Just these lines my friends… 

To say it is September, and for many that means back to school, and back to church… after times of needed rest, and spending time away with   family and friends.  At our August Church Council meeting, a topic of discussion was long range planning for our church and its ministries. I am excited that our leaders see the need to address planning for our future.  My own ministry background has given me some essential training and insights into strategic planning as a spiritual practice for congregations, both through the Healthy Congregations initiative and the Alban Institute.

At its heart, congregational planning revolves around Who are we? What has God called us to do or be? Who is our neighbor? We have already done some good work in responding to the identity question, our purpose, and discovering our ministry in context.  In 2015, our Church Council and congregation reviewed and updated our vision and mission statement, which is included in our monthly newsletter and every weekly bulletin. We are in the     process of updating our logo with new images for Serving the Spirit, Family and Community in both English and Spanish. Look for more on this soon from our Communications team.

There are many different kinds of planning; and there is no perfect planning process.  Planning is not a ‘quick fix’ for any congregation. There are important questions that need to be asked before we begin. I would offer the following questions, and my responses; I  invite your responses in return.

Where is Ramsey Church in its life cycle?  I am going to risk saying that Ramsey is a mature and vital congregation with a passion for mission. We know we are aging, and we are concerned (and sometimes anxious) about our future. At the same time, we recognize and praise God for the growth of our church in diversity, in reaching out to our neighborhood especially the Hispanic community.

Other important questions before beginning planning are:

What is the level of trust? The issue is not whether there is disagreement in the congregation. In fact- disagreement- the ability to hold more than one idea at a time is a sign of systemic health. I have been most impressed with the strength and unity of our congregation and leadership, amidst differences. I believe we have a healthy and workable level of trust for strategic planning. What are our resources? I believe Ramsey has          sufficient energy and resources to enter into long range strategic planning. We have a common faith tradition, and a vital mix of bible study, prayer groups, and small group ministries for all ages.

What are the memories or results of previous planning efforts?  Some may remember past planning efforts with thanksgiving of accomplishments. Others may feel frustrated about past planning efforts, results, or even cynical about entering into planning once again. My experience has been that when we review past experiences, it may help to reveal that more was done to fulfill former plans than we realize.

As a relative newcomer, three years at Ramsey and now in year 4, I see many results of all the past planning and efforts. As I look around, I see the church facilities utilized nearly every day, faithful ministry and flourishing community partnerships. I am deeply thankful for the efforts that have been made and the many accomplishments of the past and I give praise to God for them.

Our next step will be naming a long range planning team and team leader. The Church Council has charged the Nominations committee with this task.  We will need persons of Christian     maturity and temperament to work with ideas and willing to experience a bit of discomfort. We will need persons able to see new potentials without needing to immediately act.  We will need persons able to see the whole without being driven to fix the parts. We will need planners to work inclusively, making room for the ideas of others and listening deeply to those in the     congregation. We will need persons who think ‘outside of the box’ for new strategies and potential new futures.

An integral piece of strategic planning will be receiving and giving feedback to the congregation. A task of the planning team is to ‘work out loud’ through continued conversation and reporting about the planning work, both to the Church council and the congregation.

It all begins with prayer and spiritual discernment. Please join me in praying for our church leadership, and please feel free to be in conversation with me and other church leaders about your thoughts and concerns, hope and dreams.  May God’s Spirit pour out on all of us here at Ramsey Church and may we receive the blessing and promise of Joel 2:28: ‘Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men and women shall dream dreams and your young men and women shall see visions…’

Grace upon grace,

Pastor Deb