May 15, 2016 – Pentecost Sunday
I want to tell you about the outcomes of the New Beginnings retreat that 33 of us participated in three weeks ago. It was the outgrowth of small group conversations, workshops and community conversations that have involved more than 100 different people in our congregation.
The goals of New Beginnings have been to focus our energies as a congregation, to deepen our relationships with our neighbors, to raise our profile in the community, to build on our long history of commitment to social justice and to attract new people who will become active participants ensuring the longevity and sustainability of Central Church and its mission.
The work of the retreat was to decide on the focus for our energies around education equity for the next twelve months.
How would we decide on what that focus would be? We looked at our interests as a congregation—and there are many, many interests. Maybe even more interests than there are members of our church! We talked with people in our neighborhood to find out more about the strengths and needs of our neighbors. At the retreat, we heard reports from the eleven people who had conversations with 25 people in our neighborhood and in neighborhood organizations.
Then all the retreat participants voted on the projects and ideas that came out of the neighborhood conversations and we came up with three areas, which the session has endorsed, where we will focus as a congregation for the next twelve months.
Let me pause and say this does not mean these are the only things we will do as a congregation. It does not mean we will stop the ministries of our congregation that many of you are already involved in.
But these three areas are ways that we believe God is calling us to engage as a congregation in our neighborhood now. That’s been the question of New Beginnings all along: What is it that God is calling us to do and be in this time and place?
So here are the three areas of engagement:
- Acknowledge and mitigate systemic racism and white privilege.
We want to build intentional relationships with Simmons College, an historically black college, right across the street from us. We want to continue doing our work to understand systemic racism and white privilege. And we want to advocate and do our part to dismantle those systems of injustice in order to provide an equitable environment for all people to live, learn, work and thrive.
- Connect and extend our relationships with the Wednesday Lunch Community.
We already have lots of neighbors who consider Central their church on Wednesdays at noon. We want to deepen our relationships with our neighbors to positively impact the quality of life in Old Louisville and to support Wednesday lunch participants as they strive to live fulfilling lives.
- Enrich and Empower Children’s Success at School.
We already have connections with Engelhard Elementary School, three blocks away at First and Kentucky, and with Coleridge-Taylor Elementary School, to our north and west. We want to build on those relationships to be partners in meeting the needs of children, their families, and the teachers and administrators who nurture, teach and support them so that all the children in our neighborhood can succeed in school and life.
The fire colored insert in your bulletin tells you more about all of this and there’s a smaller fire colored piece of paper for you to sign up to get involved. Don’t read those pieces of paper now—I’d like you to still listen to what I have to say. But do take them with you and read them and get involved.
This whole New Beginnings process has been about trying to figure out what it is that God needs us to do and be in this time and this place.
There are parallels between us and the disciples waiting in Jerusalem in Acts 2. Both of our situations are situations of change—the world has shifted around us and what we know to do is no longer enough. So we have waited on God, asking “What do you need us to be and do in this time and this place?” And in our waiting we give space for the Spirit to show up.
We often talk about the Holy Spirit being the manifestation of the Divine who leads, guides, directs, blows open the doors and sets our hearts on fire; moving us into places where we never thought we would be and calling us to do what we couldn’t imagine we would do.
In the language of the Strengths Finder, the Spirit influences and gets us to act in service of the Divine work of love and justice in the world.
In Romans, it is the Holy Spirit who sets in us the desire to cry out to God in prayer and that we do cry out to God is a confirmation that we are children of God—adopted into God’s family. We don’t have to prove ourselves in other ways, simply reaching out to God in prayer is the affirmation that we are God’s daughters and sons.
In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit fills the disciples and they begin to speak in the native languages of the immigrants who have come from other areas of the Roman empire to live in Jerusalem. The Spirit gives power to the followers of Jesus to tell the good news to all people in the language that is most meaningful and closest to their hearts.
So it is that the Spirit sets in the followers of Jesus the desire and gives us what we need to do the Divine work of love and justice in the world. So may the Spirit give us the desire and the gifts and strengths we need to do the Divine work of love and justice in this time and this place.
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 Margaret P. Aymer, “Acts 2.1-21: Exegetical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 3, Eds. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010), 17.