You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. -Luke 10:27
Saint Mark’s is an intentional community.
It is our intention to be together, to bend our hearts and minds toward God together, to discern and equip our life’s meaning and purpose together, and to change the world together. Simple enough.
But to fulfill our intentions, we have to do these things WITH intention – which is to say, we have to discern strategy, decide on tactics, experiment deliberately, and then review, reflect, reimagine, and re-launch, which is exactly what we’ve done at Saint Mark’s for five years now, utilizing this ‘core competency’ framework for faith communities: Gather-Transform-Send.
Every vital and sustainable faith community does these three things. It’s not enough to do only one of them, nor enough to do only two of them. All three are essential to vitality and sustainability. And while most faith communities may be stronger in one area than they are in others, that simple recognition helps focus each year’s congregational development work.
At Saint Mark’s, for example, our data gathering continues to indicate the following:
- Gather: We’re great once folks get to the door, but we’re lousy at getting them there;
- Transform: We’re generally better at knowing the faith than practicing the faith;
- Send: We know about the world’s needs, but don’t know how best to engage them.
This is all predictable stuff – and, even better, completely within our ability to improve, which we’re obliged to, in fulfillment of the Five Marks of Mission.
To help you better understand, here’s the Gather-Transform-Send framework, fleshed out a bit.
It often happens so discreetly that we might take our Christian responsibility ‘to gather’ for granted. People seem to show up, someone seems to say ‘hello,’ some seem to stick around, and some seem to really get involved. But it doesn’t happen accidentally, nor by clumsy affection or sheer force. Rather, ‘gathering’ is very intentional work, and if we want that intentional work to be effective and repeatable, we need to be able to pull it apart, to observe it, to reflect on it, to grow what’s working and to shrink what isn’t, and to plan for it.
To that end, Saint Mark’s has adopted the following framework from the College for Congregational Development to help us reflect on this vital work of ‘gathering’:
- We Invite: Everything before the ‘front door,’ includes material, interpersonal, & digital means, and includes intentional and unintentional messages;
- We Greet: Everything at the ‘front door,’ including access, safety, warmth, beauty, guidance, assistance, appropriate boundaries, food and drink;
- We Orient: Everything we do to describe and to role model the life we share together, ‘how we do things around here,’ both culture and practice, both implicit and explicit;
- We Incorporate: Facilitating progressive stages of ‘yes’ to membership in this particular faith community, and inviting each other’s gifts, passions, and resources into common identity and purpose.
The Episcopal Church believes we are all disciples of Jesus and, therefore, evangelists of the Good News – each of us responsible for building up the Body ‘into the full stature of Christ.’ That means the work of ‘gathering’ is for all of us – not just the clergy, not just the staff, not just the Council – yes, ALL of us, and we’re responsible, then, to ensure we are each, individually, and Saint Mark’s is, collectively, ever-attentive to ‘the thresholds’ of our lives – the gaps between ‘connection’ and ‘disconnection.’
One very practical implication of this disposition toward ‘gathering’ shows up on Sunday mornings in the wonderful tension between being ‘the community gathered’ and ‘the community gathering.’ While it’s always appropriate to connect and to deepen our relationships with those we see regularly at Saint Mark’s, it’s obvious we must also commit to give appropriate attention to those who may be attempting to connect with us for the first time. This doesn’t mean dropping everything, nor does it mean overwhelming our guests with affection, but it does mean we practice a sensitivity toward those who’ve risked a lot to come see what we’re about. The good news is that Saint Mark’s already does this well. The great news is that Saint Mark’s can do a few small things to ‘gather’ even better!
As inheritors of a Benedictine spirituality, Episcopalians commit to the daily ‘conversion of life,’ to lives that are radically changed by living in the presence of God. As our lives mature into ‘the full stature of Christ,’ they are marked by the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no strict ‘curriculum’ for this kind of formation, but, rather, a ‘community of practice,’ committed in every way to shaping each life for abundant life.
In every faith community, you will find predictable sources of transformation: worship, bible study, community service, stewardship, and fellowship. These are all things we do on purpose – things we plan and prepare for – things known by nearly everyone – intentions made explicit, like the portion of an iceberg above the surface of the water.
Yet, it’s just as certain that in every faith community, you will find myriad unpredictable sources of transformation: who’s here and who isn’t, how we talk about race/class/gender/sexuality, how we handle conflict, where kids are during worship, how guests are welcomed, how space is used, how landscape is cared for, how decisions are made. These are all things we do almost instinctually – it’s the air we breathe, the water we swim in – too close to recognize, let alone assess – dynamics felt by all, but known to very few – habits left implicit, like the portion of an iceberg below the surface of the water.
Within the ‘Gather-Transform-Send’ paradigm, our ‘Transform’ work aims primarily to surface, to name, and to align all the various forces that shape us in our life together here at Saint Mark’s – to assess our overall culture and practice with eyes wide open in order to strengthen those things that shape us rightly, and to weaken those things that don’t. This type of self-reflection is holistic, concerned with both the ‘architecture’ and the ‘atmosphere’ within which we’re formed as people of faith – ensuring both that our practices are sound and that our culture is healthy – good seeding, good soil.
Here at Saint Mark’s, your Council Commissions are organized as Gather, Transform, Send – previously Welcome, Cathedral Life, and Outreach, respectively. Just as the ‘Gather’ Commission oversees everything from Invite to Greet to Orient to Incorporate, and just as the ‘Send’ Commission oversees everything from Direct Service to Community Partnerships to Public Policy & Advocacy to Public Witness, so too does the ‘Transform’ Commission oversee a broad swath of our life together: everything from practice and program to culture and climate, shaping a faithful community that shapes faithful lives. Each Commission is charged to align not just What we do, but to assure the alignment of our core values with Why and How we do them. Please join me in giving thanks for your Transform Team: Lola Brown, Transform Commissioner and Mary Lusk, Canon for Ministry Development. Here’s to another great year!
The mission of Saint Mark’s is the mission of God: ‘Tikkun Olam’ – the healing of the world. We participate in this mission, individually and collectively, by practicing the art of loving God and loving neighbor. This love is concrete and measurable – we know when we’re doing it well and when we’re doing it poorly. This love is not only transformative within the Church, it is also generative within the world, making a new future possible that would be impossible without it.
As members of the Body of Christ and, therefore, participants in the mission of God, we are charged with the clear mandate to make the world a better place. We do this in a number of ways – among family and friends, in our neighborhoods and schools, in our workplaces and marketplaces, in our legislatures and courts, and also right here at Saint Mark’s.
Now, our goal, of course, is that we’re each sowing the seeds of justice and peace in those places we spend most of our time, which, for most of us, is not the Cathedral. We’re well aware that this good work is, indeed, happening, and the Community Engagement Team hopes to gather and share this information, so we can all see, celebrate, and grow our aggregate impact in the world.
We’re also aware, however, that there are many among us who’ve not yet explicitly participated in God’s work of justice and mercy, so are looking for ways to wade into these new waters. It’s for this group among us that our Community Engagement Team is leading the hard work of focusing and strengthening both our on-site ‘direct service ministries’ (e.g. Sunday Night Supper) AND our off-site ‘mission partnerships’ (e.g. Downtown Congregations Ending Homelessness, Dignity Center, Minneapolis College, Emerson Elementary, Shelf of Hope, City House, and, perhaps, NAZ – see below). If this sounds like an area of your spiritual life you’d like to explore further, we invite you to learn more or be in contact with our Community Engagement Coordinator, the Rev. Tim Kingsley, or our Deacon for Community Engagement, the Rev. Deacon Rena Turnham.
As Saint Markans, we individually commit to a life of prayer, study, and service, and we collectively commit to a shared life in which we gather, we change lives, and we go back out into the world to build beloved community and to usher in the reign of God. This is how we share the Love we find here in our house of prayer – a Love that is perfected when it overflows into the community around us as a proactive commitment to the flourishing of life. We are sent to proclaim this vision, to join its proponents, and to enact its policy and practice. May it be so!