Living Local, Joining God:
Guiding Team Final Report -- Fall, 2018

While Emmanuel has completed our two year participation in the Diocesan Living Local: Joining God program, we have learned many practices that we are now incorporating into our church's mission. Below you can read the Final Report of the Guiding Team's work.

Learning from Experiments

Question #1: Briefly describe the experiments that you have completed.

Our experiments were grouped in four themes which came out of the Listening Phase of the LLJG journey:

Theme 1: create opportunities for intergenerational activities:
experiment: two Game Nights (10 February & 7 April) Fifteen to twenty persons came together with a variety of board games, enjoy food and drink, and to play together. We set up about nine tables and left the games on the tables. As people arrived, each person chose where to go, and found out who else was to share the game. Everyone agreed the games nights were successful and fun, and that we need to continue with more. We need, however, to do a better job of promotion, stressing that these are not only children or youth events; they are for all ages whether "familied" or not.

Theme 2: strengthen our relationship with Stuart Hall
experiment: tour of campus (21 January 2018) Nineteen parishioners met with a Stuart Hall staff member on a Sunday afternoon to tour the campus. Among our participants were three former staff members who had worked at Stuart Hall years ago. This tour, for us, was a first step, and we realized we needed to have promoted it better. "Strengthen our relationship with Stuart Hall" was mentioned several times during the interview phase of LLJG. The idea for a tour came about because of those comments. Following the tour, Stuart Hall made concrete suggestions about how we could continue to support the students, for example, with a program to "adopt a student" as a host for a weekend or during holidays.
follow-up experiment: So, as a follow-up experiment, we proposed to our congregation a "Friend-a-Student" program. The idea was described in a Missions Moment, which invited interested parishioners to meet to learn from Stuart Hall the specifics of what the program would involve. To date, this experiment has not been successful.
follow-up experiment: In order to continue some connection, LLJG has planned a third Game Night for mid-October and approached Stuart Hall's Director of Community Life to have it on campus, hoping to involve both students and Emmanuel parishioners. The details are still being worked out. We remain committed to this theme and our "experiments" and remain hopeful that with the new chaplain, more opportunities for participation will develop.

Theme 3: continue our commitment to interfaith gatherings
experiment: Our parish continues to participate in and provide leadership for the Know Your Neighbor (KYN) program which involves five local congregations: Allen Chapel AME; Temple House of Israel; Islamic Center; Trinity Episcopal; Emmanuel Episcopal.

Theme 4: connect spirituality to the ongoing life of the congregation
experiment: Emmanuel continues its commitment to contemplative prayer and spirituality through weekly Centering Prayer and Lectio Divina opportunities. In addition, our Rector has used Centering Prayer during Sunday morning worship times and has taken Centering Prayer to Stuart Hall.

Question #2: Through completing these experiments, what did you observe about joining God in the neighborhood?

Our LLJG initiative has challenged and stirred our parishioners to react in no less than five observable ways, none of which were actual LLJG initiatives. Among them:

1)     In order to promote our commitment to Centering Prayer and Lectio Divina in the neighborhood, a member of our congregation took the initiative to promote the weekly opportunity for both Centering Prayer and Lectio Divina on our Church Sign in front of the church.

2)     One of our youth built an outside Food Pantry as his Eagle Scout project, aiming to reach out to our neighbors with essential food and toiletries. The hope is that not only our congregation will stock the pantry, but that the neighborhood will also participate, thereby making it a neighborhood effort to help our neighbors and not only an Emmanuel effort.

3)     As a follow-up to our Rector's Summer Sabbatical, a Sabbatical Committee engaged the entire congregation with thought-provoking questions (not unlike the LLJG Dwelling in the Word questions) to reflect on the nature of our lay-led congregation and how it fared in the absence of our Rector. Such questions give folks the opportunity to reflect on their role and contribution to the life of our parish. This objective, we believe, reflects the overall aim of LLJG.

4)     Our participation in the Noon Day Lunch program continues to thrive.

5)     Our Prison Ministry has almost doubled its participants.

Question #3: Given your experience with these experiments, what would be some suggested steps in engaging congregation members more extensively in Living Local: Joining God?

We were encouraged with those five "LLJG-like reactions" in that the ongoing aims and objectives of LLJG have taken root in our congregation. Our hope is that this will continue, at the same time that our Guiding Team

1)     becomes less visible,

2)     continues to support though not lead such efforts, and

3)     keeps our Four Experiment themes and emphases before the congregation.

Places of Discernment

Question #1: What are you learning about attending to others beyond the church?

As we discussed how we attend to others beyond our church, we agreed that we at Emmanuel do that naturally, observing and listening and interacting with many outside the four walls of our church.

Questions #2 & 3: What are you learning about dwelling with rather than helping and meeting needs? / Where and how are you learning to discern God ahead of you in your communities?

It is far more difficult to dwell and not try to be the fixer, to listen without evaluating and suggesting solutions. Many of us tend to be fixers and problem-solvers. We are learning to support local efforts, joining God who moves among us in surprising ways, even if we do not agree with the process.

Question #4: What have been the key practices that have helped you on this journey?

1)     It is so important to listen intimately in a new way, deeper and more profoundly, and more focused on the other.

2)     All of us need to tell our own story, share our own ideas, if done so in a non-threatening and respectful way.

3)     Experimentation is more about the process than the product, more about feeling out ideas and being okay with a "fail." Our "fail," for example, was the Stuart Hall Friend-a-Student experiment. That "fail" has given us the opportunity to regroup, assess our objectives, and try again...perhaps not as an official LLJG program.

Living Local: Joining God Overall

Question #1: What aspects of this journey assisted you the most in joining with God in your community/neighborhood?

What assisted us as a Guiding Team most was the cooperation of our congregation, surprisingly open and willing to try new things. As a result, each of us on this Team developed new relationships and friendships, as well as became more integrated into the overall life of our parish.

Question #2: What would you change in order to assist in this movement of joining God?

We would like to see less top-down bureaucracy that seems to be an integral component of the "off- the-shelf" LLJG package. We clearly reacted against the prescriptive nature of the program and made it our own. It is essential to trust the openness of the LLJG process and its localization in different parishes.

Question #3: What recommendations do you have for continuing and moving forward?

Moving forward, we recommend that new Guiding Teams

1)     get to know and trust your congregations, embracing their unique gifts and qualities;

2)     aim less at achievements and more on the process, involving as many voices as possible along the way;

3)     enjoy the storytelling of your parishioners, listening and getting to know those with whom you share the sacred space in worship;

4)     use different texts for Dwelling in the Word; variety enhances the engagement.