Thank you for a successful gathering Tuesday night. We were able to take a look at Milner's past and talk about how it shapes and informs our understanding of the present. Some takeaways from the meeting:
- Milner has moved geographically before. If God is calling us to look at such a move in the future we know that the congregation can not only survive a move, but even thrive. There are many congregations that have never had such an experience and thus they remain scared and uncertain at the thought of a move. But, Milner knows God's hand is with us.
- Milner has endured many dramatic shifts including changing neighborhoods, dramatic membership loss, sharing our space with other groups, and more. Milner is equipped through its history to handle change and even embrace change. This is exciting because as we all know - change happens. It happens to us everyday, individually and within our community. Milner is ready for change because it has successfully navigated change with God's help for its whole life.
- Milner has a history of trying new things. We looked at the embrace of the East Raleigh Fellowship, Santuario, Loaves and Fishes, the Food Pantry, and many other things Milner has said "yes" to. These were not guaranteed to work and yet we said, "let's give it a try." By doing so we lean into opportunities to use and grow our faith. We give thanks to God with our open spirit and more open hearts. We offer our uncertain future to God in service to God's mission in the world.
I am excited for what lies ahead of us. I hope you are too!
Choosing a mission is not necessarily easy work. But, it's not the hardest work either.
As I've worked with congregations for nearly 20 years, I've found that the biggest obstacle to choosing a mission is saying "no" to the many other choices which captivate and charm our senses. Too often, we feel like we haven't chosen something big enough or wide enough if we only choose one mission, one area, on which to focus. Of course, this is not true. God blesses the big and small things. God has never asked the church to do everything, but God has asked the church to be faithful in one thing. That one thing is our mission.
We know that we are part of a larger body. We know that we don't have to do it all. We know that with God as our help we cannot fail. And, we know that God is with us. So, choosing our mission is not something to fear as if we might get it wrong, but choosing our mission is something to lean into knowing that God will bless us, simply because God is for us.
Some people will challenge my words here and say, "But, churches can choose the wrong mission." And, to be honest, this does happen sometimes. But, it is not the norm and it does not happen as often as we think. Most churches are living the right mission for them, right now. Those that are not are the ones we read about, the ones we drive by and wonder "what happened to them," the ones who seem caught in an ugly cycle of decay and despair.
Milner is not that congregation! We can and will see our mission. This week we will start with the first congregational gathering to get a perspective on our history. Then next month we will add some data to our process from finance and community demographics. By July, we should have enough information to begin praying about and looking into different mission directions for the future of Milner. We can talk about them, try them on, and dream a little. I know God will bless what we choose because God is leading us toward them as we speak.
Milner, you are beloved by God and needed by the world. Let us give thanks to this mighty God whom we serve who loves and searches for the one lost sheep among the ninety-nine others. God delights in the small and big things, and just like Milner, God loves to welcome all God's children home.
This week we will gather to lift hearts and voice in memory of Gerry. Milner will no doubt be long affected by her absence. Our hearts are heavy and our faces sad. We will certainly miss this towering giant of love, laughter, and care.
But, God is faithful and God knows our weaknesses. God has brought us through challenging times before and will again. Our reading from Joshua 24 on Sunday morning highlights for us the power of God's plan and the movement of God's Spirit to bring about change, transformation, and the creation of the people of God. God is for us, who can be against us.
So we will need to put our faith into action this week as give witness to a life well lived then turn our faces to the world sharing that faith in the name of Christ. We do not need to bruise others with the force of our words, but we should offer them as a sign and promise that the God we worship and adore loves this world and those who live in it. And, that same God is causing old things to become new. We are a part of that worldly transformation so our lives should reflect and embody the openness and joy to God's Holy Spirit.
Dreaming about a mission begins with prayer. We pray together, we pray often, and we listen to God's voice. Some people ask, "How do you know if God is speaking to you a mission?" And, while that's difficult to answer entirely there are some helpful hints to guide us along the way.
1) It often appears that a church's mission is directly related to its community. Now, for some that can be the immediate neighborhood, a non-profit that the congregation feels a strong connection to, or it could be it's own members (I'll come back to this one later).
2) A church's mission is often tied to strengths that it presently has so when praying for discernment a church often finds the foundation for mission is already present.
3) A church's mission will take what is inside the church's congregation and move it outside. Mission is always about reaching out.
4) A church's mission will always ask more from the church community that it feels it has to give.
So, just looking at these, we might ask if the mission of Milner Memorial is to be space where people can gather, meet, use our building. Certainly that could be part of a mission. It satisfies several of the above criteria, however it comes up short on asking more from the church than it feels it can give. The question is, "How is God growing MMPC, how is God challenging our faith, testing our ability to trust God's guidance over our own?" Perhaps with a minor change this could be a mission. What if it wasn't simply about outside groups using our space, but was also about the cultivation of radical hospitality? What if in our sharing of space we reached out to marginalized groups offering them the first fruits of MMPC and as a congregation took personal interest in these groups, what they are doing, and how we can offer support through prayer, care, and openness? It might mean offering space to a Muslim group or an AIDS clinic. Who knows where hospitality might lead...
Another mission idea could be around the issue of food insecurity. This week I'll be meeting with Tami Purdue of Sweet Peas Urban Gardens. I'm sure she will have some insights into the SE Raleigh neighborhood. And, back in 2014 a food survey was done by Voices into Action highlighting food deserts and faith communities in SE Raleigh. Food is a real concern in this part of Raleigh. What if MMPC's mission was to build on the strength of land, access, and space to create a food ministry of farm to table to fellowship to service. Maggie Kane runs a group called A Place at the Table where she takes food service to communities as a community lunch. Many people pay what they can pay, others serve in the kitchen for their meal, while others pay more than what the meal is worth because of the mission it supports. Dreams and mission are all around us Milner! There's so many dreams we can dream.
I invite you to pray with me over the next weeks and months as we explore the many great things God is inviting us to look at and live in to here at Milner.
As we travel this journey together here at Milner we will have opportunities to talk more and more about mission and vision. Milner has a strong excellence and understanding of the caring mission of the Gospel. Everyone with whom I've visited has stated how much the friendships mean to them on good days and difficult days. Milner definitely has the heart of Christ.
Also, Milner knows what it means to worship God on the Lord's Day. Each person brings their first fruits to worship and an open heart for hospitality. I think Milner can be and likely is an example of what humility in worship strives to be within the Body of Christ.
But, the question which lingers about mission and vision is how is Milner engaged in the reconciling work of Christ in the world. Certainly we are, but is this an agreed upon, congregationally supported vision or is it a few people here and a few people there. I suspect it is the latter but with a little effort and conversation could become the former. One of the most visible areas of mission at MMPC right now is the food pantry. What if we blessed this mission as one spoke of a much larger wheel adding food related ministries alongside it. Community gardens, community lunches, environmental justice programming, a coffee&biscuit serving window for cold mornings to help our neighbors get the day started right.
Certainly, there is no shortage of ideas and many ideas require little in the way of expense, they just need an advocate, a voice, a set of helping hands. I hope we can start the mission conversation with imagination and energy as we move through our year together. God has certainly blessed Milner and I know that Milner has many more blessings in store for Raleigh and the world!