‘Throw off the shackles of expectations’
by Grace Hellweg | Special to Presbyterian News Service
CARLISLE, Penn. – When I began the apprenticeship for 1001 [New Worshiping Communities], my coach and I sat in a diner and I scribbled my vision on the back of a placemat. I had already gathered a small group of churched and de-churched individuals a year prior. In my excitement, I had mistakenly come up with all kinds of strategies they could use to launch this project.
My expectation was that my strategies for this project would shape this season of my life. The reality was different. As I became more available to God, a call to ordained ministry became so intense it could no longer be ignored. I will be pursuing my Master of Divinity at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary beginning this fall. This transition forced me to shift how I care for the group of people I had convened.
The Rev. Chris Henry at Shallowford Presbyterian Church told our cohort we should always be asking, “What time is it?” That question is not just about relevancy. It’s a question for real people with lives that change and calls that need heeding. The more I listened to those in my small community, I grasped they were yearning for a spiritual home. I realized it would be dangerous to build something unsustainable due to my move to Kentucky. They needed a more deeply rooted community while protecting our rhythm of gathering separately. I began plugging them into the church where I serve as the director of youth ministries, a church that also has been shifting.
Over the past year, we have begun speaking more of the gifts of our congregation. We’re seeking to understand how limitations are an opportunity to throw off the shackles of expectations. We long to see not just our pews, but also our entire neighborhood, transformed by the gospel. After studying Joan Gray’s Sailboat Church together we are, with God’s help, sailing more and rowing less. Our vision is more fixated on God’s mission rather than program maintenance. We’re practicing “watchful waitingness,” to quote Libby Tedder Hugus, as we discern how the Spirit is using our alternative worship service. Though once just an experiment in the margins, this service is deepening people’s faith and breaking down our congregation’s rules about church.
In the past year I have learned God isn’t always interested in our building projects. Sometimes God wants to do a new thing with old systems. It’s resurrection. While I love that 1001 New Worshiping Communities is starting new things, I hope we recognize the Spirit’s ability to use 1001 to send “old things” on new adventures.
My pastor, the Rev. Dr. Jeff Gibelius, shared what it was like having a 1001 apprentice on staff when he said, “I felt like I had a resident expert in congregational renewal. While she didn’t have all the answers, she was on the front lines of creativity and innovation, and we benefited from that energy.” And while I think “expert” is pretty bold, I’m absolutely an advocate for established churches being in tune with the work and resources of the 1001 movement because our Lord sends new and old alike.
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