What did we hear?

March 11, 2009

I’ll use this post to briefly review some of what happened this weekend with the Listening Project and what caught my attention. 

One of the things I was struck with again, and something Gayle picked up on quickly, was just how active a group this congregation is.  You’re a small group of people doing many, many things – and looking for ways these things can grow and mature.  Ten Thousand Villages is seeking to grow and is reaching out to the community through education events/speeches.  Mennonite Arts Weekend is looking to bring in a wider circle of congregations who have people coming to the weekend.  Community Meal is relating with more people in the neighborhood and is involving more support from CMF members.  There is also a desire to envision/imagine other possibilities.  Several people mentioned the possibility of reviving a Cincinnati Voluntary Service unit, perhaps with a unique focus of working with the arts and/or fair trade issues.  There were mentions of some members moving to Oakley and developing shared community practices.  A Mennonite school in Cincinnati, making our building handicap accessible, and constructing an education wing to our current building, were other dreams.  Some also mentioned the desire to grow numerically as a congregation – to be more intentional about how we recruit and welcome new members.  Overall there was an affirmation that “doing” is a significant part of the identity and gift of the congregation.  We do many things, and we strive to do them well.

At the table I was sitting at on Sunday, and at other discussions during the weekend, I also heard the value of personal and spiritual nurture.  People appreciate quality worship, a welcoming non-judgmental atmosphere, and space for spiritual growth.  Some felt pleased with how this was happening in the congregation.  Others desired more opportunities for small group settings where the inward spiritual journey is the focus. 

One of the gifts of CMF that came up is that soon, for the first time in the life of the congregation, there will be a significant number of retired people.  Congregations often rely heavily on the energy and time of retired persons to drive many of their activities.  (Which is probably why retired people usually make the comment that they are busier at this point in life than they have ever been!)  As more CMF members reach this stage of life I wonder how that will change/enhance our congregational life.

There’s much more to say about the weekend and I hope much more is said – in personal conversations, in the ways committees go about their work, and in our collective visioning together.  A lot of what was happening over the weekend, I believe, was naming things that we already know, but voicing them in such a way that they may lead us into a place we do not yet know.

One of my summary thoughts from the weekend is whether it would be helpful for us to spend some time specifically looking at the relationship between what has been called “Outward Journey, Inward Journey.”  Elizabeth O’Connor, a member of the influential Church of the Savior in Washington DC, has written and spoken often of Journey Inward, Journey Outward.  Their congregation centers around these two aspects of life and teaches the need for each to be done well.  I heard strength and growth areas for both our Outward and Inward Journey as a congregation and perhaps we would benefit from some extended time fleshing out more of how we can continue to mature in both directions.

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