Posted on Jan 6, 2023 by

I have just returned to Appleton from a trip where we gathered with family at my daughter’s house. One of the rituals of our gatherings with several generations is the times after a meal or into the evening when various grownups and kids tell stories. It amuses me that as often as we tell these stories, no one seems to grow tired of them.

Whether they are stories of pranks or mistakes, or lessons learned the hard way, somehow in the telling they have become part of the fabric of our identity as a family. The laughter, the knowing looks and the comfort in these experiences have become, for me, among the most cherished moments in our time together. We all have rituals when the clan gathers. Especially in times of change or transition, these repeats are reassuring.

That is true for churches too. We like to tell the tribal stories. Our church’s stories about adversity remind us of our core strength. Our church’s stories about courageous decisions remind us of our core sense of adventure. Our stories about our mission and strength remind us how important our church really is to us and to our community.

Part of the work of the interim senior pastor is to lead a church-wide conversation about the church’s journey. These rituals at pivotal times in the history of our church, bring us together, remind us who we are, focus us as a people of God and help us claim what makes us special as a congregation. These sacred conversations are an important component in the life of our church, especially as we envision the future and pray for direction.

As I told you in my letter at the end of October, we will be starting the Interim Curriculum now in this new year. So, we have scheduled four Listening Sessions which will be a church-wide conversation in four sessions.

The first Listening Session starts after worship on this Sunday, January 8.

The topics for the sessions will follow this schedule:

January 8:   What do you love about First Congregational?

January 22: What is our history and how does it shape us?

February 5: What concerns you most about the church and what regrets do we have?

February 19: What are we seeking in a new Senior Pastor?

We will begin every Listening Session in the Sanctuary with an introduction to the topic. Then we will meet in break-out rooms for group conversations. These conversations will be especially important because these are not surveys. This is not an exercise primarily for collecting information, though that’s part of it. This is an opportunity to listen to one another. As a community of faith.

Though all the pastors will be listening to what is said, it is even more important that you hear one another, and hear not only what you say but how you say it, so you can know, first-hand what weight your comments carry.

So, one of the most important parts of this exercise will be the Break-out Sessions in four different spaces around the church: the Chapel, Upper Lounge, Sr. High Youth Room, and Children’s Science Room.

We really hope to hear from people of all ages, so we will offer supervised children’s programs until noon on the days we have Listening Sessions. We will have space for younger kids to play and we will show the movie “Madagascar” for older kids. Sarah Wilterdink will lead the children to the appropriate areas for them after the Church School lessons are completed so that parents can remain in the sanctuary.

Pastor Nick Hatch will be integrating these Listening Sessions into the Confirmation Curriculum so that confirmands and their mentors can have these vital conversations and so that this moment in the church’s history can serve to teach them about congregational life. We value all their ideas and opinions as we consider our future together.

All young adults who are confirmed are encouraged to attend the Listening Sessions

We are eager to hear from those of you who cannot be with us in person and so we are providing the discussion questions in the weekly bulletin and in our Eblast every week. We would like to hear your written responses if you are out of town or unable to join us.

We really hope to see you on Sunday, so you can be part of these sacred conversations.

Blessings,

Pastor Susan

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