measure of shared vision, and an understanding of how that vision will be pursued. And perhaps aspirational more often than fully realized, those commitments provide a foundation to which we return each time we come up short—which is inevitable if pursuing something worthwhile.

Identifying and articulating clear terms for engaging together also provides opportunity for practice. Because without practicing how we believe we ought to be together, what will come of a well-articulated vision for our desired future?

So, in determining how this process of reimagining will function, the working group also began practicing the kind of relationship and community desired for everyone who engages the ministry of St. PJs. Those aspirations are reflected in the working group covenant included below, which also reflects some hopes and insights from working group members on what this process might lead to.

Lastly, below are just a few key takeaways from Session 1:

1. Choices exist: As St. PJs considers its present needs and challenges, many different responses are possible, as is not responding—and all hold implications.

2. Uncertainty is intrinsic: The right future (and the choices that will get us there) is unclear. Entering and navigating a process of discernment is inherently risky and requires curiosity and humility.

3. Discernment involves passion: Reimagining is an inherently 'interested' process. Discerning how to become a congregation that facilitates and supports more transformation, flourishing, and vibrancy will inevitably surface both inspiration and frustration because faith communities are places where we direct our longing—for meaning and purpose, connection and relationship, sustenance and faith.

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We, the Reimagining Church Working Group of the Episcopal Church of St. Paul and St. James, are here to:

1. Envision and nurture an intergenerational vibrant community that seeks God in both liturgy and the mundane, supports spiritual nourishment beyond Sundays, encourages mutual support in the daily lives of all persons, and maintains an ongoing commitment to proactively and responsively serving the needs of the surrounding community.

2. Discern the point of intersection between our baptismal vows with matters of justice and equity in the city of New Haven, as an expression of our faithful commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

3. Identify tools and share ideas, both internally and in collaboration with other congregations, toward realizing our shared vision.

4. Consider and discuss different options to increase the impact of and access to this congregation’s ministry, considering a balanced of quantity and quality, even when uncomfortable and/or unfamiliar.

5. Determine the priority areas of this congregation in need of attention and propose choices for how we might move forward in ministry and as community.

6. Empower the future clergy, leadership, and community of St. PJs through our shared work. 

We will honor each other and our shared task with the following shared commitments:

1. Consider our presence a gift to others and remain mindful of the impact of our absence.

2. Ground each gathering in spiritual intention and strive to ensure our shared work remains so.

3. Practice empathetic listening by not interrupting while others are speaking, withholding assumptions, and refraining from preparing responses while others are sharing.

4. Share with honesty and intentionality, while communicating directly.

5. Seek and offer clarity when needed and ensure opportunities to offer clarity are provided to others.

6. Value conflict; stay in the conversation when there is disagreement, and hold ourselves accountable to follow-up on unfinished conversation.

7. Maintain transparency while upholding necessary boundaries.

8. Preserve confidentiality by withholding personal identifying information in report-outs.

9. Be graceful toward one another and toward ourselves.