Friday, May 16, 2008

Called to Ministry

Almost two and a half years ago, the established church we serve sold their enormous facility - a sanctuary with seating for 850 people, 44 rooms, a full-sized gymnasium, several apartments, and a separate office building with a chapel - to a developer who built a six-story condominum complex in the parking lot. The small remnant congregation has been meeting for worship in a synagogue on Congress Street, at the invitation of that congregation, while undertaking an intentional process of discernment. Although there has certainly been plenty of nostalgia about the past, this new building-free identity has also opened up lots of new possibilities! Without an aging, outdated building tying up all its time and financial resources, the congregation has felt a refreshing freedom to focus on ministry, and to consider an entirely new identity apart from its physical structure.

Since last fall, we've been meeting weekly with a group of leaders of the congregation, to continue this discernment process and to get serious about articulating a vision for a new and very different kind of ministry in Portland. We've met with city leaders, pastors and leaders of other churches, and leaders of social service organizations. We've gone on several field trips to visit the sites of other organizations doing work to care for people in need, both within and beyond Portland. It's been an exciting process.

After months of researching needs and opportunities for ministry within the city, in February we identified the neighborhood where where we feel led to sink down some roots. It happens to be the most densely populated square mile in the State of Maine - a neighborhood of mostly several-family homes and apartments, some of them in serious need of renovation, many of them rented out by landlords who live in other parts of the city or even out of state. It's a neighborhood with a reputation for drug use and trafficking, as well as prostitution and domestic violence -- all of which are still present, but expressed in more subtle ways than they used to be. Since it is the most affordable neighborhood in the city, it tends to be one of the places where recent immigrants and those who are recently homeless settle, but residents also tend to be very transient, moving on when they can afford to go elsewhere. It's also a neighborhood where students and some young professionals have chosen to live, and where a neighborhood center and a community policing program have had a very positive impact. Our vision for ministry in this neighborhood is taking shape, and although we have a lot of work to do to implement the vision - including talking more with people who live in the neighborhood to determine if our vision really meets a need they feel - we are hopeful and excited to get on the ground.

Yesterday at our weekly meeting of the team, an 82-year-old woman who's a relatively new member of the church and an active member of this team, said, "I've been praying that I live long enough to see this vision become a reality, because this is the first time in my life that I've ever felt called to something."

How powerful is that? We had a great discussion about that sense of being called, and I've been living with that comment ever since. Wow. God is good!


Unknown said...

That is incredibly cool!

Ryan Dunn said...

Allen, this was a great post to read. I'll be praying for you and your congregation as you pursue a vision that is truly prophetic. I hope you'll keep updating us.