Thursday, April 14, 2011

Disciples together…

In last Sunday’s sermon, I mentioned a new direction our region’s common ministry is taking. Typically, I don’t write or speak much about regional church activities. They can seem rather...boring, honestly. Plus, we’re so distant from most regional churches, it’s hard to participate. But given the scope of recent decisions, I felt the need to say something. So bear with me; loads o’ info to follow.

#1- We’ve called a ‘settled’ Regional Minister- Rev. Bill Spangler-Dunning. You may know the name; he’s been the ‘Acting’ Regional Minister 2+ years. The previous grand poobah, Rev. Richard Guentert, had served for 20 years or so. During Richard’s final few years, Bill was Associate Regional Minister for Youth and Camping, shifting to ‘Acting’ Regional Minister once Richard retired. That was supposed to be temporary, giving us time to think more deeply about our region’s direction. In the meantime, Bill helped increase regional revenues, pay off large debts, the regional headquarters building up for sale; i.e. firmed up our fiscal foundation. He’s also pushed churches to engage deeper with the ‘new vision’ our region adopted in 2003- Disciples Together- by strengthening their mutual relationships. These activities, and the strongly positive response they elicited from folk throughout the region, impressed the regional personnel committee. They recommended dropping the ‘Acting’ designation and at the Regional Meeting last Saturday, April 10, we did just that.

To my mind, one idea of Bill’s that’s helped many trust his leadership is also one that sparked the other big change made last Saturday. Many Upper Midwest Disciples, Bill claims, were implicitly taught that “The Region” is like a hub at a tire’s center, and that local churches, while important and related, were separate from the offices and staff- The Region- in Des Moines. Bill contends, however, that The Region is nothing but the accumulation of churches and church people in the Upper Midwest. There’s no hub, he says, because The Region’s center is wherever two or three are gathered in ministry as Disciples Together. Hence, I believe, his urgency to sell the Des Moines area HQ and work from the Camp and Conference Center or in various churches. He wants to teach that no regional ministry- camp, youth programs, ordination preparation- happens unless Disciples feel inspired to work on it together.

Thus, we’ve dramatically changed the region’s structure. Gone are bi-annual Regional Assemblies and their rubber-stamping ‘business meetings.’ Instead, we’ll have annual or semi-annual “Called Gatherings,” where anyone can come, though each church can send two and only two official delegates (big churches got more voting power before), and the main point is listening to our collective ideas and passions for ministry, thus discerning what God wants us to do in common. So if our church gets excited about women’s, or youth, or puppet ministry, shares that dream with the Called Gathering and another couple churches say, “Let’s work together!” Viola- it’s a ministry of the region, until such time as that shared passion fades. Therefore, regional staff or leadership no longer decide what’s appropriate regional ministry or not. Only the sharing of passions and dreams for ministry among churches does. Inevitably, that’ll make for a messier process, but it honors our Disciples’ commitment to congregational autonomy and freedom in the Body of Christ. For truly, we believe that unity in the midst of diversity is stronger than enforced conformity.

So the first “Called Gathering” will be October 15. If you want to be a PCCC delegate, let me know (as clergy, I’m exempt). And most especially, if you feel we have a passion for ministry to share with our sister and brother DoC churches, let’s start exploring that and building partnerships now. Maybe a regional “Community Garden and Green Ministry”… In any event, it’s exciting to hear folk talk about regional ministry as a possible source of inspiration and not a drag or necessary evil. I hope you’ll take a moment to respond to me with any feedback, and maybe pray that, indeed, we’ll find new ways to be Disciples Together. After all, though doing ministry alone can be fruitful, sharing ministry is better. And nearer, I believe, to the heart of God.

Grace and Peace,
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