As we hope you know, the Session and Trustees began an intensive season of mission discernment for our congregation with a joint retreat about ten months ago.

That retreat focused on examining the kinds of shifts churches Pastor JC Austinin general, and ours in particular, would need to make to be vibrant, faithful, and sustainable in the 21st century, especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In considering next steps after that retreat, the Session created a Missional Strategy Steering Committee made up of representatives from both the Session and the Board of Trustees to guide our ongoing discernment, and bring recommendations to the Trustees and Session on how we can pursue those kinds of strategic shifts.

After spending months learning and exploring a number of insightful resources and potential models, the Steering Committee asked for a special joint meeting of the Trustees and the Session that was held on Monday night so they could share a major report and the leadership could act on their recommendations for next steps. After several hours of robust listening and conversation, the Session and Trustees voted unanimously to approve the Steering Committee’s recommendations for the next steps in our missional strategy journey.

Specifically, the Session and Trustees unanimously approved undertaking a planning and community engagement process to explore the viability and possibilities of creating a mixed-use/mixed-income project on our available property, and approved retaining two consulting groups to help us walk through that planning process.

In keeping with our relentless commitment to transparency, two identical Congregational Town Hall meetings have been called for this coming Sunday, September 24, so that you can learn more about what this does (and does not!) mean for our future mission and ministry.

So, I urge you to make every effort to be present at one of those Town Hall meetings this Sunday, which will take place in Fellowship Hall following each worship service (at 10 a.m. following the Holy Ground Contemporary Service, and at noon following the Traditional Service). If you are unable to attend in person, recordings will be available on the church website afterwards.

With all that said, I want to stress a couple of things so that there is no misunderstanding. First and foremost, nothing has been decided at all in terms of whether to undertake such a project, much less what it might look like. On the contrary, the decision was to undertake a planning and community engagement process to explore those possibilities.

What that means is a lot more learning and conversation about what and why and how we might do as a project along these lines, which we would do not only internally, but through a vigorous and intentional community engagement process. This means in addition to our own internal conversations, we would invite our surrounding community to become partners with us from the beginning in discerning what would be the most positive impact in and for our community, and what challenges and obstacles we need to address so that it can fulfill that goal.

In other words, from the very beginning, there will not be an “us and them” dynamic with our neighbors in pursuing this work; there will be only “us,” the congregation and the institutions and people with whom we share this neighborhood.

Second, it is only after this planning and engaging process that we will consider whether to move forward with such a project and how that project would look. It will be months before that happens, so there will be plenty of time for us to do substantial visioning about possibilities and engagement of the full community on what seems the most fruitful possibilities to pursue.

So the decision that has been made is momentous, but it is simultaneously only the very first step in a long journey that could end up in a number of different places. So the important thing is to stay in this moment, to participate in this first of many conversations, and to continue to pray for us as we seek to fulfill God’s call and command to love our neighbors as ourselves in everything that we do, and with everything that we have.

Grace and Peace,