When Bishop Dietsche visited us on May 18, he charged us to develop a vision for the mission of Holy Trinity. He was quite clear that he would approve no plans for construction without this vision.
At our last Vestry meeting, I offered to lead the Vestry through a process of discernment. I asked that the leadership of this congregation set aside time each week for the next two months to meet, to study God’s word, to listen, and to discern. I warned you that we might not hear what we want to hear. I also asked that we humble ourselves enough to learn from those who have successfully planted and replanted churches, but with whom we may have profound theological differences.
The Vestry agreed. Now I’m inviting you to participate as well.
Humbled (and motivated) by what I characterized later that afternoon as a movement of the Holy Spirit, I spent the better part of last week in prayer and study, and, frankly, no small amount of spiritual distress (strike the Enemy and he will strike back). Below you’ll find my thoughts on mission and discernment, as well as the outline of the seven-week study I am proposing.
I hope that you will consider attending as many of these meetings as you can. All voices are needed and encouraged: baptized or not, Episcopalian or not, believer or not. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to participate.
The mission of the Church is to proclaim the gospel to all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). Therefore, the mission of a given congregation must be defined in terms of both gospel and proclamation. It is not necessary to express our hope for a renewed vision in dramatic or novel terms. Pastor Timothy Keller writes that renewal is:
an intensification of the normal operations of the Spirit (conviction of sin, regeneration and sanctification, assurance of grace) through the ordinary means of grace (preaching the Word, prayer, and sacraments) (emphasis added).
A white paper on congregational vitality published by the Diocese of New York states that in healthy parishes “biblical literacy is a foundational goal and the Bible is embedded in all formation.” If the Bible is missing from our beginning, we should not expect to find it in our ending, so our discernment should begin in the Scriptures. For the first hour of our time together we will explore some of the Bible’s major themes.
The ordinary means of grace are all present at Holy Trinity, but are we seeing fruit from the normal operations of the Spirit? If so, how can they be intensified to renew our mission? If not, how might we cultivate them? Some harder questions: Are we being called to close Holy Trinity for good? Are we being called to replant Holy Trinity? Are we being called to plant an entirely new church in Inwood?
Wed., June 7, 7-9p
Bible study: Where did we come from? (Answer: God)
Discernment topics: Share a one- to two-minute story about why you attend Holy Trinity. Straw poll: Do you favor planting, replanting, or closing?
NO MEETING WEDNESDAY JUNE 14
Wed., June 21, 7-9p
Bible study: Why did things go so wrong? (Answer: Sin)
Discernment topics: Why do you feel called to plant/replant this church, if God is calling us (and you) to plant/replant it? What do you bring? What common vision does this group share? To whom do you think God might want this church to minister? Who do we want to invite? (Make a list of five people.) Who can we invite? Are we willing to do the actual inviting?
Wed., June 28, 7-9p
Bible study: What will put things right? (Answer: Christ)
Discernment topics: What should worship in our church look like? How important is the sermon? How important is (and what kind of) music? How important is ritual and ritual space and how do we want to use it?
Wed., July 5, 7-9p
Bible study: How can I be put right? (Answer: Faith)
Discernment topics: What values should be included in our church’s mission statement? What roles do we need to fill (i.e. youth ministry, music ministry, hospitality, Christian education, outreach, fundraising)? What skills do you have and what role(s) do you see yourself taking on? (A two-year commitment is asked.)
Wed., July 12, 7-9p
Bible study: The biblical theme of Home and Exile
Discernment topics: Work on and vote on a mission statement for the planted or replanted church. Prepare list of names of people to lead ministry areas.
Wed., July 19, 7-9p
Bible study: The biblical theme of God and Covenant
Discernment topics: Holy Trinity has a troubled (and racist) past. How can we engage in truth-telling? Can we model the “substitution” of Christ (he took our place on the Cross) and devise ways to “stand in” for our predecessors and ask God to forgive them and us? Do we need a new name? What are some names we might consider? Vote on leaders for ministry areas. Assign start-up tasks for each ministry area.
Wed., July 26, 7-9p
Bible study: The biblical theme of Kingdom
Discernment topics: Death (closing) can bring sorrow, while birth (planting) can bring excitement, joy, and also fear. However, starting over can be painful and hard. Why painful and hard? Because it requires both admitting past mistakes and finding the will to change. Is the pain of replanting worth the bother? Or should we allow death to occur and plant in due season? Take a confidence vote (non-binding): close, close and plant, or replant? Vote on recommended name (non-binding). Review ministry start up tasks.
 Timothy Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012, 54.
 Open Doors, New Futures: Vitality Practices and Characteristics of Effective, Viable and Vital Congregations, New York: The Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2016, 3.
 Adapted from Keller, 33, 41.
 Discernment questions adapted from Church Planting Basics for New Anglican Church Startups, The American Anglican Council, 2010, 7-9 and Alex Welby, Defining the Replanting ministry in the Church of England, Church Army, 1993, 7-10.
 Welby, 10.