Guest Blogger: Pastor Jennifer Burns of Community UMC in Brookville, OH
Community UMC in Brookville, OH, has gone through dramatic changes in the last five years. Located in a rural/commuter community, the congregation has about 70-80 in worship on Sunday mornings. While the previous pastor at Community UMC was going through Crucible (clergy leadership training), the church got excited about structuring their leadership differently to empower rather than approve ministry. In the midst of this transformation, the imaginations of leaders were further captivated by the idea of Holy Currencies. While empowering ministry, we look toward all of our resources and seek sustainability over burnout.
Church leadership participated in Holy Currencies training and began using Mutual Invitation in the Leadership Team. New leaders were identified and lifted up as mature existing leaders began to contemplate, “How can I empower the next generation? How can I help identify, equip, and support the currency of gracious leadership?”
As things started rolling, I, Pastor Jennifer Burns, entered in without Holy Currencies training or experience, and without the same relationship currency that the previous pastor had. Yet I dove into relationship building and Holy Currencies study, and the Leadership refused to give up, despite numerous changes and losses.
I think pastors and congregations frequently find that issues arise where they are in over their heads, and that is what happened to us. Only six months in, an issue arose that had the congregation starting to divide. The support I received to host a Circles of Grace conversation at our church was overwhelming and empowering. It took a lot of hard work, but in the end it was powerful and beautiful.
We invited all of the active youth parents to attend a Circle of Grace. Instead of specifically targeting the apparent issue, we thought deeper and wider. What does it take to be a leader of our youth? What qualities do we require? One parent had this to say:
"This issue has been around for years and we've never really talked about it. I think the evening went really well, as well as it possibly could have...I'm glad we did the first part [Bible Study] because it prepared us to speak not just from emotion. I didn't know what I was going to say or what I thought going into it! It got us in that frame of mind to begin with and helped us have our emotions in check as we thought about and talked about [the issue]."
We offered two more Circles of Grace as opportunities to widen the circle to the whole congregation (only one happened due to low response rate). Specific invitations went to youth workers and church leaders, as well as a general invitation to the church. Those who had been the loudest voices behind closed doors decided not to attend. They acknowledged that it was other people’s time to lead. These voices have remained much quieter since they had the opportunity to speak. Three children/youth leaders came to the Circle. There we heard the hurt that had occurred over the past few months related to this topic. We also heard a deep desire for space for these grace-filled, honest conversations.
I pray we are setting a pattern for the future of how to talk about difficult issues in a healthy, Godly way. I know we are discovering the power of Circles of Grace to bring Truth to light. Only when we hear each other’s truth can we find a path forward that is healthy, whole, and life-giving.
Reflection Questions for Proper 18 (Year C)
Upcoming Opportunities to Study with The Sustainist and learn more about Holy Currencies and Gracious Leadership:
October 23-27, 2016
Eric H. F. Law
For competent leadership in a diverse changing world