Unity/Spirit Rekindled

Sunday, August 29, 2017

Sue and I are about to make a trip to a Quaker retirement community, this coming week, where her mother, recently widowed, is now living. We have been invited to present a Coffee House Conversation program, possibly even a series, there.  

In preparation for our initial presentation to the members of the administration, I am preparing a sampling of materials from various other similar programs we have done over the past decade plus.  

Gathering these resources together, I came across an article I wrote and never published on the project that both Sue and I hold to be the singularly, most memorable, our "Saving Centennial (Centennial Memorial United Methodist Church) Project" which we did from the Spring, 2009, for almost one year. 

To this day Sue and I believe that the "awe" we experienced in doing this project, which was superb beyond any other program we have ever done, occurred because: 1. We had an overall like-minded group; and 2. The like-mindedness was decidedly spiritual, as well as practical.

When I found the article I wrote about the experience we had at Centennial, preparing or presentation packet for later this week, it occurred to me that sharing the story, as I wrote it, back in 2010, might be uplifting and inspiring, especially in this era of almost unconscionable polarization in our country.

The story warms my heart, even today. Here it is, as I wrote it originally.

Two Pastors, Two Ministries, One Church And An Experience Of Awe 
By Anastasia Rosen-Jones, April, 2010

Months elapsed. Twists and turns on a remarkable journey occurred. Still more time passed. Then around the nine month mark I began to see that a miracle was wending its way through a church that had been on its way to demise. A resurgence of spirit, renewed faith. As a seasoned professional, I was certain I had not yet seen the likes before of what I was witnessing here. 

When at last I thought to make inquiry of certain congregants as to what they were discerning, I was offered a glimpse. Still I found myself unable to fully comprehend that which was transpiring. Since my original  relationship to the situation had been professional, as a consultant (later I had joined the church), I felt the need to conceptualize what I was witnessing, at least to some degree.

What on earth could possibly now be bringing forth a reawakening to two congregations under the single roof of one church; a traditional congregation and a contemporary one, that had, only months before, been on the verge of collapse? Beyond the recognition, obvious to my trained eye, that a systemic change was emerging, I could not quite ascertain the source of the transformation. And, transformation on some kind of fundamental level throughout the church was truly in motion. 

Though only snippets of change for the better were being manifest, I knew from experience that a recognizable healing as well as the potential for renewal was emerging. And, though what I was observing was merely a beginning, the situation at hand, without doubt, warranted further consideration. 

The key to my understanding was the realization that what was happening was being sourced beyond the earthly; the realm of mystery, the province of God. There was no other reasonable explanation. After a time I began to relax and accept as truth, at least my truth, that myself and those with whom I had become recently involved in a “saving the church mission” had entered the domain of awe!  

Being of sound mind and body with the maturity attained through trials by fire in my own life, I am not one to speak lightly of awe. I have rarely, if ever spoken of it at all, for that which would command my respect at the level that this situation did is ordinarily beyond the speak-able, even the knowable. This time was different, however. Both the magnitude of the transformation as well as its implications called for me to, not only seriously ponder what had occurred, but also to speak up about what I had seen. For one thing, the change built up to its crescendo over many months. It was not simply a momentary occurrence. And it was palpable to others, if one had the proper perspective; the ability to see and feel what I knew it to be.  

Never before in my professional life had I experienced a transformation of this extent, both practically and spiritually. The enormity of its significance in terms of the sheer numbers it impacted upon as well the situations’ potential for far-reaching implications was amazing, enough so as to truly evoke my reverence 

Had prayer not been the strongest cord woven into the fabric of this transformation, the miracle (or miracles) that were springing up, like the budding of spring flowers, could not have occurred. I was, thus, witness to the fact, that, indeed, the congregations’ prayers were being answered. However, my practical, professional mind knew that there was more to that which was surfacing than God had alone created. The presence of God plus the whole body of the church was responsible for ushering in this victory. 

The entirety of both congregations had become God’s clay. And who was the potter? Could it be that there was more than one?  And, what was it that was being crafted?

A teacher, a master of his craft, lifts up his disciples. So, perhaps, I can speak of what I saw as being the work of the Master Potter, raising up his followers, in this case the leaders and the congregants of this church. So loved and revered as a Teacher that His every teaching was yielded to with the highest regard. His were the Words that united this church and inspired the degree of synergy I witnessed. And, this, synergy, combined with the accord accrued through the embracing of the teachings of Jesus, became the Spirit that produced a perceptible state of awe.

Synergy is the fingers of one hand working together. In a congregation the pastor might be the thumb, the congregants the other fingers; together they become the hand of the Master Potter, working the clay, the ceramic material that is the church family. In the situation I observed at Centennial Memorial United Methodist Church, the Hand held these fingers together as they crafted a beautiful work of art. 

I was invited into the role I played with the church -- as a community development consultant and congregational coach -- by the senior pastor, Pastor George Earle, Jr. For many months I worked with Pastor George and his associate, Pastor Mike Albro, behind the scenes. Those months were spent consulting with the pastors, interviewing key leaders in the congregation, analyzing the data I was gathering and guiding a developing process to overcome divisions within the church. Other projects that my consulting and training organization undertook, along with me, included volunteer recruitment, media campaign development, community outreach, organizing committees with a focus on generating fundraising activities – and – congregation dialogue. 

Our success, especially as it came about in a relatively short span of time, was meritorious. The collective efforts of people from both congregations, the traditional and the contemporary, resulted, among other significant achievements, in a particular occasion that exemplified the awe of which I am called to speak. In late August, after months of effort, an inter-congregation brunch and conversation was organized and held for members of both groups. The main objective was to foster unity and cooperative action. It was to be a grand affair 

Held on a Sunday morning after church services for the traditional congregation, the event was a beautifully moving experience, not only in the ambiance created by younger church goers; tablecloths, flowers and service to senior congregants. Most impressive was that after a substantial period of divisiveness, the event, culminating months of behind the scenes assessment and problem solving activity, was well-attended as well as momentous in achieving its aims; transcending congregation-wide divisions, and rampant, generalized misunderstandings. 

In a three hour time span, blending food and conversation, long-held judgments and compressed emotions that had created barriers melted with the telling of personal stories; main topics centering around the most important common bond; what does this church mean to us and how are we going to keep it alive. Better yet, how are we going to revitalize it. Congregational dialogue, growing out of heart-centered story telling, is one of the main programs my organization offers. As might be expected from such a Spirit-guided, highly motivated group of people, action-oriented, problem-solving solutions readily emerged out of the kinship these conversations generated that day. 

Simply conversing, however, did not in and of itself fix what was broken. What is of particular significance here is the fact that these conversations were specially designed community dialogue processes, guided by trained and experienced facilitators, who are part of my organization. Months of behind the scenes organizing meetings, including frequent coaching and consulting sessions, led up to the success of the brunch which completed a series of conversations.  Through all of this, the former unity of the church was regained. What the conversations did do was unblock the Spirit of the congregants, freeing them to discover “elegant solutions” to their problems. 

With prayer offering as their starting point – and – as a group, uniformly available to be malleable clay in His Hands, this flock put themselves, heart and soul, into His Hands, onto His Wheel and into the Fire. In the heat of His Kiln, a beautiful work of hand sculpted art was created. One day, beaming with joy, Pastor George announced that this work of art, a new, living, breathing collaboration of congregants, was as good as money in the bank!  And, by taking money out of the equation for a time and focusing on the overall health of the church, indirectly, a pathway was found to money -- in a Holy way. 

The overall result of months of dedicated, often emotionally grueling effort – and -- at times, gut-wrenching dialogue– in an out of crises -- was a revitalization of the entire church and an organizational turnaround. The most critical and immediate of the fundraising goals were realized --- and – 1, born and raised Jewish, joined the church, becoming a happy Jew among Christians. I, who had been invited into this church as a consultant decided to join the church because of the loving church family and the peace, love and harmony they created.

Anastasia Rosen-Jones is a retired psychotherapist and the Executive Director and Founder of the New Horizons’ Small “Zones of Peace” Project that offers an innovative approach to congregational development. She is the author of five full-length books (in progress), including The Middle East Crisis In My Backyard, from which the above is excerpted.  For information call 240.409.5347. blog: zonesofpeacenh.blogspot.com 

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