St Matthew’s experiments with church renewal

St. Matthews Meeting 2

Much has been written about the physical renewal of St Matthew’s bricks and mortar. However, we all know that, as necessary as it is to maintain and renew our physical selves, it is also critical to renew our social and spiritual selves. And so St Matthew’s has been on a journey of renewal of its community and spirit.

St Matthew’s has been on a journey of renewal of its community and spirit.

I love Jeremiah’s phrase “to build and to plant,” for it points us towards both architectural and biological processes of renewal (Jeremiah 1:10 and 31:28). As much as St Matthew’s story has amazing architectural features, it also is a biological process.

The processes of creating, nurturing and renewing living organisms provide good analogies for congregational life. They cannot be as easily engineered and photographed as a building project, but they can be grown, fertilized and tended with rich worship, prayer and conversation.

Shifts

St Matthew’s congregation has been negotiating three shifts in its spirit:

  1. A shift from anxiety and helplessness about its future into a sense of hope and trust;
  2. A shift from a few making most of the significant decisions to shared leadership and circle processes of decision making; and
  3. A shift from a sense of scarce human and financial resources to mobilizing all the God given capacities of the community and its allies.

Have we made all these shifts? No – they are always work in progress.

Over time, you can see the congregation imagining and exploring different ways of doing things – in its liturgy, outreach and organization. You can see people hearing and listening to each other about more than casual matters; and you can see the parish discovering resources and ways that people –parishioners, friends and allies – can and will engage in the life and ministry of the church.

One experiment that we are currently undertaking is developing six different ministry groups which meet, as works for them, in the intervening months between vestry meetings. These groups were identified by the congregation through an open “call” process.

Eighteen people were identified and agreed to be part of a ministry group. Some were from vestry. Some were from the traditional leadership group of the parish. But half are people who were not otherwise involved in the decision making structures of the parish.

Let our church be like a great tree giving shade and shelter to all who come. Under its branches let the people rest in your grace and be re-rooted in your kingdom’s work.

The experiment is not over. We will do an informal evaluation of this experiment this spring. This is one experiment among many that St Matthew’s has tried over the years – some more successful than others. But in God’s grace, we will continue to learn and grow as the “great tree” we pray for every Sunday in our parish prayer, which a few years ago replaced our mission statement:
We pray for our parish, St Mathew’s, here in the heart of the city in the heart of God. Let our church be like a great tree giving shade and shelter to all who come. Under its branches let the people rest in your grace and be re-rooted in your kingdom’s work. May the streets of our community be holy ground beneath our feet.

By Cathy Campbell