Reflection verses: “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. . .to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.” Isaiah 43:19-21
Yeah, I know: that phrase has as much appeal as the phrase “new plumbing.” It conjures up the nightmare of waiting for the plumber, while water fountains onto the floor from a burst pipe. Not exactly a time for rejoicing or having fun.
Yet the prophet Isaiah reminds us that new life often begins in a place that seems less than ideal. Truly new life, in fact, can only begin where life has withered. The New Testament calls such new life resurrection. The risen Jesus is God’s ultimate “new thing.” While a resurrection like his awaits us at the end of time, little resurrections also occur throughout our lives. One of my favorite theologians says that in the hands of our loving, living God, every end is a beginning.
This congregation already knows something about God doing a “new thing.” The Holy Spirit has been making two congregations into a new union of Presbyterian and Lutheran practice! You have much for which to praise God! So it might be more helpful to think of interim ministry here as the next step in your already blessed wilderness journey into new life.
So what will we do together on this part of the journey? We’ll be 1) asking big questions; 2) discerning a vision; and 3) keeping each other and the church’s ministry going.
Asking Big Questions.
In interim ministry, we’ll ask together these questions:
1.) Who are we? (identity) Who have we been in the past? Who are we today? Good Shepherd Trinity has a rich past and vital present worth understanding and celebrating. The Spirit shapes our new future from everything we’ve been and are.
2.) Who is our neighbor? (context) Our congregational identity is affected by our relationships with others. So we ask questions about the people who live and work around us. What is our neighborhood like? Who lives here? What other groups call this area home? How does the congregation’s relationships with other churches, mission partners and denominational offices offer opportunity and challenge?
3.) What does God want us to do? (mission) What does God want God’s people to do as Jesus’ followers? How is God at work? Through reflecting on Scripture and looking at the world around us, we’ll talk about what Gospel mission looks like in the 21st century.
4.) Who is God-for-us? (theology) This question is the most important one — for God makes possible asking and answering all the other questions. So through worship and preaching; through Biblical reflection, prayer and conversation, we’ll constantly deepen our trust in the God who loves us and promises always to bring us into new life.
Discerning a Vision.
Reflecting together on those big questions will lead us into discerning more concretely what the Holy Spirit wants this congregation to do. The visioning process will engage both our heads and our hearts. We’ll grow together spiritually, and we’ll also have fun!
Keeping Everyone/Everything Going.
While we’re asking big questions and discerning a vision, we’ll work together to continue being Church. That is, we’ll keep worshiping together. We’ll keep on forming our children and adults in the faith. We’ll keep on serving in community outreach ministries and working with existing ministry partners. We’ll keep on caring for the sick and dying, baptizing, and marrying folks. We’ll keep on carrying for our physical plant and encouraging generous giving of our time and financial resources. While interim ministry is about change, it’s also very much about continuing to be a community.
Who will do what during the interim? The short answer is, everyone will do something! But specific people and groups also will have assigned tasks.
1.) As your pastor, I will work with the worship team to plan vital worship, as well as preach and lead worship. I will provide pastoral care to the congregation, including hospital visitation, and officiating at baptisms, weddings, and funerals. I also will work with the Executive Board to plan the Council’s agenda each month. Most importantly, I will guide the congregation’s work of asking big questions and catching a vision.
2.) Because the congregation has covenanted with me for only 20 hours a week, however, the congregation’s staff, leadership team and committee members also will have vital roles to play. In order to provide additional staff support, Lisa Quinn will continue to work 5 hours weekly as Worship Coordinator, while Paul Tjaden will continue to provide technical and physical plant support. Congregational committees, in partnership with the Council and Executive Board, will run the congregation’s other ministries. The Personnel Committee will supervise staff. I thank these people in advance for the commitment they are making.
3.) Last, but not least, EVERYONE in the congregation will be needed to participate in both ongoing work but also in the special work of the interim. There will be roles for everyone to play – a need for prayers, organizers, cooks, and Bible study leaders, just to name a few. Please plan to say yes, when you are invited to participate in congregational events.
Interim ministry, above all, is a communal process that requires the reflection and prayers of the whole community, not just those of the pastor and/ or leaders. (That’s why the word together is underlined in every paragraph.)
I am excited and honored to be part of this stage of Good Shepherd Trinity’s journey into the “new thing” that God has planned for the people she loves. Through my personal journey as a Christian and my previous pastoral calls, God has fitted me for accompanying people on journeys of renewal. I know from experience how scary, but also how blessed, those journeys can be. As we get acquainted, I’ll share my stories of resurrection, even as I look forward to hearing yours. I thank you in advance for your prayers and your commitment to the interim journey. God is a doing a new thing – hallelujah!
Rev. Wendy Wirth-Brock