March 18, 2015

“What is God Calling Us to Do?”

A few days ago I was reminded that if you want to know what God is calling you to do---its important to actually spend some time together. This reminder triggered a profound moment in my experiences as a consultant.

About a year ago, a parish is a charming town in Wisconsin contacted me to engage in a discernment phase of a capital campaign (the first of the three phases recommended by the Episcopal Church Foundation). During discernment, a community utilizes a listening tool to ask all its members to answer the question, “What is God calling us to do?”

The theology behind this phase is rooted in the understanding that God still speaks to us today. It’s an important time of creating a common understanding, ensuring all are heard, and determining next steps toward a capital campaign.

The congregation was certain they wanted to raise money for their endowment, but was unsure if the parish had other priorities that needed addressing as well. Together, we created a survey and following the results planned to walk through the survey in a parish wide meeting after coffee hour.

The meeting started off as most normally do. We collectively agreed up some group norms for interacting and I began asking questions. At first, responses were slow but rapidly people began raising their hands as many wanted to voice their feelings and ideas. There were some funny moments, heart felt testimonies to what the parish meant to its members, and articulated feelings of frustration that there were diverse ideas about how money should be spent. And then…a hand popped up.

A woman in the front had been waiting to speak. She looked about sixty. Her hair was shaved with scars dotting the top of her head. On her cheek was a big brown mole with hairs sticking out. I recall she was thin but wore a big, tan carhardt jacket. When she spoke, I was close enough to her to smell her breath---and my stomach flopped. 

The woman was homeless and known in the community to be in poor mental health. This was her first time visiting the parish and she had ideas about how money could be used in her local community. She raised her hand timidly and then throughout the meeting grew bolder each time---speaking out from her own experience of pain and hurt. 

The parish, committed to listening to all, sat and heard her feedback. It wasn`t comfortable. Many shifted in their seats and there was sighing, but everyone stayed and listened.

After the meeting was finished, the leaders met to reflect on what they heard. The rector noted, “I was really proud of my parish today.” And another named “I can`t be sure…but I think Jesus may have just attended our meeting.”

During this time of Lent, of walking the wilderness, where have you encountered God? What are ways you or your parish have experienced God’s calling through unexpected encounters?

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