What’s Your Story?

I love stories! I love telling them, reading and listening to them and am a devoted fan of a number of story-telling podcasts.

I love how stories open us up to the lives and experiences of others. They reveal opportunities, possibilities and limitless worlds beyond what we already know. Stories help us understand and learn from one another and they often stretch us and challenge us to grow or expand our worlds.

As we continue to live into our conference’s SHIFT: From Maintenance to Mission Initiative, we want to lift up as many stories as possible so that we can see more clearly what God is doing in the Wisconsin Conference to transform lives and change our world.

To get this story telling ball rolling, here’s a quick story shared by Gail Irwin, Interim Pastor at Immanuel UCC in Kaukauna:

Immanuel UCC in Kaukauna was early in an interim period when the SHIFT initiative was launched.  They had reviewed their history and character and were sensing renewed energy to connect with their neighborhood.  When the SHIFT videos arrived, they decided to organize two congregational gatherings to view and discuss them. 

After these two conversations, a smaller group met to sift down ideas that would combine something they did well with an outreach to the neighbors.  They finally settled on hosting a free community meal.  The local police were invited to bring their canine officer by for a visit.  Food was donated and flyers were distributed.  Members walked the neighborhood knocking on doors to let people know they were welcome. 

The night of the event, they fed close to 100 people, with leftovers shared with a local men’s shelter.  Families brought their children to meet the police dog and have a free, healthy meal after school and work.  A member of another church even dropped by to see if she could help!

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We are already feeling that the Spirit moved us in the right direction, engaging more with our neighbors.  The rumor is out that another free community dinner will be happening this winter.  

 What’s Your Story?

If you’ve signed up as a SHIFT Congregation, we want to know what you’re up to. Tell us how you are shifting from maintenance to mission. Who are you partnering with, whose lives are you touching, what impact are you hoping to make?

If you’re planning to engage with SHIFT this fall or sometime in 2017, let us know your plans by signing up as a SHIFT congregation. What is your dream or hope for how the SHIFT conversation might support your efforts to touch the world with God’s love?

If you’ve been shifting longer than you can remember, Tell your Story or offer a resource.

If you’re not sure what all this SHIFT business is all about, that’s o.k. Watch the introductory video to see whether or not you’re ready to begin making a shift to transform lives and touch the world with love.

As we share our stories with one another we know that resources and ideas will emerge from unexpected places. We are confident that hope and enthusiasm for what God is doing in our midst will grow. We believe that our sense of what is possible will expand and we will surprise ourselves with our own strength, vitality and courage in facing the challenges and embracing the opportunities of this time and place.

So don’t wait another moment. Don’t second guess the inspiration you feel right now. Reach out, share your story. We can’t wait to see what God is up to in Wisconsin!

-Tisha Brown

If you have questions about SHIFT contact Rev. Tisha Brown

Trend lines to Consider as we SHIFT: From Maintenance to Mission (Part 2)

In her Friday evening presentation at annual meeting, Cameron Trimble shared brief thoughts on 6 trend lines operating in our culture. A trend line according to Google is “a line indicating the general course or tendency of something.” I believe consideration of the trend lines Cameron shared might be one way for us to continue imagining ways for our congregations to make small but significant shifts from maintenance to mission so I thought I would share my recollections from Cameron’s talk along with some of my own musings about how we might engage these trend lines in our particular contexts. There are 6 trend lines to consider and so I’ve broken this post up into two parts. The first three trend lines were shared in an earlier post. The second set of three are shared below.

Do it Yourself

I remember watching my great-grandmother knitting, crocheting, making rugs, sewing clothes, and canning from her massive garden. As a child I viewed all of this activity as the quaint ways of the older generation. I was from the city and so I didn’t need to know how to do all those things. The Do It Yourself trend is reversing this movement and challenging this idea as millions of Americans are learning skills and trades we used to think would fade away with technology and urbanization. Increasingly, Americans are re-learning all these skills and embracing them as a way to provide our own goods, make ends meet or bringing in additional income. Groups of people connecting around learning and developing these skills are also a way to express creativity and form community.

I wonder what do it yourself opportunities exist for our local congregations. What can we do ourselves to fund ministry – what goods or services can we provide to supplement our incomes? How can we open our buildings to provide space for people to gather to knit or sew or make things? Can our kitchens become a resource for food entrepreneurs? Could our land become garden space for our food pantry or for community gardeners? What could members of our congregations teach to people in our local community – small engine repair or website design, knitting or sewing?

Sharing Economy

Increasingly, because of environmental awareness and economic instability we are asking ourselves why do we all need everything and what can we share? In recent years we have seen businesses like Uber, Zipcar, Community Car, Air B & B and others spring up. All of these businesses are rooted in the sharing economy – sharing cars and homes. I’ve also heard of neighborhood groups organizing around sharing garden tools and lawn care equipment and groups of parents sharing child care. The possibilities are endless as we follow this trend.

What do you possess as a congregation that you can share more fully with your neighbors and wider community? How can you share your building, your land? Can your members share things with one another or with your neighbors – skills, services, resources, space?

Start-Up Nation

This trend is grounded in the idea that the way we’re working isn’t working – long days, inflexible hours, cubicles, commutes, challenging bosses etc. Increasingly younger workers want more flexibility, more time with their families, and work that reflects their values and that enables them to contribute to the well-being of their community. In response, we are seeing a significant rise in entrepreneurialism. People are starting their own businesses, developing smart phone apps and creating micro-enterprises that enable them to have the flexibility they crave. Even if it means lower wages, we want to be our own bosses and live the American Dream.

What I love about this trend is the risk taking that is involved. Starting your own business, or quitting a steady job are huge risks and yet people are taking them every day because their vision of what is possible through that risk is more compelling than the reality they are currently experiencing. The wisdom of this trend for our congregations is in the reality most of us have to face that the way we’re doing church isn’t working so well for us anymore either. How do we embrace the spirit of creativity and risk-taking that this trend line represents and apply it to our local congregations. How do we craft a faith community that is flexible, supports our values, serves our community, and improves the quality of life for us and our neighbors?

What thoughts, ideas, possibilities emerged for you as you read through these trend lines? Please share your comments, questions, challenges and also examples you see in your local community or around the world of where you see these trend lines in operation.

Trend Lines to Consider as We SHIFT: From Maintenance to Mission (Part 1)

In her Friday evening presentation at annual meeting, Cameron Trimble shared brief thoughts on six trend lines operating in our culture. A trend line according to Google is “a line indicating the general course or tendency of something.” I believe consideration of the trend lines Cameron shared might be one way for us to continue imagining ways for our congregations to make small but significant shifts from maintenance to mission so I thought I would share my recollections from Cameron’s talk along with some of my own musings about how we might engage these trend lines in our particular contexts. There are six trend lines to consider, and so I’ve broken this post up into two parts. The first three trend lines are discussed below. The second set of three will be shared in a future post

 Small to Big

We crave small group and deeper relationships. Human connection still matters and people are seeking it. At the same time, we don’t want to compromise access to the broader network available to us through technology.

Small to Big in our contexts would mean paying really close attention to finding ways to deepen and build relationships and a sense of community within our congregations while at the same time developing and nurturing a networked, online, socially connected presence. Twenty-first century people of faith want to be able to be connected with community and with ministry even when they can’t be physically present.

The Wisconsin Digital Ministry Network is cultivating resources and support for congregations to develop or strengthen their online presence. Check them out on Facebook and get connected.

Crowdsourcing

The big idea behind crowdsourcing is that we all have wisdom that is relevant and necessary for solving our own problems. Crowdsourcing draws upon the wisdom and experience of the many instead of focusing solely on experts. One really famous example is Wikipedia – the online encyclopedia to which anyone can contribute and also smart phone apps like Waze that collect data in real time from drivers who use the app that provide optional routes through road construction or warnings when there is a hazard on the road.

I am a big fan of this emerging trend. I believe it has the capacity to call forth creativity and spur action if organized and managed well. We used this trend to organize a portion of our annual meeting this year and will continue to find ways to draw upon your wisdom to shape Shift. This is also the idea behind the www.wcucc.org/resource-center on the conference’s website.

In your local context, you might consider finding ways to listen carefully to yourselves and your neighbors; what are the challenges you are facing in your community and what are the ideas of the crowd for how to address those challenges? Think beyond the usual suspects to spur creativity. It’s amazing what can happen when you put a group of people who are passionate about something around a table and get them talking about what they can do together to address an issue or solve a problem.

Going Local

This may be one of those rare trends where Wisconsin has been leading the pack. Our beloved Green Bay Packers are a great example of Going Local! Think also about the increase of farmer’s markets, buy local campaigns and even the explosion of food trucks in larger cities and towns.

Thanks to our polity, the United Church of Christ is all about going local. Each local congregation has autonomy and authority in determining its own ministry and mission. Consider the local challenges and realities that your congregation already addresses. Are there gaps in your local community that your congregation could help to fill? In what additional or deeper ways might you support and lift up local businesses and help build a more robust local economy, support your local schools and non-profit agencies and improve the standard of living in your community?

What thoughts, ideas, possibilities emerged for you as you read through these trend lines? Please share your comments, questions, challenges and also examples you see in your local community or around the world of where you see these trend lines in operation.

Justice Ministries

Cameron Trimble shared a compelling vision for the United Church of Christ at our Annual Meeting a few weeks ago. Her vision is that in every community where there is a United Church of Christ congregation the standard of living in that community is on the rise – people have meaningful work, children get a great education, there is a robust economy and very few people living in poverty or without enough to eat, community practices are sustainable, pollution is minimal, crime is low and neighbors work together to solve problems and share resources. This is also a vision that aligns nicely with the vision statements of our Conference: “By 2019 the people of the United Church of Christ in Wisconsin will be energized to be the church in their local context, expressed through passionate work toward a more just and generous world.” Both of these visions are completely within our reach as we continue to find ways to engage our communities and work together on important justice issues facing our state in the coming years.

The Conference website’s Resource Hub has a growing list of Justice Ministries that already exist throughout the conference. If you are wondering what other congregations in the Conference are doing to work on important justice issues this is the first place to look. You will find a list of groups throughout our state doing a variety of things. Each link will provide you with brief information about what the group is working on as well as who to contact to get more information or to get connected.

Those who were present at annual meeting filled out a card to indicate the areas of Shift on which they were planning to work in the coming year. Using these card, we will begin bringing people together around various justice ministries as a way of supporting the efforts of the various groups already doing great work and in order to connect new people and congregations to this work as we move toward the visions shared above.

If you did not get a chance to indicate your interests at annual meeting but would like to make sure you are included in our efforts to support the work of justice in our Conference, please get in touch with one of the groups on the website or email Tisha.

If you’re involved in a justice ministry that you’d like to share through our website, please also contact Tisha to make sure your group is represented.

Let’s see if we can work together in the coming year to move closer to a more just and generous world.

Shift Space – Governance and Administration

Recently, I was talking with a pastor colleague and the topic of Shift: From Maintenance to Mission came up (imagine that!). This pastor said the issue her congregation most needed to address before anything else was to shift its governance and administrative structure, which she said uses up all the volunteer time the folks in her congregation have to give and leaves very little time or energy for mission and ministry. She went on to add:

We have about 60 people in worship on Sunday morning and a little over a hundred members. There are 57 slots on boards and committees that get filled every year prior to our annual meeting. This is simply unsustainable. Some of these boards have not met in my three years as the pastor of this congregation.

Does this sound familiar? Many of our congregations have a governance structure that evolved in a particular place and time and that served the mission and ministry of the congregation at that place and time. Today, however, in many cases that structure no longer serves and in some cases actually inhibits faithful and effective ministry. Perhaps it’s time for your congregation to re-interpret, re-imagine and re-design a governance structure and process that will serve and support your ministry in today’s world. If this is the Shift you are imagining for yourselves here are some thoughts about how to proceed, some questions to consider and a short list of possible resources to guide you through this particular Shift from maintenance to mission.

The first step is likely to have an open conversation with your leadership body about whether or not the governance structure you currently have in place is supporting or hindering ministry and mission in your congregation. Are you having a hard time filling all the open slots? Are your meetings ineffective, boring, places for complaints instead of new ideas? Are there too many boards and committees for your current size of membership? Is your structure serving the ministry or has your ministry become an effort to maintain the structure?

Next it might be helpful to affirm the core purpose of governance structures. How are they meant to serve the mission and ministry of the congregation? What can governance provide to a congregation that is useful and supportive? What are the key components of effective governance that you would need or want to maintain but perhaps in different ways?

Another step would be to do a careful and thoughtful assessment of your current governance structure. What would we want to maintain? What do we need to be ready to let go of? From where can we expect resistance to come and how can we address that resistance in a positive and healthy manner? What ministries will be impacted by a change in governance structure? Are there ministries we can release in the hopes that something fresh will emerge? What is the core value and purpose of the various committees or boards and are they effectively carrying out that core purpose?

Along the way you may also want to consult with other congregations that have already made this Shift. I am aware of a few congregations around the conference that have already made this Shift and would be happy to help you connect with one or two folks who could share their approach with you and answer your questions as you begin to identify the steps to take in your own congregation.

There are a number of books that have been published in recent years to support these conversations in congregations. The book that the Conference Board of Directors is currently using to guide them is “Governance and Ministry: Rethinking Board Leadership”  by Dan Hotchkiss. Another book that is highly reviewed is “Mobilizing Congregations: How Teams Can Motivate Members and Get Things Done” by John W. Wimberly Jr. You may also want to check out “Leadership and Listening: Spiritual Foundations for Church Governance” by Donald E. Zimmer. In addition, the former Alban institute’s website is a treasure trove of blog posts and books on every imaginable topic including a number of articles about church Governance and various approaches to transforming it for ministry in the 21st century.

The approach that will work for you will depend on your context, your congregation’s size and other factors that make you unique. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to how to Shift from maintenance to mission in the area of governance. However, you are definitely not alone in noticing that the way many of our congregations are structured can be an inhibiting factor to engaging fruitful, effective and transformative ministry within our communities and beyond our doors.

If this is the Shift your congregation chooses to work on in the coming year, there will be opportunities to connect with other congregations also exploring this Shift at the conference annual meeting, June 10-12. And beyond that, I encourage you to reach out to me, to your Associate Conference Minister (Jane, Joanne or Rob) and to other congregations in your area for support and guidance. May God bless you in your efforts to shift your governance structure so that it serves your mission and ministry and opens doors and windows for the Holy Spirit to do her work among you with passion and creativity.

Tisha Brown

SHIFT in Action in Howards Grove

Two core components of the Shift initiative are building relationships and sharing resources. One of the ways we are doing both of these things is through telling our stories and getting to know what our various congregations are doing. This story was shared recently by Carl TenPas, member of Our Shepherd UCC in Howards Grove and a former participant of Lay Academy. Carl paints a hopeful picture of a congregation involved in its community and sharing God’s peace, hospitality and love with our world.

Perhaps you also have a story you’d like to share about how your congregation is embracing a shift from maintenance to mission. Stories can be sent to Tisha Brown.

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We at Our Shepherd United Church of Christ in Howards Grove are a church seeking to make the shift from maintenance to mission. The members of our 30-year-old congregation come from numerous backgrounds and denominations. We are liberal and conservative. We are young and old.

We join together in faith, trust and worship. Our ability to do this is based on our open attitude and love. We welcome families, singles, millennials, anyone! Each one finds a home, a community of faith, in which to grow and share. All are valued and find a particular place to be involved.

How do we do this in our setting? We work hard to be open to their interests, their lives, their challenges and joys, and seeing everyone as a child of God wanting to be seen and heard and loved. We serve with joy and, sometimes, a raucous sense of humor!

Whether it’s music, teaching, mission or leadership we believe in putting faith into action: helping those less fortunate, participating in wider church activities such as mission trips to Pilgrim Center or creating prayer shawls to surround with prayers those who are ill or hurting.

We encourage one another to reach out into the community, individually as well as a congregation. Supporting Meals on Wheels, the food pantries, backpacks for school children, and knitting newborn hats for the hospital are just a few ways our members share their personal calls. We look for ways to meet a particular need there might be in our community. One way we do this is through our Vacation Bible School program. Children with special needs are encouraged to attend and find a summer community to connect with. Yoga classes, scouts and other groups are welcomed on a regular basis.

We encourage each other to explore interests and talents and then share those with the whole congregation so we can grow together in new ways. We are not a “No” church or a “we have never done that before” church. We are a “how will this idea work, and what can we do to use it to feed us” church.

We take seriously the risk to move beyond our walls and go out from this place into the world as the faithful.

We find joy in who God has called us to be.

God Bless,

Carl TenPas, Grateful Church Member

The Path—an innovative approach to Faith Formation for all ages

Over the next few months we will be lifting up stories from all over the conference to highlight the many different ways congregations throughout Wisconsin are finding to approach Shift in their particular context. In this post, I share a story about Shift as it relates to Faith Formation from Rev. RaeAnn Beebe and St. Paul’s UCC in Oshkosh.

RaeAnn writes: “We do not have that many children in our congregation. For many years we had the traditional style of Sunday School with classes based on age or grade in school and of course it was held on Sunday mornings—sometimes before worship and sometimes at the same time as worship. Our attendance was sporadic for a number of years and at times there was only one child in a class. This just wasn’t working for us. We decided we didn’t want to eliminate an intentional form of faith formation for children as some churches have done. We needed to come up with a plan that would work for us. As we discussed the possibilities we zeroed in on our Wednesday night service called The Path that incorporated Confirmation and worship. The Faith Formation Team decided to expand the concept and include the children in this as well. Many of the families would be bringing one of their children to Confirmation on Wednesday nights anyway. We start with a simple meal at 5:30 pm. Participation is voluntary, but most of the families participate!

There are also several adults with no children who participate in this meal and service as well, so it isn’t just children and their families. Meals are provided by the families who attend and a free will offering is taken to pay for the meal. After supper at 6pm we gather in the sanctuary and share the story for the night. We then break up into three groups—those in kindergarten and under, those 1st grade up to 6th grade, and 7th grade to adult—to explore the story more. Sometimes we stay together and work on a project. It is very interactive and we will try anything once or maybe even twice! We end the service together.

Over time we’ve noticed that relationships are certainly building among the generations. The children are excited to participate and take part in the service (I have more volunteers then I need most of the time!).

If you are reading this, you’re probably aware that in more and more of today’s congregations, like St. Paul’s in Oshkosh, the long-valued model of Sunday school is no longer feasible for a variety of reasons. This is not our fault! We didn’t do anything wrong and there’s nothing we can do to fix it so that it will be like it was. At the same time, learning and growing in faith remains one of the most important callings of our congregations. It is a primary role of our churches to guide and encourage children, youth and adults as we journey throughout life as God’s faithful people. So what are we to do?

There is no single answer to this question. Every congregation has to discover its own way. Every context will require something different based on what is already happening, who is there and what their particular interests, gifts, needs and abilities happen to be. The good news is that in the midst of our exploring and grappling, we are not alone. We can accompany one another, share our stories, point to resources, brainstorm ideas, learn from our failures and find fresh ways to be the church in today’s world. In the Conference office we are working on strengthening the network of people with expertise in the area of faith formation so that they can continue to provide support and encouragement to congregations that decide to pursue a Shift in Faith Formation.

If you have a story to share about how your congregation is Shifting in some way, whether it’s in Faith Formation, Leadership Development, Community Engagement, Justice Ministries or Alternative models for Governance or Staffing, I encourage you to share your story here or send it to me to be included in a future post.

Carry on faithful servants! I look forward to hearing from you.

Tisha

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We’d love to highlight a story from your congregation in this space. Send your stories to me, Tisha Brown, at tbrown@wcucc.org.

Information on SHIFT : wcucc.org/shift