Guiding theological question: We are discerning how we are called to become a vocational resource for our wider community–where the people who are not already members of the church can come to explore their vocations.
Guiding Scripture passage: Acts 4:32-37, the image of Luke’s ideal community is one that we have prayed with as we worked on our plans for year two. The day that we did this, we were also preparing for our third food pantry during the pandemic. The image of God’s presence with the gathered people where there is enough for everyone really struck us as we were preparing to do somewhat dangerous work without guidelines.
Signs of change:
The retreat that John Lewis led gave us an entirely new vocabulary. By the grace of God, we had many people present that day who were ready to engage in new thinking about discernment. The group of adults and youth jumped right in on the idea that we are given instruments to channel grace for the benefit of others. The retreat took the place of the confirmation class where the youth were going to discuss spiritual gifts, and we couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out, knowing that it was risky to send youth to a day designed for adults. Our youth learned what John Lewis taught them. We see evidence of this in the language they use to describe their faith.
The second sign of change is in the amount of people in the congregation who are sharing their faith stories in public settings. We’ve seen this happen in the skill sharing classes, and also through the number of people who want to lead a skill sharing class in the future where they will get to talk about their faith.
Our third sign of change is parishioners and people who are temporarily worshipping with us in the healing profession who now attend our virtual Healing Eucharists. I attribute this change directly to the work you are helping us to do around vocation. The nurses come to the Eucharist because they connect their vocation with a calling that is grounded in God’s grace. They seek the church’s prayers as a way to sustain them in their vocation. We use these words to do this: Bless physicians, nurses, and all others who minister to the suffering, granting them wisdom and skill, sympathy and patience.
Year 2 Activities
We are continuing our skill sharing classes, giving parishioners and community members a chance to teach about one of their callings. We will be reaching out to the businesses that are geographically close to St. Matthew’s and offering to bring a few of their employees a meal and have a conversation about their calling to the work that they do. We are exploring how we can be hospitable to the neighbors who use our green space. We plan to ask social enterprises to give presentations at our regular Sunday Clingman Forums, offering examples of organizations built around a single calling. This fall our parish is going through a visioning process and we are including a story sharing event. We will be offering workshops on listening and discerning skills. Finally, we are including vocational language in our regular prayers on Sunday.
Year 1 Learnings
- We learned that discernment in community is an energizing activity for our congregation that leads to additional discernment. Our Vestry voted to advance two people in our ordination discernment process since April, and we have another member of the church beginning seminary in the fall.
- We also learned how a serious look at calling involves questions about stewardship and generosity. John Lewis taught us that. His teaching was transformative for the people present at the retreat, but also for the leadership of this project as we witnessed the graceful way that he freely shares his knowledge and wisdom.
- We have learned that there is interest in these conversations around calling in the community beyond our parish. We have had many non members participate in our skill sharing classes.
- Lastly, we learned how enthusiastic our seniors are about learning about new callings in what Richard Rohr calls the “third half of life”. It is affirming to know that there is a hunger for this in our congregation and in our community.
Resources Developed by Saint Matthew's
- Skills Sharing Classes — the team asked members of our congregation to share something that they love doing that they consider a calling. Class topics so far include: bread baking, paint pouring, sauce making, and country ham & bacon, . Read more about the class structure in this class description.
- Sermons on calling — from Rev. Kelly Kirby on Year A Advent 2, reflecting on how we rely on other people to help articulate our callings, and Rev. Benjamin Hart on Year C Proper 28 on storytelling as a faithful act.
- New hymn text for “Lift High the Cross” — Director of Music, Derrick Grant, commissioned a new text for the hymn, “Lift High the Cross.”
Recommended Prayer & Study Resources
We are really enjoying using the “Called to Life” curriculum. In 2018, we used it with a group of newly retired parishioners. That was a great process that brought a new group together who came to appreciate the opportunity to discern in community. In 2019, Kelly gave the curriculum to a parishioner who lost his job to use as a workbook to go through independently. The curriculum worked well for him as a workbook with devotions. This was his first introduction to lectio divina! Kelly was a guest preacher at an assisted living facility in February, and she used the time to talk about calling with the 30 seniors gathered that evening using some of the language in the “Called to Life” materials. The facilitator of the group said that she received feedback from the residents that it was a “sincerely meaningful” message that the residents of the facility are still being called by God, and it is worthwhile discernment work to try to understand how God is calling.
Another resource we found helpful was Dr. Cahalan’s book, Stories We Live: Finding God’s Calling All around Us (2017). We offered this as a resource to a member of our team that joined this fall. It helped her to understand the perspective on calling that the Collegeville Institute has shared with us at the summer meetings. Since she wasn’t at either of those meetings, this book helped us all be on the same page.
When did your church last take on something new?
In spring 2017, following the departure of the parish’s preschool, the church began a process to discern how to use the lower level which is our education space. The rector called together a small group of highly gifted parish leaders to examine how the congregation might start-up a ministry that would serve the local neighborhood and greater community while helping the parish to live into its mission.
In May 2017, the vestry approved pitching the ideas developed by the small group to the parish to gauge enthusiasm. Through a series of forums, the parish learned about the possibility of beginning a toy lending library; a makerspace; a houseplant hospital and orphanage; a medical supply closet; or a tool lending library. Each of these ideas contained the hope that we could convey a theology of ecological responsibility through sharing resources and providing open access to items.
Anticipating the toy library presentation, an adult member said to one of the parish children that the ministry ought to be run by kids. The idea took off. The parish announced that the Toy Library would become a start-up ministry for children, led by children. A handful of Sunday school students volunteered to be on the steering committee, which was supported by the adult leader. (A second adult is always present in order to meet the Safe Church requirements). The kids made all of the organizational decisions from how to run the circulation desk, to donation criteria, and rules about what to do with broken or missing toys.
Once receiving vestry approval for the project, there was a short presentation at the annual meeting soliciting donations from parishioners. After checking to make sure that every toy had all of its parts; cataloging, cleaning, and displaying the toys; The Toy Library opened in February 2018 with just over three hundred donated toys in the collection. Initially, the hours of operation were once a month after Sunday School and once a month before church. However, this was just the first phase of the ministry.
The kids were able to practice using the system they designed in February on parishioners, and it worked well. So, they prepared for expansion in March to include the hours that the Food Pantry is operated. Children from the Committee explained the project to Pantry neighbors and held an open house in March, and then began serving in April. Twelve families checked out toys at the April Food Pantry.
At the same time that the Toy Library began, the vestry also decided to begin a Tool Library. The leaders of this ministry are a small group of adults who approached the second project with a request for $2,000 in start-up funds. The Tool Library opened at the food pantry on May 19. Software for the Tool Library can eventually also be used for the Toy Library. The plan is to list the contents of the collections on the parish website in the near future and to advertise to neighbors living in the neighborhood around the church that they are invited to utilize these libraries, and even to help out as volunteers.
1. Allowing a small group of kids live out their faith in community and to shape the parish in the process brings new life and energy to the entire congregation. Could there be other non-traditional parish leaders who ought to be asked to shape the congregation by leading a new ministry? How could St. Matthew’s invite our senior citizens into a new and life-giving ministry that allows them to live into their Christian vocation?
2. The small group of gifted leaders who developed the ministry did not need to have an ongoing role in the ministry. Their work was deep missional discernment, and the commitment to help out once in a while when there are bumps in the road. Other people were called to carry out the ministry project. This taught us that vocation is both individual and communal. For a ministry to succeed in our parish particular individuals need to feel called to it but the entire community must sense a call to this ministry even if they are not directly involved in it.