Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds, so that you may
discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2
In the year 49 Emperor Claudius expelled Jews from Rome because of “disturbances” over Crestus (probably a mistake for Christus or Christ). Among these were many Jewish Christians. After the murder of Claudius in 50, many of the Jews returned. In his letter to the Romans Paul is presenting his understanding of the Gospel to two communities, each of which might misinterpret his theology. On the one hand, he did not want Jewish Christians to think he had turned his back on them by preaching to the gentiles; on the other, he did not want Gentile Christians to think God had rejected the Jewish people. Paul was convinced the spread of the Gospel was harmed by such factionalism, to say nothing about the welfare of those churches. Only by creating a shared community would these two groups be able to thrive and proclaim God’s good news. In chapter 2:2 Paul tells his readers they must discern what is God’s will, what is good, acceptable and perfect. To do this they must renew their minds, not by adopting and fashioning themselves after Roman culture, but by renovating their understanding of who they are and how they are to live. Throughout his letters, Paul tells us this is achieved by the Holy Spirit through prayer and the study of scripture, by building relationships and recognizing the value of each of their members, and in accepting and practicing the powerful love of God.
I believe the time has come for us to discern again what is God’s will for us. In so doing, it is my hope several things will be accomplished:
— We will build new relationships and strengthen old ones
— We will assess our resources: people’s talents, interests, time, passion, dreams; our financial resources and real estate; as well as those of the broader community
— We will develop a shared understanding of who we are as a church and what
our mission and purpose should be
— We will arrive 2 or 3 options as to the direction in which our church should
be heading, and map out the course and strategies we will use.
To this end, I recommend we seek the wisdom and experience of Rev. Susan Townsley to facilitate a program of discernment tailored to our needs and purposes. Rev. Townsley has been helping churches in the Connecticut Conf. of the United Church of Christ for many years. She consults with churches transitioning from one pastor to another, those who are reeling from conflict, churches desiring renewal and renewed purpose, churches seeking guidance with staffing issues and what to do with their buildings. Rev. Townsley is a person of deep faith who relies on the guidance of the Holy Spirit in her ministry. Her love for the broader church and respect for each congregation allows her to be at one and the same time objective and compassionate. She understands her mission to facilitate our journey of discernment, helping us to formulate our vision(s) and strategies. She will never tell us what our vision must be nor what we must do! Rev. Townsley is highly respected throughout the Conference, as is her work. This is evidenced by the great demand for her time. I have been a colleague and a friend of the Rev. Townsley for over 25 years and have witnessed how her ministry has been a source of understanding and hope for communities of faith.
I will submit the Rev. Townsley’s proposal to the Church Council at its September meeting for recommendation to the congregation. A meeting will be called for the congregation’s approval. We are hoping to begin the process in November as we are currently working to secure dates with Rev. Townsley. Note that this proposal is flexible. We are able to shape it to fit our needs and budget – and I see no reason why our budget cannot support this important moment in our congregation’s life.
The proposal is quite clear. It is up to us to make it worthwhile. There is work that must be done before Rev. Townsley sets foot in First Church Woodbridge. We need to find leaders, form a Discernment Team and begin doing some research. It demands time and work from our busy schedules. Sometimes it will make us uncomfortable. It will also be a source of surprise and joy as our relationships with God and each other are shaped by the Holy Spirit. The scary thing about a process like this is that we don’t know where the Holy Spirit will lead us, but if we don’t embark on such a journey, I believe we’ll never know where we’re going. It is eminently important to remember the success or failure of our process rests entirely on our shoulders. We are responsible for making this work. Rev. Townsley is here to guide us.
Paul advises: “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Paul was always addressing congregations who were in disagreement, congregations who were uncertain about their mission, and those whose lives were being shaped, not by the love and community of Jesus Christ, but by the power and culture of Rome. My hope and prayer is that as we enter into this time of discernment, God willing and the congregation consenting (which is the congregational way!), we will be made new by the renovation of our minds that we might know God’s way for us.
In joyful expectation of what God has in store for us,