Parish Meeting Recap
I often have a favorite moment from Sunday; do you? This week, mine came during the prayers of the people. After Caroline prayed that we would be an inclusive and welcoming church, a child's voice responded loudly "HEAR OUR PRAYER!" from the back of the gym. It was such an embodied moment of inclusion, as even the youngest among us participated energetically in our prayers. Lord, hear our prayer, amen!
Thanks to all of you who sweated it out through Sunday's outdoor parish meeting and potluck! This letter is a recap from the meeting for our Zoom attendees who couldn't be there, and for those who might appreciate another opportunity to reflect on what was shared.
We began with a few observations from our recent church-wide reflection. Last month, I invited you to look back over the past year at Incarnation with gratitude, noticing where God seemed most present and where he seemed most distant. It is so good to regularly pause, take stock, give thanks, and look forward with hope.
Thank you for trusting me with your reflections. After reading through them, I had two overwhelming takeaways. First, God is working in this community. Through our worship, small groups, and informal conversations, God is healing and challenging and deepening your faith. He's helping people find a home in the church who'd nearly given up, and he's allowing people to be truly seen and known. He's revealing his kingdom in word and deed through this community. It's such a gift to pastor a community that welcomes and cares for one another as well as you do — thank you.
And second: we are all SO different! There was such incredible, beautiful diversity in the responses. One person's God-most-present moment was another person's God-most-absent moment, and the differences were striking. This observation reminded me of some early church planting advice that Liz and I received called the 60/40 rule: 60% of the service should feel comfortable and familiar, and 40% should feel a bit uncomfortable (e.g., musical style, languages spoken, children's inclusion, etc). But here's the thing: nobody's 60/40 is the same. My comfortable 60% is likely someone else's uncomfortable 40%.
This means that every Sunday, we have an opportunity to embrace our own momentary discomfort for the sake of someone else's comfort. Every discomfort, then, is an opportunity for spiritual formation. It's a small invitation to practice the sacrificial, self-giving love of Jesus and to widen the welcome of our church to include those who are different from us. Rachel Held Evans once wrote "Imagine if church became a place where everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable" — and I hope that's part of what we're building here at Incarnation.
Finally, I wanted to share a few of the "just for fun" responses from the surveys. The most common response to "If Incarnation were an animal, what animal would it be?" Unicorn. And the most common (by a landslide!) response to "If Incarnation were a color, what color would it be?" Purple.
You can read the year-end finance update from our Treasurer here. Bottom line: you are a very generous church and our finances are healthy and stable. All financial reports are always available upon request, so feel free to reach out to me, Emily Williams, Ben Goebel, or Ginny Foran (our Treasurer, currently working remotely from the Canadian Rockies!).
Words for next year
In the church reflection, I'd asked people to share a single word that captured their hopes for next year. Below are a few of the words that were shared (some more than once):
I love these words! They reflect my own prayers and the places our staff is focusing our energy and attention.
One big focus as we look forward is spiritual formation. How can every aspect of our common life become an opportunity for encounter with God?
Sundays begin and end with volunteering, and this, too, is an opportunity for formation. We often say that worship at Incarnation is like a family meal -— we all help in the kitchen to bring the meal to the table, and afterward we all do the dishes together. Shared work is part of our life together, and it helps us remember that church is more than simply sitting still and listening to a sermon — it's participating in a community with our whole bodies, sharing burdens and helping one another. Over the next few months, we'll be doing some short volunteer trainings to refresh our understandings of why we do things the way we do, to connect our Sunday service with the people it impacts.
The risk, however, is burnout. Sometimes we all need to simply rest and receive. I hope that you always feel the freedom to say no without shame. Saying no and asking for help are other opportunities for formation, to learn how to receive and not only give. And we are also always working behind the scenes to tweak and streamline our volunteer systems to lighten everyone's load!
This fall, we are working toward finishing setup by 9:30am in order to protect a period of calm before the service for adults and kids. This will take some time, but it's our goal! Our first task is worship, and it's difficult to transition to worship from a flurry of activity. The kids already use the 9:30-10am time for Wild Wonder and Atrium, but we want to move toward protecting that time for everyone. Over time, we will also create opportunities for bible study, prayer, and contemplation into that 9:30-10am slot for those who want to go deeper.
Music: a new hire!
Our music is 100% volunteer-led by our AMAZING Music Steering Team (Eva-Elizabeth, Cory, Anna, Grant, Beth, and Katie Foran). This team has given so much time and care to our worship, including far more than than leading on Sundays; there's a heavy lift during the week of planning, preparation, and administration. We are working at building a strong bench of people who would like to play and sing with them on Sunday mornings (interested in being playing on Sunday mornings? Fill in this survey!)
But I’m delighted to announce that starting in November, Cory Warden will be joining our staff to lead our music program. Cory will shepherd our musicians and bring consistency and creativity to our Sunday worship, while maintaining the high-participation ethos of our music. Cory is a gifted musician and a wise, gentle leader; I particularly appreciate the ways he consistently points me toward the love of Jesus for those on the margins. He's a brave soul for stepping onto this all-women staff team, and we are delighted to welcome him onboard soon!
This fall we will move into a simple rhythm of monthly potlucks; these are always great opportunities to welcome newcomers and build bonds of friendship. We’ll say goodbye to Donut Sunday and return to our pre-pandemic rhythm of Potluck Sundays, but don’t worry — you can always bring donuts to a potluck!
Josie shared this document Sunday outlining how we are thinking about children's formation at every age. Some of these structures are already in place, and some are still being developed. At every age of kids' development, we want to welcome children into our worship of Jesus rather than distracting them away from it. We hope our community will embody the words we read at Pentecost: "we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God!" "In our own tongues" means communicating the gospel in ways every age and ability can understand, and making space for those communications in our worship together.
Fall small groups opened Sunday! Katie shared more about the new format of our fall small groups: share a meal (or snacks/dessert), catch up on each others' weeks, and pray a short prayer liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer. Our hope is that these groups will be restful to lead and participate, offer simple midweek refreshment, and allow opportunities to build relationships with others in the Incarnation community.
We also hope these groups will provide an easy, natural opportunity to invite people outside of Incarnation — friends and neighbors who might be curious about prayer. Katie talked about her own experience leading Evening Prayer groups with people outside the church: people welcomed the opportunity to receive prayer and learn basic prayers like The Lord's Prayer, and found scripted prayers unintimidating and nonthreatening. We hope our small groups offer an easy way to practice hospitality to those both inside and outside our church, creating space for "belonging before belief."
Finally, we talked about outreach! Incarnation gives away 15% of its income toward outreach every year, and we've always been a church that cares deeply about seeing the kingdom of God in works of justice and mercy. The Four Mile Run stream that's featured in our logo marks our focus neighborhood, along Columbia Pike to Arlandria. But we also care about those beyond our immediate neighbors, in the greater U.S. and around the world. Our outreach team is focused on strengthening our partnerships to discover ways to refresh workers and stretch into new ways of serving together. You can read about our most recent round of outreach gifts here, or read about our outreach priorities here. Stay tuned for opportunities to serve and pray with our outreach partners this fall!
Finally, we announced our new slate of vestry candidates to fill 2 vacancies as Cory and Ben end their vestry terms. The vestry candidates are Kim McKnight, Jared Noetzel, and Phil Sheridan. You can read their bios here, and members will vote online October 2-9.
Whew! We covered a lot of ground, didn't we? And yet there's still more to look forward to: baptisms this weekend, our first fall retreat next weekend, continuing our series in 1 Timothy (that passage about women is coming up in a few weeks!), and more.
It's a profound gift to be your pastor through every season of our church's life. May we know God's love more deeply and share it more freely in the season ahead. Lord, HEAR OUR PRAYER!