The following report was recently placed in people's mailboxes. Here's an online version for those who didn't get one.
Jeremiah 6:16 Thus says the the LORD;
Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths,
where the god way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.
CMC Vision Process–Update for the Congregation April 2016
During the "Discovery Phase" of the 2016 Vision Process, 113 Community Mennonite Church members and attenders were interviewed in small groups using appreciative inquiry questions. In addition, the high-school age youth (MYF) and several commissions responded to similar questions.
Summary of Small Group Interviews
Among the things CMCers identified as important about their congregation were social awareness and activism, small groups, music, and community. Community Mennonite Church is a primary place of connection for many CMCers. Many describe deep relationships, sincere caring, and meaningful friends as elements that tie the congregation together. Caring is experienced through the pastoral team, care teams and small groups and experienced generously during times of trouble. CMCers appreciate opportunity for vulnerability and honesty during worship and in other venues. They appreciate CMCers in service in the United States and abroad as well as the opportunity to stay in touch with and gain perspective from those serving. Small groups are a critical piece of connection which many CMCers report keeps them coming. Founding CMC members still express support of the original vision of church happening intimately in small groups with inward and outward goals. The process of becoming a welcoming/open congregation has been a "generational experience" for many within the congregation.
Many CMCers report feeling comfortable theologically and interpersonally at CMC. One member described CMC as a "a judgement-free, guilt-free space where anyone can feel comfortable." As well CMC is an "intellectual community in a post-modern space without losing sight of the fact that we are here (at CMC) because of Jesus." The congregation appreciates our connections to educational institutions. CMC is perceived as imperfect, occasionally messy, informal and homey, solidified by the sentiment of several CMCers that "church isn't a performance." This is seen as a strength to celebrate. CMC was frequently celebrated as child-friendly and providing quality children and youth programming. CMCers value the diversity of ages—and backgrounds—in the congregation, opportunities for cross-generational engagement and the opportunity to mark stages of life during worship. CMCers also appreciate the diversity of church leadership.
CMCers appreciate arts in worship, especially music: the diversity, the shared responsibility of music, hymns, acapella and other forms. Many CMCers enjoy "meaningful sermons and services" as well as the opportunity for fellowship time where "there is a lot of care/ministry/love happening among us." The quality of adult education classes are appreciated as well.
Social activism and community involvement are two hallmarks of CMC. CMCers take pride in the congregation's investment in many community programs. CMCers are also extensively involved in community work, education, and health as part of their professional lives as well as serving on boards, volunteering and through financial contributions. This is perceived as an extension of CMC and representing the congregation well. The use of CMC space for ministry and programs we support is considered a strength of this congregation, specifically Patchwork Pantry, Faith in Action and other congregations who worship in our buildings. CMCers are pleased to be sharing the building with renters and ministries closely aligned to our heart and values.
The central experience of worship is to tell and experience the story of God's love. By including many voices–children's stories, congregational sharing, preaching, Everyday Ministry–we are able to tell God's story in diverse ways. "God's heart and God's love for the world is evident in almost every sermon, litany and song. We bring what is going on in the world into worship and we pay attention to the marginalized, the poor, the earth."
According to Worship Commission it's easy to visit CMC because there is a clear structure to services and a bulletin to follow. The message to people who visit is that everyone can be a participant in our congregation. There are sometimes 20+ people involved in "up front" aspects of worship and these reflect diverse ages. We smile warmly at some mistakes or informal moments. For example, one Palm Sunday sermon began with a plea for someone to run outside and change the church sign "WINTER schedule" to "SPRING."
Worship Commission is able to incorporate various ages and abilities in our instrumental and choral ensembles. At CMC, where broad participation is highly valued, the commission has facilitated good collaboration among planners, preachers, song leaders and others by providing worship planning materials online and shared Google docs in order to integrate themes and include many voices. "We are good at getting people to say yes. There were actually three people who were willing to lead a series of interviews for the children's time during Lent."
Children and youth of CMC are participating in God's story of love in a host of programs, carried out in ways that convey how much CMC values children and "that they belong." Rituals for children in various life stages express our love and attract young families. The 12-year-old retreat and mentor-mentee program help children feel connected and the casual dress on Sundays helps youth feel comfortable.
CMC youth leaders makes long-term connections to children-youth-young adults and while some church youth groups aren't able to deal with controversial issues such as sexuality or climate change, these are topics CMC youth discuss in a faith-based setting with trusted adult leaders. Being a congregation open to LGBT persons allows CMC to encourage everyone in their faith and youth can be open about their sexuality. As a congregation CMC regularly sends young adults into mission and service assignments and stays in touch with young adults at a distance through care boxes.
Youth Commission is very pleased with the new nursery and promise of a monitor, so that nursery volunteers can see and hear the worship service. Additionally, the organization of CMC's large mentoring program has improved in recent years and the fall kick-off event will be repeated. Monthly Gathering creates meaningful times of connection for Jr. MYF so that "we've become a group." Currently there is also "good momentum" for Bible School in 2016. The commission is using technology well for communication with parents, youth, and tracking mentor relationships. Having the Safe Church policy in place has been a good development and positions CMC well for other kinds of outreach in the future, such as Kids Club.
God's love is expressed through the Outreach Commission's ministry in many of the ways already mentioned by small groups. The commission also recalled a specific story about a woman who could not afford the registration costs for English classes through Skyline Literacy. Her fees were covered by CMC's contribution to Skyline. Outreach also shared an image of being the "arms and legs" of CMC, "an embodied practice of faith extended into the community."
As a commission, Outreach has open and positive conversations about the budget decisions that are made each year regarding organizations and ministries to fund. The commission also keeps tabs on ways that CMCers are connected to mission beyond our congregation for short-term or long-term service. CMC has local and global relationships.
When asked what appeals to them and "keeps them coming" our highest CMC youth responses were: MYF activities, Sunday School, and discussions. Like other demographic groups within the congregation MYF mentioned congregational singing, a variety of people involved in worship, church retreat and an open, safe environment where they feel accepted being a draw to CMC. MYF was unique in mentioning "pastors who are really cool and nice," food (especially taco salad and doughnuts), and babies being features of the community that keep them coming.
The MYF identified God's story of love through various recent activities such as conversations about healthy sexuality, connecting with a Canadian MYF group during Monthly Gathering, congregational singing, participating in CMC music ensembles, and eating together. The MYF recognized that CMCers have a willingness to help one another and that storytelling is important in their group and in the congregation.
When asked what resources CMC has used in the past to benefit the diverse community of Harrisonburg, MYF agreed with other CMC groups and referred to many organizations and ministries CMC supports. Perhaps due to their own leadership and involvement MYFers also named the alternative Halloween carnival for children, roadside cleanup, and inviting community people to participate in church events as ways that CMC shares God's story love in this community.
What's next in the Vision Process?
Stand at the Crossroads: Easter Season worship series.
Look for the "Crossroads Question" in the Newsweekly each Friday and begin dreaming…
Group interview with key renting organizations.
Group interview with former pastoral leaders.
?Expect another report from the vision sponsors in a couple months.