I am so excited to introduce you to “Vital+Thriving Congregations” (V+T), a ministry learning hub developed for the congregations of the Diocese of California. We’ve created a space where your congregation can join with others for support and a process of collective discernment as we emerge from the pandemic. Shaped by our diocesan Vitality Practices for Building Beloved Community, this initiative is funded by the Expanding Horizons capital campaign. Think of it as spiritual venture capital to invest in your congregation’s future! We’re committed to walking with you as you seek to discover your next steps. This will be a space for support, mutual learning as well as a pathway for seed funding as you discern your congregation’s unique missional challenge.
DioCal and Newbigin House
My name is Scot Sherman and I’m thrilled to serve as the Project Executive for V+T. I’m an Episcopal priest and the Executive Director of Newbigin House of Studies, an ecumenical study center and affiliate of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. I have a long ministry history focused on church planting, congregational redevelopment and theological education. Following the leadership of Bishop Marc Andrus and Canon Debbie Low-Skinner, and working in partnership with the Diocesan staff, we’ve formed a resource team to partner with and support your congregation in this critical moment.
Discovering Our Next Steps
One good thing that came out of the pandemic lockdown for me was the discovery of a new neighborhood in San Francisco. The thing is it happened to be the one I live in.
Every day, after Zooming ourselves into a stupor, my wife and I would mask up and walk the streets of Sunnyside. Last spring, I found myself overwhelmed with all the gorgeous wildflowers that were blooming everywhere. One day I asked her, “What are these amazing flowers that have popped up this year? I’ve never seen anything like it!” She patiently explained that they are, in fact, here every year. “Those are California poppies. It’s the state flower, dear. We’ve lived here for 17 years. How have you never seen them before?”
How had I not seen them before? And what were the other things I’d been missing? Here’s the point: there was something about being in a situation I’d never been in before that focused my attention to reality in a fresh way. I’d never been in a pandemic, or a lockdown, and that disruption gave me space for fresh attention and curiosity.
That’s my sense of where our congregations are right now. We have a shared reality of profound disruption. We’re here now in a place where we’ve never been before. The old days of church as most of us remember it are in the past and nobody has a clue about what’s next. Hence, the poppy analogy! In the midst of all this change, where are there signs of God’s promised new life that maybe we’ve been missing? How do we learn to pay attention and discern where God is at work in our surroundings and join in? How do we unlock the capacity of our congregations to build the beloved community that Jesus promises?
V+T is a process for us to discover these next steps together.
If you’d like to connect with V+T and learn more about how we’re exploring these questions, please sign up for our email list here. Visit vitalthriving.org and you’ll learn about resources and opportunities as they become available. April is our launch month—expect to see a steady stream of resources coming your way:
- Quarterly Webinars, such as the upcoming “Creating a Culture of Belonging” with Rev. Ben McBride on April 30.
- The V+T Podcast, co-hosted with Rev. Claire Dietrich Ranna, Rector of Christ Episcopal Church, Los Altos. This bi-monthly podcast will explore ideas for faithful innovation with leading practitioners and be a place to share what we’re learning in this process. Beginning April 12 (Holy Week). Sign up here.
- Partnership for the Missional Church is the core process we’re inviting congregations to participate in beginning this Fall. (We currently have a pilot cohort of 13 congregations actively engaged in testing the process.) Using the tools and skills of human centered design, we’ll engage your congregation in a multi-stage design thinking process of listening, reflecting, and discerning of your distinctive story: Who are we? Where are we now? The Diocese will be providing seed funding for experiments to help your congregation discover new things by trying new things. You’ll learn how to deepen your existing connections to your neighborhood, forge new relationships with neighbors, and collaborate with individuals and groups already working for the common good in your community. We hope to develop congregations that are truer to the vision of Jesus, and along the way, to identify opportunities for new expressions of church. We are offering three informational meetings to find out more.
I hope you will prayerfully consider exploring these next steps together. As we again walk with Jesus this week on the journey to the cross and the empty tomb, I’m reminded of the words of the physicist and Anglican theologian, John Polkinghorne: “The resurrection is the seed event from which the new creation has begun to grow.” It has begun and God is with us.