What Is Discernment?

UBC is in a season of discernment to gain clarity about the church’s identity, vision, and the leadership required to live into that vision. Interim Pastor Daniel Pryfogle describes discernment in this way:

Discernment is a process in between. For an individual, church or organization, discernment is a mental and spiritual, sometimes even physical, space in between two spots: the known and the unknown. We step into this gap prompted by an awareness that something must change. Some call the in-between “liminal space.” My good friend Kathleen Atkinson, a Benedictine sister, calls it “hell in the hallway,” for she knows how difficult it is to inhabit this space of uncertainty, where fear and doubt dwell, where anxiety rises, and where the temptation is to turn back to the known, the familiar, the comfortable.

Discernment is a kind of listening that may be unfamiliar, Daniel says.

Discernment is not fact-finding, although the process can be aided by the assembly of information. Rather, discernment is about an open and curious posture in relationship to information: listening at a deeper level to the presentation of facts, perspectives, history, experiences. We listen to others and we listen to ourselves. We pay attention to the feelings that arise within us as we listen — is that fear? is that excitement? — and we ask ourselves why.

Leading this time of inquiry with Daniel are the members of the Discernment Committee: Anna Strickland, Jody Joyner, Lisa Cauble, Paul Taylor and Richard Moore. The purpose of the Discernment Committee can be found in this document.

What Are We Reading?

The Discernment Committee is reading a variety of articles about the future of the church and is encouraging the congregation to read as well. So far the committee has read the following:

  • The first report of the Harvard-based How We Gather project, which raises questions about the future of the church and other religious communities by observing how people form communities and make meaning in other ways, such as CrossFit. Read the report at www.howwegather.org.
  • Canadian theologian Douglas John Hall’s lecture “The Future of the Church: Critical Remembrance as Entrée to Hope.” Hall sees good news for the church in the disestablishment of the church. Read his essay here.
  • Two essays by New Testament scholars who speak of taking Scripture seriously and taking our experience seriously through the practices of reading in community and discerning through community. One essay is by Luke Timothy Johnson, the other is by Joel Green. The committee has discerned the congregation’s desire to learn, to go deeper, to be shaped by the holy conversation that is ours; moreover, we have noted there is a greater possibility of connecting our personal stories (ie experiences) with the story of UBC and the Story of God. The essays suggest how the church might do this work.
  • Jonathan Merritt’s article in The Atlantic: “America’s Epidemic of Empty Churches.” The committee wrestled with the question, What good news do you find here?
  • The Rev. Elizabeth Mangham Lott’s essay on the hard questions facing churches. Lott is the senior pastor of St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans and organizer of the January 2019 Alliance of Baptists regional retreat hosted by UBC. She writes, “Wherever this journey takes each of us, our creative work must be more about authentically embodying faith than frantically shoring up institutions.” Read her essay here.
  • Two recent Religion News Service articles (here and here) that explore the question, How do congregations leverage their properties to impact neighborhoods? The committee is reflecting on how the church property can be maximized as a beneficial presence in the neighborhood.
  • An article published by Duke Divinity School’s Faith & Leadership resource that looks at Austin churches and poses important questions about growth and purpose, including what it might mean to take a “hyperlocal” approach to ministry. Read the article here.
  • Is critique the totality of the prophetic way, or is there something more? The question has implications for the work of a progressive church like UBC and the expectations of its leadership. Join the Discernment Committee in reading Interim Pastor Daniel Pryfogle’s latest essay, “Seeing a New Thing: The Prophet Must Prophesy for the Institution,” at Baptist News Global. Click here to read the article.

How Does Discernment Shape Vision?

During the interim period, Daniel Pryfogle, Associate Pastor Stephanie Cooper and Minister of Music and Outreach Jonathan Castillo are preaching and writing on the relationship between discernment and vision. Read and listen at the following links:

What Are We Learning?

Click on these links to read the Discernment Committee’s reports to the congregation as well as notes from topical conversations with the church:

When Does the Discernment Committee Meet?

The Discernment Committee meets on the third Sunday of each month.


What Conclusions Have We Come To?

Click on these links to read the decisions the church has made in regards to discernment.