About 30 members participated in a discernment activity Sunday. We used four scenarios for the future development of the church property (no change, minimal change, moderate change and maximum change) to clarify the church’s vision as it relates to the neighborhood — to answer a central question that has emerged in this discernment process just as it has surfaced across the congregation’s history: How boldly does the church want to move toward being a beneficial presence in the university neighborhood?
In small groups, members shared their responses to three questions for each scenario: (1) What is the purpose of the church? (2) What are the buildings for? (3) How does the church benefit the neighborhood?
The answers are illuminating. Read the notes here.
Three things stand out for me:
1. Worship is integral to the church’s self-understanding. Participants named worship as a key church purpose and a functional purpose of the buildings. Worship shows up less as a benefit to the neighborhood. Three questions come to mind: (1) How does the church define worship? (2) Where and when can worship happen? (3) How does worship relate to outreach or service? One member noted that programs which enhance lives by providing inspiration, peace, serenity, music and study amount to worship.
2. Ministry to students and ministry to individuals experiencing homelessness are important expressions of the church. The former is the church’s founding purpose, the latter reflects a legacy of concern for neighbors in need. Members expressed desire to expand both ministries. Two questions come to mind here: (1) Is there a collective sense that the church should build on the success of God’s Family Dinner and the Youth Drop-In — for instance, to offer more social services, mental health support, or other services such as showers and housing? (2) Could UBC enlist students to help the church scale its programs around homelessness and through that engagement create community for students? Students already volunteer at God’s Family Dinner.
3. Church members believe the property can be put to better use for ministry. They had no trouble suggesting potential uses during the activity. One member noted, “Buildings provide spaces for fulfilling purposes …” So the church can be creative about how it uses the current buildings. And the church can imagine future uses that require changes to the property. So, one last question: If a more missional use of the property energizes members, what prevents the church from moving in that direction?
Please read the notes from Sunday’s conversation. Share your thoughts on the questions above with me and the Discernment Committee. And ask other members to share their thoughts with you.
The next congregation-wide conversation is May 12 from 9-10:30 a.m. in the Fellowship Hall. A light breakfast will be served. The question before us on that Sunday will be: Among our partners, what are the opportunities for greater shared ministry with Congregational Church of Austin and University Christian Church as these congregations ask similar questions about their future? CCoA and UCC members will join us.
Friends, it is a privilege to inquire into life together. It is a gift to encounter each other at the depths of yearning for identity, belonging and purpose. So may we be curious about each other. May we be slow to speech and quick to listen. And may we welcome the urgings of the Spirit.
Daniel Pryfogle, Interim Pastor