In early September, I attended a preaching-planning “boot camp” at Alton Collin’s Retreat Center.
Together we read through every Gospel text assigned in the lectionary for the next year and discussed insights and themes we saw within them. We also talked about our congregations. The leader of our session asked, “What is your biggest obstacle? What are three assets?” Knowing our congregations is part of how preachers decide what to focus on and how to approach the Biblical texts.
I suspect each of us would answer these questions slightly differently as we consider Mill Plain United Methodist Church. They would be useful discussion questions for our Council or even in a study group. I won’t say that my answers are the definitive replies nor the most insightful. I might well answer them differently in a week or a month than I did at the camp. That said, let me share with you the thoughts that came to me at this retreat.
What is Mill Plain’s biggest obstacle? It would be easy to say money or volunteers to fill the various positions open as we move towards the next year, but those are nearly always true of most churches. As many of you know, we are currently trying to discern God’s will for us as to whether we should or need to become a Reconciling Church which openly and intentionally welcomes LGBTQIA people. We’ve had several meetings and are trying to make our process as transparent as possible. A number of people have been very open about their opinions. We strongly suspect others have reservations or even strong objections to our participation in this process and we are having trouble gathering those viewpoints. Perhaps the biggest obstacle we face is gaining the trust of those who oppose or at least question this journey. I’m not sure how to gain that trust.
A related obstacle is that the process for this journey is murky. We can’t lay out benchmarks for how to proceed or even a clear statement of our goal. The goal is not to become a reconciling congregation; it is to discern if that is God’s will for us and remaining open to people of all viewpoints.
Having a fuzzy process is frustrating and confusing. I’d be more comfortable with a clearer process with defined steps along the way. We will take as much time as it needs and I don’t know when we will be ready to make a decision.
Mill Plain has so many assets, which made this question more fun to answer than the obstacle question. The harder part was to list just three. You might have other items on your list. Here’s what I said:
Mill Plain has a deep passion for hands-on mission. People want to be engaged directly. I’ve been in churches where mission meant writing checks to send off for various causes. Money is certainly important and Mill Plain generously responds to appeals. I’m prouder still that people want to help at the Winter Hospitality Overflow Shelters, serve a meal at SHARE house, serve dinner for Family Promise, and so much more. When we show up and meet people face to face we not only help others, we are changed ourselves. That is a huge asset.
There is a new and positive attitude with our preschool. Teachers interact daily with our office staff, we solve problems together, and there is a new energy and life in the building. Joy pulsates through the halls.
We have many community partners. Ministry does not happen in a silo removed from everyone else. Our list of partners is long: all the other churches involved in WHO, Family Promise, Babies in Need and more. Several friends from East Woods Presbyterian helped with our Reading Explorer Program. We participate with the East Mill Plain Neighborhood Association. We partner with the Evergreen School District both in our formal partnership with Hearthwood Elementary School and in a more informal connection with Mill Plain Elementary. Through that partnership we posted signs in our yard with messages of hope through the Our City Cares program. We built a connection with Clark County Food Bank and for two summers have hosted Fresh Food Pantry, a marvelous outreach to our neighborhood. Of course, we work with Educational Opportunities for Children and Families as they serve meals out of our kitchen for Head Start classes. And much, much more. All of these assets allow us to extend our church into the community.
I invite you to consider obstacles and assets for Mill Plain. Write down your own thoughts and send them to me or talk with me about them.