Push through the Pain:
the Spirit transforming churches across the world
a draft pf early reflections on a narrative/ethnographic contextual model
for the research of congregations
in conversation with a missional vision for the church
Dr. Frederick Marais (Communitas Stellenbosch)
Dr. Patricia Taylor Ellison (Church Innovations St Paul Mn USA)
Section 1: What we are doing and why
What are we doing?
1. Literally, what we are doing: We are comparing ethnographic data (memories and stories) that have been gathered in congregations in the USA and southern Africa. We selected four pairs of congregations of the same size and operating in the same kind of social context using responses to the same questions.
2. Our objective: The aim of our research is to create a dialogue between real narratives of real local faith communities in different contexts, and not the ideal church, to use the distinction of Huber, in order to discern on what God is up to in this time of history. We want to understand how these particular congregations have responded to different contextual transformations (in this case the post-apartheid context of southern Africa and the post-Christendom context of the USA).
3. Our fruitful prejudices:
A. Dialogue with an other in times of change: When one creates a dialogue between the memories and stories of cultures from two different locations and situations, that dialogue will help us develop a deeper understanding or reading of what each church’s unique responses are to the transformations facing them. To use missional language, we want to develop a deeper understanding of what the Triune God is currently doing in and through local congregations in many locations and situations, especially situations of great change.
B. The importance of contextual comparisons: Deeper understanding accrues when narratives of local faith communities from vastly different contexts are brought into a dialogue. When the narrative of a local faith community in for example post-apartheid Namibia is compared with the narrative of a local faith community in post-Christendom Texas, USA, the two narratives will challenge one another in such a profound way that deeper understanding may take place. However, no one does such comparative studies on congregations, and if results of any congregational study are applied without any contextualization, great harm could be done.
C. Researching with congregations: We did not use one particular “grand narrative” when we started the study, but instead we tried to exercise deep listening to the culture of the congregation. Each of the narratives that we used was “signed off” by the local faith community as a faithful and honest description of how they perceived themselves. We did not test it over and against any grand theological or ecclesiastical theory of who they ought to be, but instead we tried to suspend our assumptions on the “ideal” responses. That is why we developed a protocol in our study where congregations can “veto” any responses from the research team that impose outside ideas into their narrative. Michael Welker in his book God the Spirit encourages us to give attention to the “diverse concreteness of individual life and suffering” in the faith community in order to understand “the fullness of which cannot be taken in from any one perspective.”
Why are we doing this?
1. We are committed to telling the stories of congregations in ways that are true to their own respective situations and history and location, not within frames of reference of any other dominant culture. Hence we always work directly with the churches and request their participation in the interpretive process.
A. What we are trying to improve upon: Research of congregations is currently dominated by quantitative studies and an organizational understanding of congregations. Such research often lacks a way of recording the culture of those congregations: it lacks ethnographic research that can discover new descriptions, images, and even metaphors of what God is doing in local churches and the communities they believe God is calling them to serve.
B. Theological and missional reasons for listening to concreteness in the local setting in our search for a better understanding of what God is up to: The narratives in our comparison study are real narratives as told by real people in real contexts. We tried not to impose any “grand narrative” when we listened deeply to the stories that revealed the culture of each congregation. Each of the narratives that we used in this study was “signed off” by the local faith community as a faithful and honest description of how they perceive themselves. We did not test it over and against any grand theological or ecclesiastical theory of who they ought to be, but instead we tried to suspend our assumptions about any sort of “ideal” responses. The ethnographic method that we used served us well in this regard. That does not mean that we do not want to have theological discussions on we discovered. On the contrary, we believe these narratives will give us very important data for theological and ecclesiological reflections. Michael Welker in his book on the Holy Spirit encourages us to give attention to the “diverse concreteness of individual life and suffering” in the faith community in order to understand that “the fullness of which cannot be taken in from any one perspective.”(God the Spirit, 1994)
2. We want and need to create a better understanding of what God is up to in local settings that do not have the facilities or capacities to do costly research, with groups across boundaries of politics, economics, and class.
3. We believe that, by creating this comparative study, we can help churches appreciate opportunities in their post- context, whatever it may be, as moments in which God’s Spirit can act in more transformative ways than might be noticed in ordinary moments.
Surprised and disturbed
We were surprised by emerging signs of new births that are taking place in unexpected places. We did not expect that. It changed our perceptions of these people forever. For us it is a sign that the triune God is indeed creating Christian community today in places we would never expect. We are privileged to tell these stories that would normally not find a space on the front pages of the research community. In our conversations with the congregations we were disturbed to notice that the leaders were mostly unaware of these emerging “new births.” Their surprise was disturbing to us. They seemed not to expect signs of new life but rather signs of death and decline and being insignificant.
Section 2: Specific Rationale for Methodology
De-centering in comparison
Patrick Keifert describes dialog in his rhetorical model as a process of de-centering. “When we are hospitable to strangers …we are de-centered from our center role as rhetors, as actors by (1) the other (2) the self (3) the Other. In the act of de-centering, understanding takes place indirectly, through the eyes and experience of others.
When the narrative of a local faith community in for example post-apartheid Namibia is compared with the narrative of a local faith community in post-Christendom Texas, USA, the two narratives will challenge one another in such a profound way that deeper understanding may take place.
A “hypothetical” or de-centered attitude, according to Habermas, requires that the participants in the argument step back from their personal perspective and consider the relevant issues critically. By doing this, they achieve a “decentered” understanding of their lifeworld. Decentering allows one to distinguish matters of truth, justice, and taste according to the objective, social and subjective views respectively.
In understanding God and what god is up to indirectly, three de-centering moments occur:
• As we open ourselves to extend hospitality, our own selves recede and the possibility of understand God truly arises. If we can help Capital Church, for example, to de-center and give attention to the story of Woodstock, they will start to see the other.
• When we de-center we experience our own self as another. Life as gathering and creating ourselves proves foolish. Understanding God truly through the other – our self as another is Christian liberty, which is all about freeing another. The moment of knowing God truly makes sense of true Lordship and true slavehood.
• When we encounter a fellow creature, we encounter traces of the Other. We are obliged to be of service. We encounter traces of the one who creates, redeems.
In search of the Alternative Story, staying open for surprises
Narrative theory makes a distinction between the so-called problem story and the alternative story in any history. This distinction can be used as a hermeneutical lens to help us discern an answer to the key question in times of transformation: What is God up to? A close link between our stories and the Biblical stories gives us even much richer possibilities to uncover what God is up to. At BUVTON we have used this methodology in our work with congregations in southern Africa. To seek the alternative story in connection with the Biblical story creates a hermeneutical space where congregations can tell their stories and be surprised by the unique events they discover. Our narrative in Southern Africa taught us to expect the unexpected especially in times of “exile” or despair. God is at work in these events even if God “hides” somewhere in the story. Openness to the alternative story can help us create a theologically framed theory on transformation in congregational life. This might be why we were drawn to an ethnographic approach.
Understanding our methods
One of the simplest ways to categorize research approaches is to follow the standard dichotomy between quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative research is the type of research that makes good use of hypothesis testing to determine the usefulness of its questions and makes good use of statistical analysis to determine the validity of its results. The purpose of quantitative research is to predict and control. Qualitative research is the type of research that until the past fifteen years or so was studied and later made use of by only those persons whose research questions could not be tested and validated using quantitative methods. It has two subsets: the type of research that tries to understand what it means to be a certain kind of worker, or village, or leader, called interpretive research; and the type of research that tries to uncover a deep systematic distortion, misunderstanding or misinformation that has caused repression, called critical research. The purpose of interpretive research is to understand. The purpose of critical research is to improve and involve, to transform.
Ethnography is a specific social science research methodology under the larger heading of interpretive research. The aim of interpretive research is to understand the phenomenon being researched. In service of that understanding aim, the point of ethnography is to achieve what the word literally means, to put a culture into writing (either print, pictures, or electronic media). The ethnographer has but one aim: to get the emic, or insider-to-the-culture, perspective. This aim makes ethnography phenomenological, since it strives to capture the essence of what it means to be of that culture. The ethnographer often cannot be an insider to the culture, so she or he must get the insider perspective by spending a lot of time, taking a lot of notes (both verbal and non-verbal), collecting many stories, amassing much descriptive data, drawing diagrams of how the pieces relate to the whole, and always testing any emerging patterns or theories with the actual insiders. How else can he or she claim to understand?
Ethnography gathers thick description, history, story, and metaphor around questions of how people behave and believe with one another in congregational life and deeply examines this descriptive data, discovering some significant patterns that can be verified by either other researchers or, better, by the congregational leaders themselves. Such verified interpretation lets the ethnographer claim understanding of the culture being studied. At Church Innovations we have used applied ethnography, allowing congregation members to both engineer good questions and do the interviewing themselves in their context, and then giving them a distant reading team to mine the data for patterns that they themselves might not see. The appreciative report, returned to and verified by the congregational interviewers, gives an incredibly reliable and trustworthy description of their local culture.
Methodological assumptions of ethnography as interpretive research
• Understanding is important
• Understanding comes only with time and exposure to descriptive data; understanding comes only after extended periods of deep listening
• Misunderstanding is easy and should be expected; mistakes will occur
• Learning (en route to understanding) is aided by excellent mistakes
• Data collection is time-consuming; reliable methods for getting rich data must be used
• Layers of data-gathering over time produce better understanding than a single snapshot
• The ethnographer must be surprised early and often, otherwise she or he is seeking only foregone conclusions
• Revelation always takes place in a particular setting and through a particular language
• The triune God is a God of relationships; creating trustworthy relationships and connecting people and bridging divides are some of God’s activities
• God dwells with people in their cultures, and by doing that converts the culture and their interpretation of their past and future
• God not only speaks but also listens
• God understands the vulnerability of those who dare to risk (for example, when they translate the Gospel to a new generation); God doesn’t mind mistakes
• Life in the Trinity is not predictable; we must be open to surprises. We do not have mission in hand; mission is not the task of the church but an attribute of God (David Bosch).
Theological questions and categories for our reflections:
In the gathering of data we are not using a grand narrative or a wish list of what the church should do or what it should attend to. On the other hand, we are clear on the questions that we want to use in our reflections. Missional theology and ecclesiology has shaped these questions. We were looking for questions that have stood the test of time. Stephan Bevans and Roger Schroeder’s search for “constants” in the history of mission provide a good starting point for what we were looking for. They build on the argument of missiologist Andrew Walls: history shows us that “despite the ‘wild profusion of the varying statements of these differing groups’ as they respond to differing contexts, there is in Christianity as ‘essential continuity’ by which it remains itself as it transforms itself in missionary outreach. Despite differences of language, context and culture, there persists as well certain constants that define Christianity in its missionary nature…(T)he content of these constants is not the same, but Christianity is never without faith in and theology of Jesus as Christ and never without a commitment to and understanding of the community it names church.
Bevans and Schroeder rightly phrase these constants as questions:
1. The missionary church came to consciousness of itself over and against the future: questions of eschatology
2. The church’s eschatological stance is shaped by its understanding of the nature of salvation
3. The church’s attitude and understanding of humanity: questions of anthropology
4. The church’s view on culture as a vehicle or an optical for communicating the gospel
5. The view of the nature of the church
6. Who is Jesus and what is his meaning?
We are considering using the idea of constants, but to change the order and definition in order to fit into the missional vision. We are proposing the following as guiding questions or categories for our reflections:
1. Who is the triune God and what is God’s mission for this congregation?
2. How does the congregation view the kingdom of God and its own eschatological future?
3. What is the nature of the church?
4. What is the nature of salvation?
5. How does the congregation value the human?
6. What is the value of the culture as the setting in which the Gospel is communicated?
Participant interpreter possibilities
One of the brilliant aspects of using ethnography as a method by which we understand cultures, congregations, systems, and so on, is that we build relationships of trust within those cultures, congregations, or systems. Our data-gathering is dependent on interaction and relationships. Whether we train insiders of the culture we wish to understand to help us gather our data, or whether we go in ourselves to gather it, we are in partnership with them. As our data collection and interpretation processes move ahead, we have to continually test our learning against what those insiders know to be true. We have to admit our surprise to them. We have to own our misinterpretation and mistakes to them. They are the experts and as such are in charge of our study. They cannot then become mere objects of research; they become participant interpreters with us. And, with the blessings of the Holy Spirit, these partners develop better deep listening skills themselves, more willingness to be surprised and admit and even celebrate mistakes along with us and with their fellow culture members. We lead them, coach them, in their own self-study, which in the end they own and use to innovate their future.
Section 3: An Actual Comparison comparison between two rural small/middle sized congregations
First Lutheran Church, Xenia, Ohio
Kareedouw Dutch Reformed Church, Eastern Cape, South Africa
This document contains FIVE questions that have been asked of members of hundreds of churches over the years, churches who have participated in the Partnership for Congregational Renewal or the Partnership for Missional Church. The two churches compared in this part of our study are Kareedouw Dutch Reformed Church in Kareedouw, Eastern Cape, South Africa, and First Lutheran Church in Xenia, Ohio. Both congregations are established mainline congregations in small town or rural areas that have gone through a splitting crisis over a decade ago, one due to politics and relationships, and one due to a natural disaster and its aftermath.
For each of the five questions, we will include
• a summary of the answers, written by a reading team who didn’t know the congregation but merely gleaned from about 25 interviews the patterns noted in the summary.
• a set of recommended questions for the congregation to consider, observations from the same reading team once the summary was agreed upon.
• A few appreciative questions or observations from Dr. Marais and Dr. Ellison, the authors of this study, who read each congregation with care and noticed things that one congregation might learn from the other.
A couple of other questions the two congregations asked were somewhat parallel, so we also include them at the end of this section.
Finally, following the question-by-question work, this document concludes with a set of questions for the two congregations. Our hope is that current members of each congregation will be able to take up this whole document and also wrestle with these questions, sending us any insights they might form at this point. It is our further hope to connect the congregations in some meaningful way so that they can teach the rest of us what they are learning about being renewed in mission.
1. Tell a story about how you sense God’s presence and activity in this congregation.
First, Xenia, Ohio
No God language was used in this question at all. No one mentioned God even as they were trying to think about how God is present to them. There were about 8 places that groups of two or three people mentioned in common: friendship, fellowship, people pitching in, youth group, outreach like Habitat and Caring Place, in Holy Communion at altar rail, the closeness of the community after the tornado, and in prayer for others. Two people said they never find God’s presence at First Lutheran Church.
Kareedouw, Eastern Cape
We received a variety of answers and examples. We’ve noticed that some people describe the congregation as a family, and the support and care for each other is God’s way of being present in the congregation. Others witnessed about their experience of doing service work in the congregation and how they experience God’s presence in that. More than one said that the organizing and presenting of the kindergarten church helped them to experience God’s presence. Then several mention situations where congregants of different cultures were bound together, for example in the Amos Project. There were those who were reluctant to mention any experience of God’s presence in the congregation, but the reading team saw this as a deep yearning for a weekly public worship which focuses on God. For some the music at the public worship was mentioned, especially the new organist.
Recommended questions to consider
First, Xenia, Ohio
People may be searching for connections, and may see God whenever connections are made. That certainly accounts for the closeness and fellowship answers. If people see God in “doing for others,” that accounts for the pitching in, the community service, and the prayers for one another. Prayer and Holy Communion, although they came up in total about 6 times out of 19 in this question, are traditional encounters with God and probably represent the folks in the parish would will require First to build only on its faith. Connection and reaching out to newcomers are probably the themes of the folks that will require First to plan for the future through programs and contacts.
Find ways to connect these two yearnings. Our Great Commission is to go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This involves learning about our God and teaching others what we’ve learned. It involves keeping God the center of our thinking, and then being fearless in bringing the story of God out to others, connecting with them in the most meaningful of ways.
Kareedouw, Eastern Cape
The reading team noticed that the people who use their gifts to serve God are the same people who are the most convinced that God is present in the congregation and in the community. This is what the congregation is actually called to do. What could you do to support people who have done service work and appreciate what they do?
The weekly public worship is one of the most important moments of witness in the life of the congregation. We could see that there are people who take care to make this a deeper experience with God in your congregation. Although none of us can really measure God’s presence, we can create space for this to happen. You should reflect on this aspect of your congregational life.
How can times of communal worship foster the joy and peace of Christ in your congregation?
1. In Nancy Ammerman’s Pillars of Faith, active members in a congregation have a much higher chance of doing community service work than others who are not active members. How is this true for these two congregations?
2. Both congregations are yearning for connection with God – as if both are longing for something that they do not now have. Might it be that we have harmed them by writing books about wonderful big congregations in cities where people celebrate in thousands, and they know they will never be able to do this? How can connections be made in very profound ways in smallness? Where they are noting the presence of God, it is in intimate terms: serving, caring, supporting, creating space.
3. When people serve, how can that service be connected with the inner life of the congregation?
4. Profound is claimed in private intimate terms, yet profound can also be big. But in a small church they may be limited to small experiences. The effects of globalization on the small congregations are huge, such as access to worship on TV. The purely local is not all they see anymore, so they are in some ways post-local. Self-comparison is inevitable. So they try to raise their music, etc. Alvin Luedke says that in rural situations people are confronted with global market and cultural forces that they have no control over. How might we help them to celebrate what they have rather than languishing in this negative comparison and low self-esteem?
5. Multi-cultural experience is significant – First in Xenia never mentioned this directly even though they mention Habitat and Caring Place, but Kareedouw mentions the Amos project where different cultures work together to serve people on farms: “Every Farm for God’s Kingdom.” It comes up without being directly asked for. This could be a post-apartheid celebration. They both cross class and economic boundaries.
6. The post- seems to produce a focus on what should be happening regardless of how long past the post- is. This is a lingering effect, a lingering aftermath of something. In the Dutch Reformed Church we talk more about race than any other church – a post- phenomenon. Or could it be mentioned more because apartheid was handled publicly? In Germany, the holocaust was handled privately and they never talk about it. It’s not just about being post- a scandal but also about how the scandal was handled – publicly or privately – open or buried. In the serving of the Kavangu people, crossing boundaries, using our gifts, reconciliation is a secondary outpouring – we do first and our attitude is a second result.
2. Tell about the ways people fight in this congregation. Tell about a situation where you and other people were involved in a problem at church and how it was handled.
First, Xenia, Ohio
According to these answers, by far the most common way for people to fight at First is to pick up and leave; 7 people of 19 said that’s what happened after the rebuilding, and the pattern tends to continue. 3 said people don’t fight at First. The rest of the answers named (quite honestly) the ways people often fight in congregations and in other human organizations: some are snide, some are nasty, some are argumentative, many complain indirectly, not going to the source, some go in with their minds made up, some dislike conflict and avoid it, some withhold funds, and several stomp out but then return. In fact, that returning was telling. At least 5 people gave recipes for how things could be better: they say the leaders should listen, people should sit down and talk it out, and they should look at disagreement as natural and even helpful.
Kareedouw, Eastern Cape
In what we received on this question it seems to us that your congregation is feeling the pangs of a new birth. This is new for you and you feel uncomfortable with it. But conflict and fighting can be a sign that growth can no longer be contained. In the answers of the respondents there was a lot of conflict mentioned. Many of those seem to refer to personal stuff and typical contextual factors from outside the congregation that were carried into the congregation. None of us will choose this out of free will, but it seems that most of the conflict situations that you refer to in a real sense connect to core aspects of what it means to be church. Most of you yearned for better conflict handling. “We fight badly. We don’t talk things through. We do not know how to operate in uncomfortable situations.”
Recommended questions to consider
First, Xenia, Ohio
Someone said, “That tornado broke up the church—not just the building, but the people.” This catastrophic event over 20 years ago is still having its effects. It has become a memory that defines the congregation. The Body of Christ at First split in some important ways, and they seem split now along several lines. Your congregation may need to come to terms with these fractures before you can discover the unity you will need to meet new people and offer real welcome. Some members are still mourning the old days, some want the altar that was replaced at that time, some are simply nostalgic for the days when the whole neighborhood came to church, some are sincere in their search for ways to help the community. All of these desires are good and understandable. But these various pulls sound as if they are resulting in a lack of focus. One or two people articulate that that focus must return to the gospel and the rest of the work must flow from that.
You also need to consider fair ways of fighting so that the natural conflicts you experience will move you forward, not continue to splinter you. Church Innovations has a method that might work for you and there are many others out there, but we believe some kind of healing needs to take place at First from wounds as old as the tornado.
Kareedouw, Eastern Cape
We appreciate the honesty in which you struggle with the question. The question is how can you be helped to handle conflict situations in a more productive way so that the congregation can grow to higher levels of adult behavior. When we avoid conflict, we do not attend to the fact that it might be the Holy Spirit that forces us to be honest about who we are. Stay in the PMC. It will help you to find new ways of thinking about diversity, different opinions, and conflict between people. Ask yourself how different opinions openly and honestly discussed can be embraced and contribute to a more constructive dialogue in your communication. Stop trying to solve things. Seek to grow in it. There is still a lot of pain due to the breakaway of members to the AP church – it might help to ask people to tell these stories of how painful it was and know that healing can come from telling them.
The leaving and returning is interesting, as are the honest descriptions of bad habits.
Both congregations think they fight often. Both congregations wish to do it better. In both cases as generally in human organizations, factors from outside, small town forces and personal relationships produce conflicts. Everything spills over.
What can be encouraged for healing? Both congregations need to attend to conflict to press the group forward rather than running away from it or burying it. Might they spend time telling the stories of the tornado and of the split to the AP church? These moments capture the whole town – everybody freezes – families, town, and even identity are in danger – our whole existence may be at stake, which traumatizes the town and the church. These memories are emotional, irrational, and are bound to keep on popping up. How close in time were these two catastrophes?
Around 20 years ago.
3. Describe an experience of profound worship you have had.
First, Xenia, Ohio
There is no one overwhelming time that all these people experience profound worship. Instead they name many different times; they name baptisms, confirmation, and funerals of loved ones, times of faith sharing, during a Lenten series on the prodigal son, during Sunday School classes, at youth gatherings or on retreats, at the Billy Graham Crusade, during high liturgy, during special services of the laying on of hands, the washing of feet, the dedication of a church or a cross, and in times they themselves were serving, in such ways as leading VBS, visiting the jail, and as worship assistants. Some name times of pastoral visits or particular sermons, and some say any time at communion with believers gives them a profound sense of worship.
Kareedouw, Eastern Cape
Respondents gave us a variety of situations where they experienced profound worship. Somebody mentioned a person that had gone through a traumatized time and through prayer had been healed miraculously. More than one person referred to camp that was very enriching. Special occasions like Pentecost, a visiting preacher, and music services were mentioned. It is clear to us that members took responsibility on their own for caring for other members and in how worship was experienced in that caring. Somebody mentioned the Prayer Day for Women where people from different cultures had an eensgezindheid which was visible, and how true praise singing there was experienced.
Recommended questions to consider
First, Xenia, Ohio
Interestingly, no one mentions God in this question. It was the first question of the interview, and people may have been uncomfortable using language about God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit that early. If these experiences are of profound worship, we wonder, why are these moments profound and how are they worshipful? Look at the list and work out how people are deeply moved in these experiences. Look for patterns, and you may catch what will help your corporate worship become more dynamic.
Are the moments they mention somehow encounters with the Holy Spirit? Make room for more of that to happen at First. The most significant pattern we can discern is that more people in this congregation currently sense the profound when they are being served than when they are serving, but you have the nucleus of faithful and articulate persons who can turn that ratio around if you want to. They can be your major support in your efforts toward renewal.
Kareedouw, Eastern Cape
It is to be noted that there are faithful people amongst you that take responsibility for their own spiritual growth and deepening of faith. It was kind of odd to us that there were so few references to your Sunday public worship services.
When a congregation struggles with growing pains and moves onto a next chapter, the experience of praise and worship is very important. The joy of a deeper experience when people of faith are bound together creates the energy and the attitude with which difficult situations can be solved. As has been mentioned in the other questions, you should take care to empower people who are responsible for the planning of your worship services. Somebody mentioned the BUVTON course on Koeltebome, where you have discovered different styles of spirituality. You may consider taking further initiatives on this.
1. Liturgy has a more profound impact at First than at Kareedouw, where profound worship is spread out through all church experience.
2. No mentions of pastor until now in either congregation, and intimacy comes up again in both places, caring for each other. For congregations like these without endless resources, connections with others are important. For example, in Kareedouw, the Amos Project and the Day of Prayer for Women let them connect across boundaries and they appreciate it. The sentence about the prayer day is very significant – they use strong language and speak of TRUE praise – the ultimate, maximum – empirical evidence that cannot be doubted. This multi-cultural opportunity people mention as extremely important.
3. There is a difference between taking responsibility for their own spiritual growth and being served in a more passive way. The service and serving theme drops out a little here. Of course that could be because the question about profound worship may have put them in mind of Sunday morning. But the reading team at Kareedouw notes the absence of the regular Sunday service, while the First congregation is much more shaped by the rituals of regular worship.
4. Tell a memory that gives you anxiety about the future of this congregation. Tell a memory that gives you hope.
First, Xenia, Ohio
For members of First, anxiety comes from many sources. 4 people worry over a general decline in worship attendance, 2 worry about finances, and then every other anxiety mentioned occurs just once: the tornado, leaders not being committed to preaching the Word, the altar not looking like an altar anymore, current low attendance at Lenten services, lack of visitation to shut-ins, the need for evangelism to youth, the sermons not encouraging, the practice of making the sign of the cross, lack of women’s organizations, and a former pastor’s leaving.
Their hope is a little more focused: 5 take heart seeing more young families, 3 are glad when the number of worshippers rises, 2 see hope in teaching the gospel, 2 in the Partnership for Congregational Renewal, 2 at baptisms and weddings, and the rest in single happenings such as youth events, new leadership, special programs, friendliness and caring, and people getting along despite differences.
Kareedouw, Eastern Cape
The reading team was struck by the fact that the responses to this question exclusively reference dynamics inside the congregation. The healthy functioning of the congregation is for all the people a very important priority. Opportunities in smaller groups were mentioned as moments of hope and enthusiasm. “Our ward gives us hope.” “We enjoy Bible studies” were typical reactions. Then people find hope in the effort that some lay leaders took in helping to get the congregation to grow, especially the initiative around the youth. On the other side, the reading team could feel high levels of anxiety when people referred to failing to hear the message of hope in the worship services. People are worried about the numbers of people attending worship services; quite a few respondents refer to dropping attendance. We don’t know what it is about. Some said it has to do with different spiritualities, and that makes anxiety go up. And some respondents refer to the expectations regarding the current pastor’s ministry and frustrations in this regard.
Recommended questions to consider
First, Xenia, Ohio
There’s that call once again to pull together across divergent opinion and separation. While anxieties come by the truckload over many big and little issues, hope is more unified, especially in thinking about the future of First Lutheran. Some see the young families and the youth program and take hope in that because it reminds them of their own younger days when they were the hope for the congregation. Others see hope in the gospel and in renewal and in the overall caring of the congregation, the way it serves its members and in the general community. Find a way to discover what is common to both of these visions of hope for the future and you may have done some important homework for your work in drafting a mission statement and a vision for mission.
There is still very little language about God in these responses. Our hope should be built on the saving work of Christ. Unless we begin to make a space in our reflection for God to be at the center of renewal and hope, unless God is in the midst of our anxiety also, God will not find a way into your plans for the future of First. This Partnership process seeks to discern God’s preferred future for First. Practice talking about it using that kind of language. Expand your members’ imagination of God’s presence, and we believe God will focus your thinking and your work.
Kareedouw, Eastern Cape
The reading team saw a lot of hope in the way in which members support each other and the opportunities they create to do that. This aspect of the congregation should be emphasized and built upon. The process of PMC could give momentum to this. Some respondents mentioned that the Listening conversations of the listening leaders gave them hope. Leadership is very important in any congregation. We want to encourage you to support and appreciate your leaders because they can get tired and lose hope in performing their duties. The congregation should learn to be honest in conversations regarding supporting leaders and their fatigue. It can happen easily that all the frustrations and expectations regarding the ministry of the congregation will be laid at the door of the pastor. We wondered if it is possible to balance the capacity of your current pastor and the expectations people have for him.
1. People in small towns and rural areas have often been isolated, not used to diversity. Also it is often the case that “everyone has always done it the same way.” That makes change hard. And numbers are important – attendance will raise or lower anxiety. In rural towns in particular, they are under pressure – they fear losing more people. Every new one is precious and every one we lose is dreadful. If young people are not physically leaving, they often leave by disconnecting with the traditional culture. The altar is caught up between the two forces. John Voster’s grave at Kareedouw may be parallel to the altar in the church.
2. Do these congregations appreciate the impact of the small groups? The number of attenders is so dominant in their imaginations as linked with success or liveliness that they can’t recognize success and liveliness in the small groups even though they find hope in them.
3. Is the “success in show biz” narrative harming these people so that they cannot see the beauty of their intimate fellowship? Might it be that they can’t see the public dimension in 80 persons in worship? Their ability to create public space for healing and for experiencing the presence of God is every bit as much of an asset as large numbers would be.
4. Both congregations use maintenance language, and people (rather than God) are the subjects of all the verbs. They will work forever on maintenance challenges but not make progress until they develop a spiritual sensitivity for God being active. God is there. If we could help them rephrase their responses to include God, then they will see God; talking as though God were present will help us see that God is actually present – another secondary outcome.
5. If you were to leave this congregation for five years without any contact, what would you expect to see when you returned? What would you hope to see?
First, Xenia, Ohio
Members of First are divided in their expectations. About half would expect new faces, some even expressing this as “all strangers,” and they have some “anxiety about what to expect” in the way of changes in worship. The other half expects things to be about the same as they are now, with slow steady progress and continued outreach. One expects the nursery to be staffed so church is quiet for good worship.
The hopes are quite wide ranging. Seven people hope for growth in numbers and in giving, but other than that, all the expressed hopes were mentioned singly: new singable hymns, familiarity among the people and with the liturgy and with changes in worship easy to adapt to, a caring community that preaches the Word and Sacrament, a closer congregation, more outreach and dynamism, bigger choir, more youth activities and kids’ retreats, more inspired pastor and congregation, the property cared for, greater variety of programs, fewer old timers wouldn’t have left, and vitality.
Kareedouw, Eastern Cape
Our current pastor will be retired by then. Many refer to the new and younger pastor called in his place.
Almost all the other expectations had to do with the strong longing to see reconciliation in the town. They refer to cooperating between different ethnic groups and different churches and the possibility that different churches in this small town can be united, especially mentioned DR, URCSA, and AP.
Recommended questions to consider
First, Xenia, Ohio
Here is a snapshot of that tendency to split into two camps: those that want change in some direction and those who are clinging to their traditional ways. If you are to make decisions that move First Lutheran into a vibrant future, as people are clearly hoping for, you will need to make room for these two camps. You will have to find instances of change and progress within people’s memories of the past and their tradition, and you will have to preserve tradition in your progressive changes. A steering committee that thinks through the stories of the first century church and that uses Bible study and prayer to discern God’s preferred future for First will be given a way to unite the two camps in common cause and a common activity. But that cause will have to be something at the very core of First. This time could be an opportunity to claim that cause as the gospel of Jesus Christ and that primary activity as the making of disciples.
Kareedouw, Eastern Cape
It is important for congregations to be encouraged to take risks from time to time in order to grow. We cannot prescribe what that risk should be, but we suggest that one of the borders you are trying to cross is the one in regard to leadership. You expect to have a new pastor in the future. Are you discussing it? If your pastor is preparing himself to wrap up and give over to retirement, you should have discussions with him. Take for example the narrative of Moses, who did not lead the people into the promised land but prepared them for that. It would be wrong to expect from him to live and work as if he still has many years to serve and become a new visionary leader. What can your leadership do now to prepare themselves to go on with the good work that he and you all have started?
The unfulfilled expectations of congregants can easily be projected on the new pastor. Therefore it is important to take note of one of the remarks of a member who said, “een Swaletjie” One swallow doesn’t make a summer – one robin doesn’t make a spring.” What can you do in terms of the expectations regarding the role of the pastor in your congregation, the role of the other lay leadership, and the role of members to clarify this before you call a new pastor?
There are a number of people that want to work on reconciliation. In a small town like yours this is wonderful when people do take care for this. What can you do to bring people who are different from you together and to create good relationships and partnerships with them? And how do you think the Lord can use you as a congregation to play a reconciliation role in your town and your region?
1. In this question Kareedouw members do not just refer to interior church matters but cooperation between churches and reconciliation in the larger community. At First in Xenia, all responses focus on the interior – programs, numbers, new people – all Christendom concerns. They do not seem to be post- anything in this question. Nothing at present is forcing them out of their comfort zone to imagine a new future. They imagine more of the same but better.
2. Now there is nothing in Kareedouw’s setting that would make them dream of this new future. Nothing. They should have the same dreams as First. They are Afrikaner, isolated, culturally poor, honoring their only leader, apartheid’s prime minister John Voster. What should their future dream be? Proving apartheid was not a mistake? Uniting with the conservative AP so that whites will stand together again against blacks? Yet their responses tell us their future is not nostalgia for the past but a transformation across boundaries. How has this happened?
3. Both use scriptural narratives to create a new vibrant understanding. First has no particular content – but rather change or tradition. Nothing from the context seems to be challenging them.
4. Both churches referred only to congregational matters when we asked them about hopes and anxiety. But because Kareedouw is in a post- situation, when asked to envision a future, they really could give some content to that. Something has died in them to give new birth.
An additional question from First, Xenia, Ohio
How can our congregation better serve the community? What would you be willing to do to accomplish this?
Eight people say First already does a lot, 2 say they’d like to welcome diverse others without losing the Lutheran witness to the gospel, 3 say that worship services of Word and Sacrament as well as alternative worship is the best way to serve the community, 2 say they’d get more members involved in programs, including getting in touch with and bringing back lost members, 3 have hopes of publicizing the congregation to the community through brochures, and 6 have ideas about serving nearby nursing homes, senior citizens groups and youth in the community. Two want to be involved in community and highway cleanup projects, and one proposes a day care center.
Recommended questions to consider
These are all excellent ideas. First Lutheran needs a lens that will focus all of these hopes and dreams, something to stand for, something against which the merits of all of these ideas can be tested. When you draft your mission statement and vision for mission, a good steering committee will pray for this sort of focus and Spirit-filled picture. You will work at sharing it and testing it among your members. Finally, your mission, God’s preferred future for you, should shine through it like sunlight through a stained glass window.
Remember the fragmentation that you have, though. Be careful to include the ideas and prayers of as many people as possible in this discernment process, but keep continual focus on God and on God’s presence with you. Use the Bible studies furnished in the Partnership Notebook to help you think through what will focus you. Have as many people as possible participate together in conversations. You know that there is a feeling that people leave when they have disagreements, so hold firmly to ground upon which you as believers stand in common. Hold fast to the Lord and get down to the work of healing, accepting, and discerning well before you plan. Our prayers go with you as you engage in this important work together.
1. The main narrative is to preserve the congregation; there is no major outward focus yet. Do they see the Presence of the Holy Spirit? It is there but they may not have language or lenses – if we could only give them the phrasing…
2. For some at Kareedouw, the Amos project was a very important spiritual experience. Do they embrace this in the congregation or is this only a mission on the side for a few persons? Does the whole congregation embrace it? What would that mean? For the people of First, is there a single embraced missional focus?
An additional question from Kareedouw, Eastern Cape
Tell about the changes in the congregation in the past 3-8 years
Most respondents were positive about most of the changes in the past 3 years. At least 4 people referred to a positive attitude and readiness to change in the past few months. So it seems to us that there’s an attitude change taking place in your congregation.
Recommended questions to consider
Congregations are normally very appreciative when leaders take responsibility and move toward the future. It seems it’s the same with you. We hope that you in this process will stay focused in the question of what God is up to and how spiritual discernment can become embedded in your culture. It will be very important that you stay in contact with other congregations who are asking the same questions.
There’s a strong yearning in your congregation to reach out to people in your community and we believe there are enough people who are willing to take up this call of the Lord and to make it happen. Do not be discouraged when there is opposition. A small group of leaders willing to listen to God and to others will eventually be able to lead the congregation into this new chapter of their story.
1. They cannot remain isolated. They need the broader ecumenical body to give them language to understand and claim what is going on. It would be tragic if this clear new vision that the Spirit is giving to them went unrecognized by them due to a lack of hermeneutical skills. They have the deep yearning for reconciliation but they lack the theological language to understand this.
2. What happens in Amos is that the farming community (white owners and black laborers) are brought together in one spiritual fellowship. There’s a lot of questions about this and whether it is paternalistic, maybe. But here is a united Christian fellowship that developed. If the whole congregation embraces this, it will mean that they will have to embrace the possibility of having black and colored laborers in the congregation.
QUESTIONS FOR THE CONGREGATIONS OF KAREEDOUW AND FIRST
1. Is there a yearning for connection in your congregations, connection among people, and deeper connection with God? How do you see that yearning coming out in people? Is this a work of the Spirit, prompting people to have deeper connections?
2. Rural and local life is changing, confronted with global forces that control what happens. How do your congregations face these changes? How might change be intensified when a small community sees itself as unable to compete with the bigger, flashier world around them? How can such communities celebrate what is positive about their locality?
And how might God be seen as active in those forces over which you have no control? Did First Lutheran’s staying in the Partnership process even when the pastor left get them to act outside the box? For Kareedouw folks already in the middle of the tsunami of change, our question for them is “What is God up to in this change?” How is Kareedouw perhaps a town saved by a political tsunami that overtook them, saved from dwindling death?
3. How is your church public? In a smaller town, when your car is parked outside a meeting, everyone knows it – it is a public statement. In such a setting the church is really the ekklesia of the town – like an old-fashioned town council, what the church does and how they do it really affects the future of the town. How is your church the ekklesia (town assembly) to its town? How do you demonstrate by your life together what makes community thrive?
4. Both congregations had a major trauma 17-20 years previous – a tornado and a church split. Telling these stories is a very powerful God-given gift. What were some unique outcomes you experienced precisely because of your trauma – brave and passionate people, things that happened beyond any reasonable expectation? How have you celebrated these stories? They will give you ways of dealing with trauma and conflict that you can use, even with much smaller bumps in the road.
5. Intimacy and personal faith and relationships are key to profound worship here. If everything turns on personal relationships, what is the power of shame and the power of affirmation? In a community where there is no place to hide, where every place is known, how do you make space for people to be honest about their lives? How does this happen generally? How does it happen in worship?
6. What about your church’s interaction with the larger church and the world? For some members of Kareedouw, the Women’s Day of Prayer was a multi-cultural profound experience. People saw that experience as how things should be. Is that because it connected across cultures? Where do First Lutheran’s people have that same experience of “this is how it should be” – at Habitat sites, for example?
7. For both churches, people are the subjects of all the verbs – God isn’t spoken of as acting. Yet God is there. How can people learn to include God in their speech? When you begin talking as though God were present, you will see that God is actually present. So, when have you said, “God did something then” or “God revealed himself there”? Where can you draw from your story to begin building a vocabulary that notices God?
8. How does leadership in a congregation know what to pay attention to? At First, after the pastor left, leaders rose and took over the work in the Partnership, waiting to call a pastor until the vision had been clarified and owned by the church. Did paying attention to what God was up to help you to form that vision? What might you be able to teach other congregations, both with pastors and without pastors? For both First and Kareedouw, what is the relationship between lay and ordained leaders? How do they empower one another?
Section 4: Conclusions
1. We have been surprised by the “sameness” of the dynamics in the pairs. In some cases it seems as if they have used each other’s notes!
2. We were also surprised by emerging signs of new births that are taking place in unexpected places. For us it is a sign that the triune God is indeed creating Christian community today in places what we would never expect.
3. It seems from the data that we have read that congregations who have been “pushed” into a post- context dig deeper on issues around calling in the new context. They need to appreciate this about themselves and we hope that this sort of study might help them do so.
4. Responses from pastors and other leaders of these 8 congregations have sometimes been hard to get. But we want to share these:
From Academia’s pastor:
I appreciate the way in which you compared the two congregations. Maybe I was more surprised by the similarities than by the differences. The comparison helps me in more than one way to interpret my own congregation’s story:
• Becoming aware of another congregation’s story creates a kind of disposition, an alternative story that helps the reader to better understand his/her own congregation’s story. The conversation suddenly changes from a congregational monologue where insiders talk to each other, to a multi-congregational dialogue where insiders talk to outsiders, from a one-dimensional reflection to multi-dimensional reflection.
• Reading an alternative story in comparison to your own congregation’s story provides concepts and terminology that help to recognize and articulate particular moments of meaning in your own story.
• Obviously the practical examples of activities in the alternative story stimulate my own imagination to think of possibilities in our own congregation.
• The reflection and questions led to a deeper level of conversation on our congregation’s story. Right now I think that our congregation will welcome this kind of theological reflection. It involves us in a meta-conversation about our ministry and missional intention that we easily discard in the busyness of church programs and activities.
• It underlines the importance of partners and their contributions on this journey of becoming more missional.
• The report acts as hermeneutical tool for local theology in the congregation.
Section 5: The Way Forward
We have done this study as a pilot to test our hypothesis and to develop a methodology and protocol for other scholars. The responses we have received from participating congregations tells us that we have achieved such a workable methodology and protocol. We hope now that this pilot can become a bigger research initiative. Here are our hopes for the next five years.
We think there are four possibilities coming out of this type of study:
• Periodic report/publication on what we’re learning – this pilot and follow-up books
• Congregational “tool” – guided international comparative “tours,” led by our partners, to create deeper self-understanding and cross-cultural connections
• Denominational assistance – a way to know what’s really going on in congregations – a deeper de-centered insight than ever before
• Learning relationships between scholars, seminary students, and congregations
Future phases of this current pilot study might engage
post-apartheid Southern Africa
post-communist East-Germany and
APPENDIX 1 A Congregational Response Session
RESPONSE TO AN APPRECIATIVE COMPARISON
FIRST LUTHERAN CHURCH, XENIA, OHIO
KAREEDOUW DRC, EASTERN CAPE, SOUTH AFRICA
Dr Frederick Marais and Dr Pat Taylor Ellison compared two churches, First Lutheran Church, Xenia, Ohio, and Kareedouw Dutch Reformed Church in the Langkloof, Eastern Cape, South Africa in terms of answers given to five questions. In the report they summarised the answers to five questions, originally being written down by reading teams. They then asked recommended questions to the congregations, and concluded with appreciative questions or observations.
This researcher met with five members of the Kareedouw DRC, including the pastor, to reflect on the questions and observations tabled by Marais and Ellison. Four of the congregants were listening leaders during the initial ethnographic research. The purpose of the discussion was to discern opportunities for and/or insight in missional renewal and to reflect with the congregation on what they are learning about being renewed in mission.
The discussion summaries are the paragraphs following each section title; the author comments (AC) follow almost every section and appear in italics.
1. Surprised by the research
A common initial experience was that the research would prove to be superficial and of no real importance. Did we get it right? Were we scientific enough? Did we listen well? These doubts disappeared when the reading team’s report was received. The team was amazed by the accuracy and truthfulness of the report.
The reading team was worried that they had hurried through the inquiry. But “we always postpone everything until the very end. You should see perform at the last minute when we prepare for the annual fete. We wish we can change – but we need the pressure to swing into action”.
The pastor experienced huge discomfort by not being in control during the research period. It was difficult not to take part, not being able to make sure it was done methodologically correct, with the right answers given and the quality acceptable. The pastor usually writes out Bible studies and messages for his elders to use in their ministry. He now had to trust the ability others in a way he never had done before. It proved to be a liberating experience, enabling him to engage the gifts of church members in ministry in a way he could not do before. He too, was surprised by the results.
3. Shamed by our smallness
The Kareedouw team is acutely aware of their congregation’s small size. People arriving here from cities or large towns often make remarks on the lack of activities in the church. We were even shamed by the larger congregations in our partnership cluster. It demotivates us when we listen to everything huge congregations do.
But the congregation is starting to discern that bigger is not better. We are actively trying to focus and to value our own gifting in the relatively few things we do.
It helped us tremendously to learn that bigger is not better, and that congregations are equally called and sufficiently gifted and resourced by God.
AC: The questions on the nature of the church and who they value culture comes into play here. The dominant culture that prescribes bigger is better has been challenged by their understanding of the nature of the church.
3. Relationships in small groups
Relationship, not intensive programming, comes naturally to us. Our congregation is situated amongst huge mountains, we are geographically compartmented between series of mountains. In certain areas it takes you one hour to drive 36 km. People therefore still depend on one another – those in close proximity – for support and social well-being.
We still have “wyke” (geographical units for ministry) and find that at least 80% of our members attend those wyk-meetings. It is just accepted that you need to involve yourself with neighbours, socially and on congregational level as well. Currently the pastor plays a central role in the structure of wyksbyeenkomste – he writes the message and material and the elders use that to lead the meetings.
We have a number of Bible study groups on the farms, as well as in town. In town we have cell groups – something which we think will not work on the farms. The cell groups care for one another, but are purposefully outward-serving as well – visiting the aged, the ill etc. We have one group for parents who lost children.
AC: The culture is valued to create a context in which people understand that we are interdependent.
4. Influence of the geography
Since democracy came in 1994 schools became racially integrated, including boarding at the school hostel. We find that since then many parents take their children to school every weekday. In the past they would have stayed at the hostel, but many coloured children are violent, swear, and their hygiene are not up to scratch. Stealing is also the order of the day.
For these reasons, in this difficult terrain, people travel a lot and spent huge amounts of money on petrol. It becomes a burden to travel to church on Sundays or to church activities on others days.
The terrain creates what can almost be described as subcultures amongst our members. You have e.g. the Tsitsikamma group, the Suurveld-group etcetera. The terrain, the type of farming, the amount of relative isolation, farming methods, attachment to traditions, capacity for change etc. differs between these groups. They each have a distinct group-character.
5. Politics and church
During the 1980’s the Protestant Church (APK) separated from the NG Kerk. We were particularly badly hit by the event, because it concurred with land-restitution in the 80’s when the black Fingo-clan received their land back from government. The land consisted at the time of 19 farms that were expropriated from white farmers in order to be given back to the Fingo’s.
The Fingo’s had the good sense the rent the land out again – but now not to the expropriated farmers, but to huge farming conglomerates, who followed completely new farming techniques. Natural bush and forests were removed and the 19 farms were intensively farmed. A personnel of 150 new “farmers” moved in They were strangers, whites from Gauteng, “in-comers”. The local farming association was suddenly overwhelmed by these people, they out-voted the others, they were perceived as a threat to our community leaders, they transformed society.
Disgruntled at different levels, our people formed the APK as a way of preserving their lifestyle and values. It was not merely about dissatisfaction with liberal NGK-leaders, it was a reactionary deed against whatever was perceived to be new with a false pretension to be better than the old.
This was a blow to our pastor, who was / is himself quite conservative. Fortunately relationships with the APK thawed over the years to the extent that we hold our bazaar together these days. Three families returned from the APK in the last few years to the NGK.
What about the grave of John Vorster on the church grounds? Our current pastor buried John Vorster here in 1983, three years after he started his ministry here in 1980. Vorster represented our values at the time.
AC: These are people who grieve the loss of power, members, money and control over what they regard as their own. The context is hostile to what is dear to them.
6. Current race relationships
We were surprised by our report. People are more positive about change than we could imagine.
The Amos-Project made a huge difference in our community. In our community the sense of inter-dependence between black and white grew over the last few years. The Amos ministry helped us to make a meaningful contribution to the quality of life of black and coloured farm workers. People really enjoy ministry to their farm workers, they saw their plight, their bad working and living conditions. Whites opened up to the spiritual and emotional needs of their workers and saw the positive change when they involved themselves with their needs. Alcohol is perceived as a huge problem, but TVs for the workers, more recreational opportunities, better payment, schooling for the kids, have a very positive impact on patterns of addiction.
Race-relations thawed over the years. At the last World Prayer Day for Women a huge number of coloured women attended church. Nobody moaned. It was strange when the first coloured police officer was appointed “over us” – but it is not even noticed these days.
It may be high time to invite workers and other people of colour to attend church with us.
The local Uniting Reformed Church does not function that well – a permanent pastor cannot be afforded. We need to discern our calling in this regard.
AC: They were surprised by the positive report on race relationship. Is that because they are regularly confronted by the grieving of the losses? There is a deep sense of their calling to care across cultural and economic divides. That even brings joy! Humans should be cared for because we are interdependent regardless of race. Colour seems not to matter that much: “We should consider inviting coloureds to our church.” The transformation is gradual but real, as one can expect in rural settings. The rural context provides a real understanding of interdependence. In all this there seems to be a transformation in the nature of the church. “We should consider to invite…”
7. We fight badly. We hurt.
A hindrance to positive change is our lack of conflict management capacity. We wipe conflict under the carpet and pretend is does not exist.
This probably relates to our incapability to handle our pain and the pain of others. It is as if we pretend that pain does not exist. Which makes it difficult to really see or to acknowledge our pain. People will often say that we as a church are not interested in their pain. The actual problem is that we cannot deal with pain – we have to ignore it.
What is the source of your pain? Since international fruit markets opened up in the 1990’s, many farmers became prosperous. The love of money grew. New farming methods, which meant the building of fruit storage facilities, the tension of producing fruit according to stringent international requirements, the pressure of the rat race – which was new to us – eroded our lifestyle of old and the almost innocent joy of working the land.
We are nostalgic about the way things were. We had our traditions, we had a common value base.
One of the listening team members is an in-comer. She however learnt to love the community, she says, which appeared to be somewhat backward when they originally arrived here. She learnt to value the safe space a town like Kareedouw provided for her kids.
Nowadays the town is becoming internationalised. Huge amounts of migrant workers pour into town at harvest time. The town’s permanent population grew. Values changed. The clash between tradition as a safe house and new economic pursuits, perceived to be the better way of doing things, more modern, tears her apart.
AC: Change is been imposed on them. Economical and global forces are to blame for this. We hurt from all the losses. God is absent in the whole conversatio; is God not the God who reigns?
8. To perceive God
The team appreciates the missional church process most for the way it helped them to see God at work. It is terrible to hear that Xenia Lutheran Church does not speak about God. We feel so proud of our clusters’ Lutheran Church who have a real sense of God at work.
It is wonderful to know that we are not alone, it is not only us struggling to do a few religious, good things around town. It is reassuring to know God is at work, to see how He is breaking down traditional walls of division. We want to join Him.
AC: Partners on the journey helped them to recognize God at work. This seems in stark contrast with the previous “Difficult to see God in our local setting.” The sense that God is up to something is demonstrated in the willingness to join Him.
APPENDIX 2 A Congregational History
History of First Xenia by Glen Bengson
First Lutheran began in 1844, a “house church” until 1848 when a building was erected. Pastors that served First (by horseback out of Springfield) were instrumental in starting Wittenberg. First became one of many churches in Xenia, and even today Xenia has over 60 churches of all sorts. Still, we are the “First, and only” Lutheran church in town of 25,000. Most of its history Xenia seems to have had part time or barely fulltime ordained ministry.
The two biggest changes occurred very close together. In 1974 the famous tornado hit Xenia, causing millions in damage, taking 35 lives (including one from First; plus a rescue worker, a Lutheran from northern Ohio, in whose honor our bell tower was donated), and utterly destroying the building. Within two years a new a structure was built on the same site, with the old church, and old Catholic church behind us, underneath our parking lot. That was the first change.
The second big change, in my opinion, was the arrival in the early 1980s of Pastor Dean Stewart, who energetically and astutely reshaped the congregation around liturgy and mission, culminating in the adding of an addition to the building in 1990. This seems a time of great energy and growth, with lots of kids, etc. When his successor came about 1992, simmering disagreement about the addition boiled over a bit, some families left, and the new pastor’s stay was not a finally happy one in general. He was not his predecessor. I came in 1998, received warmly, after the congregation had benefited from PCORE [the then PMC], and have had a very blessed time. It is, however, time now for a serious evaluation of the situation.
Today the congregation is older, but with a new influx of younger families in the last 3-4 years. We have very few elementary ages, a HS group that will be gone in a year, but many first grade and younger youth, calling for renewed attention to SS in the next few years. The adults are primarily 50 and up. I detect a bit of weariness for many of the stalwarts in leadership, looking for others to take up the responsibility. We are a varied mix of rural/in town/ suburban folk, as Xenia is on the border between the Dayton metro area on the west and the farm country to the east. Dayton’s growth is definitely moving our way and Xenia should start to experience growth for the first time in 30 years (it lost 10,000 after the tornado!). We are varied racially, economically, and in many other ways. It is a truly warm and welcoming place, though not without the need to grow in evangelistic ways. We have a high rate of outreach service activities, like our Caring Place Thursday evening free meal program (in cooperation with other churches and groups in the area).
Members are engaged in mission, like the above example. We have a recent former Mayor of Xenia, business leaders, teachers, volunteers in community service groups, medical folks, a columnist for the newspaper, and the like. We support a wide range of service groups- FISH food pantry, Habitat, homeless housing, prison ministry, Synod positions, Area Assoc of churches, an arts program for the disabled, and more. Non-members worship and serve with members.
90-minute Comparison Report Conversation Guide
Read this to the group:
This report is a piece of research done WITH congregations. As you did the first time around when you met with the writer of your Discovery Report, we want you to have a conversation with a new listener on the subject of this comparison report. We care what you think about it more than we care about what we’ve written. But all of your thoughts, feelings, reactions, and stories will be valuable to us.
Dwelling in the Word – Luke 10:1-12
Responding to the report as a whole –
1. Is this a fair description of your congregation – does it ring true?
2. What surprised you – positively or negatively?
3. What are you curious about concerning your “twin” congregation?
Responding to the questions –
1. Do your leaders already give attention to the things we discovered? (are these issues “old hat”?)
2. Are there cases where you feel the description of yourselves a bit stretched, or the questions about what you do a bit challenging? Could you see yourselves embodying such a stretch or a challenge?
3. Is there anything you’d like to ask us or your twin congregation?
4. Are there any comments or questions you’d like to ask that haven’t fit into one of the questions above?
5. In summary, what was the most surprising discovery you made in this report?