As author and community builder John McKnight points out, we're conditioned to see deficits and not see assets. We see problems that need to be solved, rather than capacities waiting to be released. We see the glass half empty rather than half full.
So it was a delight for me to be at Three Willows United Church in Guelph last Saturday morning for their congregational planning day.
The church is guided by what their call their Core Group (equivalent of the Board.) Ministry is undertaken by small groups who are empowered to use their gifts to serve the church.
The planning morning started with a thoughtful time of worship led by Eric McGillis, a young man who is part of the Core Team. Eric based his devotion time on the Beatitudes, especially Jesus' expression "the poor in spirit." That phrase, he said, means "humble before God." "One reason I love three willows so much is the humility of our people.... a place where people CAN be themselves and ask tough questions. And being a humble people is a big part of that."
There were eleven tables set up around the meeting room. At each table was someone with an idea, a passion or a project. They included nuts and bolts things like ideas for fundraisers, to more experimental things like prayer walking, to ongoing tasks of community engagement, refugee sponsorship and worship.
The twenty folks in attendance were set loose to go to the table of their choice where they heard about the idea, brainstormed possibilities and talked about how they could contribute. After about 20 minutes, everyone switched tables. Throughout the morning, people were able to go to five different tables.
The energy level remained high throughout the morning, with the buzz of conversation reverberating around the room.
For about 20 minutes, each table reported on what they had been talking about.
At noon, Mary Elliott, who along with John Lawson form Three Willows' ministry staff, checked to make sure that for every idea there was someone committed to following up. Then Mary said, "OK, you are empowered to pick this ball up and run with it. You don't need to ask anybody's permission. You need to check the calendar to make sure you don't conflict with something else that's going on, but you have permission to develop this idea."
Three Willows is an amalgamated congregation that has had its share growing pains and challenges over the years. They face the same stresses as most congregations.
So how encouraging to see a community with a strong sense of who they are working together to craft a shared ministry.