Greetings to the Beloved Community of the Tri-Conference!
My name is Kendy Miller and I am the newest addition to the ministerial staff as Associate Conference Minister for Congregational Vitality. In the years ahead I hope to dream with you about what’s next for your church in the midst of significant decline in mainline protestant churches.
I will let you in on a secret – I am not a magician, so I will not be able to wave a magic wand to make your church vital if it has declined as well, or return your congregations to 1965 status (nor would I recommend that.) But the future of the church is something that I have thought about endlessly for well over a decade as we have come to terms with the writing on the wall – the Church is changing – and it’s never going back to what it once was.
For some, this is a difficult reality. We have loved our churches, invested in them, raised our children in them. We have been shaped and formed by the hymns we have sung for years and the sermons we have heard; there is always that one special sermon that stays with us for a lifetime, forming our worldview in a more generous way than we understood life before we heard it. These have been some of the gifts of the church, and I bet you could name a hundred more.
I am a trained spiritual director, and because of that, my continuing education this spring was through the annual Spiritual Director’s International Conference, this year held online. Spiritual directors are often trained through the lens of contemplative practices, akin to mysticism; contemplation is a stream of Christianity that I wholeheartedly embrace. I tell you this because at the SDI Conference, I heard people who are experts in the field speak and teach about the future of the church being centered in contemplation, that the way forward through this time of increasing suspicion and hostility within our churches, is to return to the roots of groundedness in prayer, quiet centering, and holy listening.
Contemplation, for those of you who may not be familiar with the term, has to do with thoughtful reflection on our own hearing and experiences, such as deeply listening to a sermon and allowing yourself to ponder for more than five minutes, what it means for your life? It also has to do with thoughtful reflection of others’ understanding. How might the person down the street or on the other side of town hear or experience the message differently?
Contemplation is not a specific style or practice but rather an attitude of openness and grace and thoughtful consideration outside of your own worldview. One of my favorite things to tell myself is that just because I think it, doesn’t make it true. This grounds me in humility and opens me to the understanding that I alone do not possess all the answers.
As my first experience with General Synod is still swirling around within me, I am especially aware of how fortunate I am to belong to a Church that values contemplation alongside action as we face the future. Justice without thoughtfulness is not the revolution, rather it adds fuel to the fire. Valuing thoughtful reflection in the midst of high emotions is something I can really get behind and I hope you can, too.
General Synod 33 passed a resolution last week titled: Becoming a Church of Contemplatives in Action. With this resolution we are called to be a praying Church. We are invited to be a people who are rooted and grounded in God’s love (not money or power or athletics, or any other idol that tempts us) Doing work on our own shortcomings is far more important in the life of the future Church than is pointing out other peoples’ shortcomings. Letting go of our own personal preferences is far more important in the life of the future church than clinging to them as though they themselves are God. Contemplation will help us move into what is next for the Church and I am beyond excited to journey there with you.
As your church councils meet heading into Fall, I invite you to have a conversation with the leadership of your church, wondering together how contemplation might be important in your setting as you envision the future of your congregation. If you would like some help thinking through what that may look like, you’re invited to give me or the Conference Office a call.
I offer you peace and blessings and grace . . . and I look forward to what is next for us as the United Church of Christ. There is important and holy work ahead of us.
Rev. Kendy Miller
Associate Conference Minister