Some two dozen fellow parishioners gathered in St. Matthew’s Parlor this past Wednesday night for a Discernment Dinner, an opportunity to share ideas about the future direction of Ascension Memorial Church. The Rector began the evening’s conversation by setting the stage. We are in a great place. We are healthy in all the right ways and we are flourishing. But can we expect to flourish over the next ten years by doing pretty much what we have done over these past ten years? The Rector believes the future flourishing of our parish depends upon our becoming a parish recognized by our wider community as living in a “partnered relationship of service” with our community.
“There is a line across our path. On this side of the line, we are a healthy parish living largely independent of our wider community. We are aware of community needs around us and we respond with kindness and support. We have come far, but we can go no further without crossing the line and becoming a community of faith living in partnership with other non-profit organizations committed to improving the lives and spirits of our fellow citizens. There is much we can do on our own, but the best things achieved in this world can only be achieved in partnership with others.”
Participants of the evening were asked to write on a Post-It what direction they believe we are headed as a parish. When the Post-Its were read aloud, the consensus pointed toward service to those in need of housing and to those in need of food. Working more closely with the North Shore Chapter of Family Promise was discussed as a way our parish might “place a toe across the line.” Our parish already has some 25 trained volunteers available to serve when Family Promise brings families in transition to town to be hosted overnight at the First Presbyterian Church. If Ascension Memorial Church qualifies as a campus properly equipped to host overnight guests, might our parish choose to experience what it feels like to step over the line toward a “partnered relationship of service” by agreeing to become a “Host Church” and house homeless families for one week four times a year? Stepping over that line in this way would give us the chance to feel what its like to go public with our willingness to partner with outside organizations in service to God and neighbor. The wider community would begin to recognize Ascension Memorial Church as “the real deal,” people of faith who care enough to risk joining in partnered relationships with other caring organizations.
The future of Boone Hall also was very much a part of the evening’s conversation. Boone Hall is recognized as a great resource in support of the parish and its call to be of service to our community. In order “to keep the horse ahead of the cart,” our parish needs first to identify those organizations with whom we might wish to partner, those needs in our community we feel compelled to address, then decide whether a renovation, or a complete rebuild, is necessary to make best use of Boone Hall in service to our community.
The Discernment Dinner was fun and rewarding in allowing voices to be heard and ideas to be shared. More discernment is required. More ideas to be shared. More hearts and minds need to be engaged for our parish as a whole to share a new vision for our future. Look to be invited to more such occasions, perhaps between services on Sunday morning, perhaps in homes of parishioners, to join with others to discern our future. We find ourselves with a line across our path. Do we stop here and hope for the best, or do we cross over the line for the sake of family, community and flourishing?