We gathered silently before dawn again this Easter Sunday, enjoying the birdsong and the clear sky, coping with the March temperatures and the blare of the train whistle from the nearby track. As the sun came up, Erin read John 21: 1 - 14 and we sang Lord of the Dance. And then she said, "Come and have breakfast."
Most of us went on to Faith House, where others joined us for more singing of Easter songs and readings, followed by brunch and more opportunities to visit and laugh together.
In a recent post on the MC USA website, Rachel Gerber, denominational minister to youth and young adults, sends a message to small congregations, with words of appreciation for her own small fellowship. Rachel is part of Bloomington Mennonite Fellowship, where Erin was before moving back to Goshen. Here's the link:
To small congregations: you are enough.
This coming Sunday, January 24, we will be celebrating another step in our exploration of how to combine growth with maintaining a small inter-generational worship experience. After several months of being a "test bud" and an "anchor," we are now a 9:00 worship circle and an 11:00 worship circle, both meeting at Faith House. The 9:00 group starts their time with breakfast together, followed by worship; the 11:00 group begins with worship, followed by a simple soup and bread meal.
This Sunday the 9:00 circle will meet at their regular time, but we'll have an overlapping time for fellowship beginning at 10:45, followed by a time of blessing each other and asking for God's blessing on the network, from 11:00 - 11:30, with the 11:00 circle then continuing with their worship and meal.
We spent time at yesterday's discernment meeting brainstorming ways of maintaining our connections -- times of overlapping fellowship between the two worship times, possibly hymn sings, potlucks and/or discernment meetings on a Wednesday night every month or every six weeks. And we'll be having our retreat together at Camp Friedenswald on January 30 - 31st, with worship on Sunday at 10:00. Notice the banner photo above, from last year's retreat -- you can just glimpse some of the snowstorm that nearly had us staying there an extra day!
If you have ideas on how we remain connected as we add a new worship circle, let us know!
Given the space at Faith House and the numbers we had last spring, and our interest in exploring organic growth options, over the summer we asked whether there were people who were interested in being part of a test bud, and there were. In late September, five people began meeting at 9:00 a.m. Sunday morning at Faith House, testing a model of having breakfast together and then worship, seeing how it works to have back-to-back services in the same space. So far we’ve been hearing enthusiastic reports, and that having five is fine for this early exploratory phase. They don’t anticipate staying that small and are very open to visitors or others who would like to explore with them.
Both the 9:00 group and the 11:00 group are part of one Open Table, so we are all exploring this with and through them. Leadership Group will continue to review how things are going for the bud, and how things are going for the 11:00 group. The bud may decide to experiment with the details of when and where. Together we may decide that it isn’t quite time yet for a network. Or we may be surprised and delighted by what unfolds. It’s early days yet – let’s keep watching.
There's something I want to "throw out there" after a conversation with Susan Setiawan and somebody else (forget who!) a couple of Sundays ago. The idea is to try to get permission to use the old Abshire mansion, new Maple City Health Care center (where Susan works), as a meeting place. She says there is a room about 1/2 again the size of Faith and they have a kitchen there too. One negative would be a farther bike ride for students, and others. Susan felt pretty sure that they would agree to our use, since they are all about sharing the space with the community.
We would love to hear updates from those of you who have been studying abroad, or doing service in other locations this summer. Where were you and what are one or two things that stand out for you as you reflect on that time?
Here's a photo of the poster we've been putting sticky notes on this past six weeks or so.The previous post gives the background details. This was our initial attempt to explore forming another worship circle.
On the left is our tentative time line. During August we will continue to see if we have 5-7 people interested in doing some initial planning and shaping of a bud/pilot group. We also want to know who is interested in being part of the on-going anchor group.
Below are some of the responses to the questions ("What is your call, nudge, Holy Spirit invitation? What are you drawn to for OT Sunday a.m. worship? What are you drawn to for exploring possibilities with a new bud?") As you'll see, people responded at several different levels -- some with foundational elements that draw them, some with very specific elements that they are willing to help with. Some specified openness to being part of a new group or a continuing group, others didn't specify. Asterisks mean a new sticky note; when the same thing is said by a couple people I put the numbers in parentheses at the end. We have encouraged people to feel free to put up more than one note, as ideas get triggered.
*Contemplative worship - reflection/meditation + silence (2x)
*Building God's kingdom wherever
*Helping family think of options besides soup; sending out soup reminders
*Involved in growing community (simple setting and community); growing as a safe space
*Integrating 1 or more families into the setting (old or new) (2x)
*Integrating all ages in worship time
*Music; advertising OT to incoming first years
*Drawn to-- a place to become more known to myself and others; a place for silent reflection; a place that welcomes everyone; a place that names and encourages use of gifts; allowing space for the Holy; paying attention, holding things lightly
*Willing to be doula for two groups during transition time
*Energy, music and leadership skills for supporting network of OTMF-like church bodies
*Active participation in worship/meal, discernment, small group; energy limited but open to being part of new bud
*Energy for testing model of sending out rhizome; open to new or continuing; contributing hospitality, making soup, worship leading
*willing to continue to help out; could see being part of a bud
What would you add with your own sticky notes (or notes)?
As the “Growth” paragraph of our Who We Are statement says:
The face-to-face nature of our worship circle allows all to be known by name. We want to create a safe place for questions and honest mutual engagement, where we can discern together what the good news of Jesus means in our context. We also want to welcome newcomers. We are exploring ways of budding new worship circles to welcome growth while also maintaining a small inter-generational worship experience.
From the beginning, Open Table has talked about organic growth models, wanting to welcome newcomers through adding inter-generational worship circles rather than through building bigger. As you remember, our worship circle this past year was pushing the limits of our space at Faith House. Even with many of us away for some or all of the summer, we have usually had about 20 people at Open Table.
So we are exploring the possibility of having an on-going Open Table group at Faith House as an anchor group, continuing much like it has, and spinning off a smaller new group (a bud, a rhizome, a pilot group). We keep experimenting with language, but the idea is that we see if there are 5-7 people who feel a call and some energy for starting something new. They would do the initial planning and organizing and then invite others (from OT and elsewhere) to join them.
We also want to know who continues to feel a call and energy for the on-going Open Table patterns of worship, meal and welcoming new people. Neither group would be starting from scratch. We assume that worship at the new group will be similar to what Open Table has developed. And our overall structures – finances, policies, staffing – would be an umbrella for both groups. The new group would decide when and where to meet (Faith House would be available Sunday evenings, another location could provide accessibility for those with mobility issues, etc.), and if there is any additional focus that draws them together. Together we’ll be figuring out what it means to be an anchor group and a new bud.
This Sunday, July 26, Open Table will hold our worship service at Claybottom Farm, 11:00 to 1:00. Bring lawn chairs, plates and table service -- food will be provided.