Dreaming of new mission centers and worshipping communities

On Thursday, February 13, at the invitation of the Rt. Rev. Marc Andrus, approximately 35 lay and ordained leaders from across the Diocese of California gathered to share dreams of how the diocese may grow with new worshipping communities or mission centers. The day was organized by the Rev. Canon Stefani Schatz, with the support of members of the bishop’s staff.  The participants were people who have approached the diocese in roughly the last five years and expressed an interest in starting a new mission center or congregation.

Bishop Andrus began with an opening meditation on the growing seed from Mark 4 and reminded everyone of the mysterious power of God who gives growth in which we can all trust. The day was full of discussing dreams, hopefully pondering projects that may one day be realized while realizing that dreams are fragile and can easily fall or never come to fruition.

The day began with a presentation by the Rev. Bill King of the Diocese of Alabama. King shared the Diocese of Alabama’s history of church planting and offered the model it used as one for consideration while also inviting conversation about the nature of the Church through history.

King said, “Opening and closing churches is part of church growth. We only know of the churches that survived — Ephesus, Corinth, Philadelphia — but we have no idea how many Christians communities formed and eventually died out.” King shared some concrete steps for one way of planting churches, including sending an evangelist to build a community before a church planter comes to grow the community and stay with it through its adolescence.

Later, the Rev. Felicia SmithGraybeal of St. Brigit’s, which serves the Tri-Town Area of Frederick, Firestone, and Dacono, Colorado shared how “The biggest faith building exercise I’ve ever undertaken has been planting a church.” SmithGraybeal offered a model different than that used by the Diocese of Alabama. Rather than sending an evangelist to prep an area, the church of which she had been a part — which had grown almost out of its capacity — decided to plant a church in an area where one did not exist and where population was growing.

Before gathering as a special congregation, the community met once every other week for Bible study and discernment. They learned the demographics of their community and discerned a call to engage Celtic spirituality and a Celtic way of being church — lay and clergy gathering together in the heart of town and actively participating in the life of the communities.

Following SmithGraybeal’s presentation, more dreams for the diocese were shared, and after break-out sessions the dreamers collaboratively brainstormed criteria for determining readiness of a potential new mission center or congregation. Some criteria were who else should be in this conversation, clarity of the new community’s mission, does the community need a new congregation, do colleagues trust and collaborate with one another, is there permission and blessing for operating within the context, what are the opportunity costs of participation, are risk and loss recognized, how are adjacent congregations participating, and how/when is it time to close some congregations and invest in others?

The day closed with participants gathering for Eucharist modeling St. Lydia’s, a dinner church in Brooklyn, New York. The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews presided at the service. His sermon reminded everyone that the Rev. Absalom Jones was a church planter who bore fruit that lasted, following Jesus’ command.