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GC Report from Alternate Deputy Rev. Linda Suzanne Borgen

Monday morning, I had the blessing of attending a workshop sponsored by the Committee for Congregational Vitality & Data Driven Initiatives. I had attended their legislative committee meeting on Saturday. There were only a few observers at the session that day, and I was honestly concerned that only a few would show up for the 7 a.m. – 9 a.m. workshop also.

When I arrived at the meeting, I was surprised to find it crowded with people and the room already buzzing with lively conversations. It was, after all, 7 a.m. The organizers were handing out post-it notes at the door and directing people to poster boards with questions on them taped to the wall in various parts of the room. I think most of us have participated in similar exercises. The questions were:

  • The Episcopal Church is at its best when…

  • God wants the Episcopal Church to exist and thrive because…

  • When I envision the Episcopal Church in 50 years, I see…

  • Something that keeps me up at night (about the Episcopal Church) is…

  • We need to stop … to realize our potential.

  • We need to …to realize our potential.

After this exercise participants were invited to find a seat in one of the small group circles in the room. I believe most of them seated 7, and there were 88 people in attendance plus group leaders. It really was a very good turnout and a wonderful reminder of how deeply Episcopalians care about the future of our church.

After group norms for attentive and respectful listening were shared, a Lectio Divina exercise was used to invite the small groups into conversation. We were told that we could not speak until being invited to do so by name by another group member; this instruction was also lifted up as a reminder regarding the power of invitation.

Groups stayed within the usual practices of Lectio Divina to begin the three separate rounds of discussion and then shared more informally as time allowed. A group scribe from each group shared the “theme” that seemed to surface during the round. Our group’s scribe did a particularly good job of summarizing our thoughts and several in our group congratulated her on this. Their reaction reminded me how important it is for people to feel that they have been heard and of the power of intentional listening.

Most of the themes mentioned were ones that I believe we have all heard during similar conversations as of late. Things like ‘listening to others’ and ‘working to help change resisters adapt to these new times we find ourselves in’ were offered. There was concern about dwindling attendance and passionate statements about not leaning into anxiety over these lower numbers. At Saturday’s legislative meeting there had been much discussion regarding the challenge of now small congregations not being able to maintain buildings that were once full. These are not new conversations, but there were a few comments added that were new, and that will stay with me for a long time as I continue to reflect on them.

One person commented, half-jokingly, that we need a customary for a funeral for a church similar to the one we have for our burial rites. There was muffled, nervous laughter across the groups, the kind of laughter that reveals when something has rung a little too true for comfort. My mind immediately went to all the times I have heard others say, and have myself said, “The Church is the people, not the building.” The truth is that if we are trying to figure out how to have a funeral for a building, it is because the people who once supported it are gone. We understand that we are not simply naming the grief of selling or repurposing real estate.

In this moment, as Easter people, the question I was hearing was how do we faithfully hold fast through Holy Saturday. We are asking one another how we maintain hope and faith even as we see and experience death and loss all around us. I believe the statement about a customary for dealing with our collective grief was not far off the mark. Grief, like love, will not be denied. It will demand attention in either healthy or toxic ways, but it does not simply dissipate through being ignored.

The pain and confusion and crushing weight of Holy Saturday was real. We can move past it quickly in our liturgies, but it demanded a tenacious and resilient holding fast to faith for Jesus’ disciples to be together, praying, in the upper room. They did not have a strategic plan or a mission statement to guide them in this moment they had not imagined facing. They did not have a plan B. All the disciples had in that moment was their shared, stubborn faith in Jesus and all that he had taught them, and an equally stubborn commitment to staying in community with one another.

The workshop adjourned because we were bumping against the scheduled time for Morning Prayer. Many expressed that they felt as though the conversations were just beginning to get deeper and more honest and that they would have liked to have had more time. There was a sense of authentic sharing during that time together that is hard to name, and even harder to forget. Moments like this are a reminder to me of what it means to be Easter people. Even when the way forward may not be clear, our love for Jesus and Jesus’ love for us helps us to hold fast to our faith. Reflecting now, I think moving together into Morning Prayer was probably the best way for us to set aside our sharing and turn our attention toward our faith in God. I cannot say whether we resolved any questions about congregational vitality or data-driven initiatives, but I believe we are each left reminded of and encouraged by Jesus’ commandment to love one another as He loves us.


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