Reimagining Church

Thriving Congregations Initiative: New Models for the 21st Century

Spaces of Challenge and Hope

Jake Cunliffe

As a facilitator who is unattached to any particular Reimagining Church congregation, I have the fortune to reflect on the project from an involved yet mobile perspective. I’m grateful to all of you, workgroups, pastors, and facilitators, for the creativity and honesty you are bringing to this work.

I greatly appreciated being present at the final part of our introductory plenary, when members of each congregation shared their visions for what thriving Church looks like. Though all of us came with some uncertainty (about how the Reimagining Church project will work, what was on the agenda, what is expected of us, etc.), I found a profound gift in the practice of gathering and sharing. Among talk of the challenges we face, we consistently heard hopes of growing and evolving; of reaching out to the wider community in new ways, of being places of welcome and storytelling, and of expanding what it means to be Church.

In the nine months or so in which we are all working together as the first iteration of this program, I suspect we will need to become familiar with the pregnant spaces where hope and challenge meet. Where optimism struggles to make its case because past disappointments or prevailing assumptions seem hard to overcome, and pessimism and resignation lurk at the edges. Such mental and spiritual spaces, as they are found in conversation and planning, can be uncomfortable and it may be tempting to avoid them, but we must be willing to seek them out and spend time there. It is both through having honest and frank conversations about what is not as it should be, and in retaining the hope to find creative, Spirit-led solutions, that the biggest challenges to change will arise. Such challenges must be encountered if we are to progress towards our visions.

We might not shake a feeling of discomfort at doing this work at any time this year – and that’s OK. If God is calling us to do an honest, renewing and transformative work, it will not always be green pastures and smooth paths. My prayer is we find continually find God’s grace and invitation to live inside the challenging spaces, with hope. May it be so.