At the end of September the Session of First Presbyterian Church made an overnight retreat at Wilder Forest near Marine-on-St. Croix, MN. In this beautiful setting, surrounded by majestic trees and strutting wild turkeys, we got down to the Spirit-filled business of discerning God’s purpose and will for our congregation. With hopes of keeping our retreat one that was grounded in the practices of our faith, I designed a process that incorporated prayer, Bible study, worship, and being open to the Spirit’s creative movement.
A large part of Saturday was spent studying the parables of the gospels. Parables are the short stories or long metaphors that Jesus often used in his teaching and preaching to communicate spiritual truths in an earthly way. The kingdom parables, in particular, were important for our work on the retreat. The kingdom parables describe in tangible ways the kingdom of God, God’s hope for the world at its best, God’s vision of the kingdom when everything is going according to the divine will.
After studying a few different parables, the session members were asked to join in small groups to write a “kingdom parable” for our congregation – an extended metaphor or short story that describes what our life together would like if we were at our best, at God’s best. The parables would each be a discernment of God’s vision of our congregation if everything were going according to the divine will. From the work of the different small groups we then collaborated to create one parable that best described God’s call to our congregation, God’s purpose for our ministry.
Below is the parable the session wrote to describe God’s vision for our congregation. Our understanding is that this is the ideal toward which we are working. There are some aspects of the parable at which we already excel, aspects of our call we follow faithfully. Other aspects need work; they have yet to be realized to the fullest in our life together. This parable, this vision, will help guide our congregation’s ministry and mission in the coming year.
In the kingdom of God, our community of faith is called to be a welcoming garden planted and sustained by the Spirit of God. Many hands work as one to plan, sow, nurture, and harvest. Inviting diversity, we bloom in all season of life. With compassion for those who are weary, we provide continuous shelter, healing, support, and growth. From the abundance of blessings we receive, we celebrate and share with those close and far the nourishing and life-giving love of our Lord.
After the first of the year, the session will be inviting you, the congregation, to join in our discernment process. We value your commitment to helping First Presbyterian Church grow in faithfulness to God’s call to be a community of hospitality, compassion, and worship. There will be an opportunities both in and out of worship for all of us to join in discerning how our current commitments and possibilities for the future fit into God’s vision for our life together. We hope you will join us in this prayerful and exciting process.
Grace and peace to you in the Advent and Christmas seasons. May the celebration of Christ’s coming prepare us to be his witnesses in the world.
(Those aren't "our" butterflies pictured above, but just as soon as I find my own pictures from our church garden I will replace it!)