by Heather Kulp
When I first came to St. Luke’s, I was touched that people knew my name. Well, except when they called me Libby. I received a hello when I walked in the door, and a hug when it was time to pass the peace. We touched each other, literally. We share the cup together, both at communion and at Lutheran Lounge club. Generations mixed and mingled. Messages from Pastor both provoked and healed. I, and everyone around me, was embraced in the love of community and of God.
About two years ago, a shift began to happen. The things I loved about St. Luke’s didn’t disappear, but they did change. I didn’t know everyone’s name anymore. I was having difficult conversations with people about money, structure, strategic planning, change. These were exciting conversations, too. They meant that the Holy Spirit was moving, pushing, forcing us into a new realm of being, a realm that St. Luke’s has not experienced before.
The last two years have been about moving toward the shore, getting to the edge of our comfort level, putting time in to planning, discussing, pinching pennies. We developed a strategic plan, lived through a faith gap, and grew to the size of 50 worshipers on a Sunday. But now we are facing the waters we must cross or choose to the stay on the shore, comfortable and potentially stagnant.
You have the foundation to make this transition. I’ve seen you grow as a leadership team this year, honoring each other’s voices and talents and having difficult conversations that only people who care about and respect each other can have. I’ve seen you undertake major work, whether it be the building plan or the Boulevard. I’ve seen you forming policies with an eye not just on an immediate crisis, but toward a future in which St. Luke’s is free to do ministry.
But while you are doing this work, I urge you to keep these things in mind:
- Learn people’s names. It is no longer true that everyone knows my name, or that I know everyone else’s name. If you learn two peoples’ name this Sunday, then next Sunday learn two more, others may experience what we did when we came—a place where everyone is embraced.
- Socialize. My favorite memories of St. Luke’s will be times in which I got to know someone better: the long days folding clothes at the garage sale while chatting with Dea and Pat; the Lutheran Lounge club where Betty, Noel, and I had deep conversations; the LTQ groups sharing beer with Ryan and Brian; yoga classes with Betsey and Amie on cold winter mornings; the potlucks where Barry told me stories about . . . well . . . everything. We draw closer to God by drawing closer to one another, and the way to do this best is to have conversations over an activity or a meal. Don’t lose this aspect of St. Luke’s, even as you grow.
- Take care of each other. Few people will be excited about joining a ministry team or helping set up the church for worship if they don’t sense that people in the congregation truly care that they walked in the door. Or have been here for decades.
- Invite people to participate in what you’re doing. If there’s something exciting that’s happening in Council, share it. If there’s a new idea you have for how we could hand out bulletins or provide treats for coffee hour or minister to our neighbors, share it. If you notice that we need new mops or new candles or a new strategic plan, ask people to help you provide those things. We can only grow grassroots ministry if we build a culture of sharing our inspirations and talents with one another.
- Be able to articulate why you are doing what you’re doing. Especially in positions of leadership, we are often quite good at having conversations about what needs to be done. But, I’ve noticed that Lutherans are not great at being able to articulate why we’re doing certain things. We rely on tradition or common practice. But we’ve seen the power this year of writing things down: the constitution, the policies, the minutes—as ways of keeping us accountable to making sure we have a reason why we do what we do. I urge you to take that a step further: why do you go to church? Why do you believe in God, if you do? Why do you worship? Why do you pray? As we continue to shape policies that govern our activities and articulate a why, I urge you as leaders to think about your faith and learn to articulate it in a similar way.
- Keep in mind the difference—and the cross-over—between governance and ministry. We have a powerful leadership team in this church, and it’s not just the Council or the staff. As we struggle to figure out how to allocate work among the still few active members, I urge you to identify who the accountable party will be and how they will be held accountable. You don’t have to do it all. But until you identify and delegate, you will continue to experience a lot of work on the shoulders of a few people. Instead, consider how the Council and staff can divide work and work together to effectively pursue the mission of this church. We often forget that the Council is solely responsible for some activities (e.g., making sure that the church funds are spent according to budget, creating a job description for and evaluating the Pastor) and that Council has the power to delegate some activities (e.g., planning worship, conducting business with the building users, etc.). In this transition, you will do well to further define and clarify which decisions you want to make and which decisions you feel comfortable holding someone else accountable for making. This will let you engage more fully in what you yourself and you the Council are passionate about.
- Admit your mistakes. I have made many, whether I have said an unkind word to you or forgotten a document for a meeting, demanded too much or too little or not listened to you as I should have. We can only heal—with each other and with God—when we are willing to admit our mistakes. And only in healing can we continue to grow.
- Do the things about which you are passionate. I love strategic planning. It was a joy to be part of that team. I don’t love teaching Sunday School, but other people do. We best serve each other when we do what God has inspired us to do, even if those activities don’t always fit within the “normal” functions of a church. I urge you to evaluate the activities the church currently does and see if they fit with the passions God has put inside our members. Let go of what’s not working. See if new passions or interests bubble up. That is how this community will thrive.
- Above all else, share meals and prayer together. This is what Jesus did most often with his disciples. After long days of teaching or before a long journey, they would sit down, eat, and pray. Prayer re-centers our hearts on why we’re here, what we intend to do, and Whom we are following. Prayer allows us to hear each other and God more clearly. Food makes us smile. Food makes us appreciate one another’s gifts that we bring to the table. It makes us stop working and calls on us to pay attention. Keep these practices in every aspect of what we do, so we do not lose sight of why we’re working for St. Luke’s in the first place.