Vision Ministry Minutes
November 20, 2013

Leadership Day is Wednesday, December 4 - please RSVP

Evangelism Conference Follow-up
        • Conversation is ongoing from the conference in florida
        • One result: blog created to encourage people to write about their experiences/insights/learnings on church, growth, outreach, evangelism
        • Another follow-up: Presbytery Conversation at Yorktown on Attractional and Missional Churches, much to ponder about how churches can use the different models to be faithful in their context with their resources
        • Next Presbytery Conversation for church leaders to raise questions about growth, internal church faithfulness and connection to the community: January 28, 2014, 10 am to 1 pm

Joint Tech Venture with Congregational Change
        • How could we link churches with presbytery/ministry resources through social media?
        • Would a platform like Facebook help churches (particularly small churches) to become more present online in ways that are easy to manage, allow conversation and link people to their community online?
        • Insight: next generations are looking at churches online long before they every visit the church physically? The message of no website or an outdated website is that the church doesn't want younger generations.
        • Target outcome: improve web and social media presence of local churches
        • Means to target: hire a person to engage interested churches in developing a communication strategy using a website and social media

Action Items:
Approve reimbursement of costs for hosting Presbytery Conversation meetings.
Approve funds to hire a person to work with churches to set up website and social media presence and empower Ben and Chip to release the funds and possibly hire a person

Moving Forward
        • Leadership Day with Open Space and Worship to share what people want to talk about in ministry, will wait to see what arises from the December 4 Leadership Day

God Sights concluded the meeting.
        • Pete Seeger leading planning of a MLK day in Beacon
        • Time with camp directors to meet AND talk
        • Growth happening in the midst of life changes
        • Great conversations happening to build relationships
        • Growth through faithfulness over time
        • Practicing faith in ways that open our eyes to the gifts of God

Next Meeting: February 5, 2014 @ 2:00 pm at Holmes
I was planning on writing this post shortly after my return from the "Let's Get it Started" Evangelism/Discipleship/Church Growth Conference on St. Pete Beach, Florida in Sept., but it may not be a bad thing that I waited a while.  The subsequent month-and-a half back in the saddle, along with the November grey, have given a bit of tempering to the predictably buoyant energy I felt immediately after my return.  Yet, with a bit of time and distance from those sandy beaches, the learnings remain relevant to this season of ministry here in Beacon.

I found the clinic on discipleship from Glenn McDonald, founding pastor of Zionsville Presbyterian Church, quite powerful.  Stay tuned for a more thorough blog post from Chip Low, one of my Hudson River Presbytery companions at the event.  Not only did he emphasize the importance of intentional mentoring relationships in the Body of Christ to support/nurture the faith growth of individual disciples, he provided a biblically grounded - and very useful - 12-step guide to help congregations implement this discipleship strategy.

This was reinforced by a discussion of youth ministry led by Gina Yeager-Buckley, of the PCUSA Youth Ministries Office, which emphasized accompaniment as powerful model of youth ministry.  She - like many of us - were brought up in the heyday of youth ministry.  However, like much of our culture, things are different these days.  Youth are pulled in so many directions, and we were invited to consider how we accompany them on their faith intentionally and individually, even as we can’t always be with them physically. 

Like Alex Lever, another one of my traveling companions, I was very impressed with Doug Pagitt's put theoretical framework on historical epochs and how they formed both worldview and expectations.  It helped to recognize my own worldview seeped in the values of the present creative/connectional era.  It also reminded me of our challenge as leaders to engage in a meaningful way people who were formed by the worldviews of different epochs.

As I reflect on this new sense of energy and focus, I realize that my challenge as pastor – and our challenge as leaders in this presbytery – is to find ways to best support the individual faith journeys of our members and those who worship with us.  As Pastor - Teaching Elder - I have been privileged to journey with several members of our congregation and witness – first hand – how God is at work in their lives.  It is an awesome and humbling honor.  The challenge is for our congregation to develop an organizational capacity for this discipleship accompaniment that extends beyond the limits of the pastor.
We have a small handful of individuals that initiate supportive and Christ-focused relationships in our congregation, but for the vast majority of us – myself included – this is a new way of understanding who we are and what we are about.  While investing in individual relationships might sound like a significant challenge, the fruits can be amazing… for all parties.  And, as I’ve found, we don’t need to have all the answers.  What is required is a commitment to journey with someone and a trust that God will move through that relationship.

May it be so!

Ben Larson Wolbrink 
Vision Ministry Team Report
October 15, 2013 - Holmes Camp

We kicked off the meeting with a round of "God Sightings" - a check-in time where we're able to hear how the Spirit is at work in our lives and our ministries.  A highlight was one person's experience of "pure cheering" from the crowd as he ran his first marathon.  He pondered how he might be invited to give folks pure encouragement - without any qualifications - in his ministry.  Another member, who is in the midst of a whole new paradigm in his congregation, shared how often they run into a situation where they have no idea how to move forward... and then God shows up and a way is made.

As we moved onto our "business" portion of the meeting, the conversation - as it often does at Vision meetings - merged across several topics and also circled-back on more than one occasion.  Here are the highlights.

I shared with enthusiasm the ways that the "Let's Get it Started" evangelism/discipleship/new church development conference in St. Pete Beach had sparked energy and several new conversations among colleagues including:
- this blog
- a group of folks interested in gathering to discuss evangelism on a regular basis (first meeting - Oct 29th at Yorktown, stay tuned for a follow-up post...)
- a desire to bring speakers from the event to Hudson River Presbytery, not necessarily the experts, but participants we met who are living ministry in new ways

A conversation ensued about the wealth of folks within our own presbytery who are innovating in ministry and that it might be even more helpful to gather a panel of folks from our own presbytery (Leslie Mott: part-time parish ministry enhanced by yoga instruction/retreat facilitation, David Frost: part-time parish ministry enhanced by farming, etc.) who could share their experiences and be available for small-group conversations.  This merged into a conversation about how to move beyond simply providing one-time educational events to facilitating ongoing nurturing/supporting/connecting congregations so that they can follow the Spirit's leading in ministry.  We also thought it best to wait until after the Dec 4thPresbytery Leadership Discernment Day (and the work of the Jethro Taskforce) before attempting to initiate a long-term plan, but to plant appropriate seeds as we move forward as a presbytery.

There was a conversation about our remaining balance that is unlikely to be spent by the end of the year.  We pondered how we might contract with someone to serve as a tech resource so that congregations might have the skills to network with one-another directly.  It would require someone with both technical skills and a pastoral sensibility to understand congregations in their unique contexts.

On the note of finance, I presented a request from Alex Lever for $200 from the Vision Ministry Team for each participant at the St. Pete Conference.  While we (Alex, Abbie Huff, Chip Low, and myself) were initially each supported by an $800 grant from Congregational Change, the costs significantly exceeded that amount.  Laura Cunningham moved to approve the scholarship support, which was seconded and approved unanimously.  

The meeting ended - as always - with prayer.

*Note: during the meeting, we recognized that much of the thrust of our conversation might dovetail with the work of Congregational Change.  A follow-up phone call with the Congregational Change leadership revealed that they were talking about very similar subjects at approximately the same time (Holy Spirit power!).  On Nov 5th, Rhonda Kruse and Jeff Farley from Congregational Change will meet with Chip Low and myself to discuss pooling financial and organizing resources for ways we might facilitate congregational innovation, including a traveling social media/tech support person.

Budget update:
$5,000     - opening balance
$471.80   - Erin Dunnigan travel expenses
$800       - Conference reimbursements
$3728.20 - current balance

In attendance:
Laura Cunningham - Nauraushaun
Bruce Ficinus - Patterson
David Frost - Patterson
Hans Hallunbaek - Croton Falls / Prison Partnership
Ben Larson-Wolbrink - Beacon
Dan Love - Rye
Paul Min - Bethany
Peter Surgenor - Holmes Camp

Submitted by Ben Larson-Wolbrink
Vision Ministry Team Co-Moderator, First Presbyterian Church of Beacon
In September, I attended the PC(USA) Church Growth and Evangelism conference in St. Pete’s, Florida.  I confess that initially, I was attracted to the location, and skeptical of what this conference could tell me about church growth and evangelism.  But I came open-minded, to see what this conference had to say.

My favorite speaker was Doug Pagitt, the founder of Solomon’s Porch Christian community in Minneapolis.  Pagitt explained how many churches are not seeing cultural shifts going on around them and they are missing God’s spirit at work.

Pagitt explained that the church has been in four major ages in American culture:  The Agrarian Age, The Industrial Age, The Information Age, and the Inventive Age.  This is described in his book, “Church in the Inventive Age” (Pagitt, Sparkhouse, Minneapolis, 2010).  Pagitt says “Few cultural institutions have been able to move through all these shifts with their central identity intact,” and that “the church has been a steady – though not unchanged – presence in each age.”

The church today needs  to see the changes that are going on all around us, to be the church in the 21st century.  There is a danger of missing or not seeing how God is working because we are too focused on trivial issues in our own churches.

Pagitt used the following illustration to show that we can miss the gorilla in the room, while we are focused on other things around us.  This video begins with instructions on how to watch it (the link is below, but the video can also be found at the bottom of this page).

In this experiment, we were asked to count how many passes were made by the people in white shirts.  While concentrating hard on counting the passes, a person in a gorilla suit came out into the middle of the scene.  When the video ended, Pagitt asked the audience if anyone had noticed the gorilla.  Some people did, but I confess, I didn’t see it. Along with many in the room who were busy following the instructions, I missed it. 

Sometimes in ministry, we get caught up in the daily tasks of the church, and miss a major ministry shift or “the gorilla in the room.”  For me, I get distracted by one or two members who are unhappy with something and I try to focus on resolving that tension that they see.  Meanwhile, the culture is changing before our eyes, and we need to pay attention to the changes that are taking place in our own community.

My church in Monroe, began in the Agrarian Age.  We were founded in the 1700’s, when Protestant white settlers were everywhere.  And for generations, this stayed the same.  Then the Industrial Age hit, and the town changed.  Jobs changed.  Lifestyles changed.  Monroe still remained strong because of its proximity to New York city.  Then the Information Age brought newspapers, books, radios, and TVs. 

And now we are embedded in the Inventive Age, were social media and other technology connects us in new ways.  This is a new cultural shift.

Social media can be narcissistic, but it is also about a desire to attach meaning to experiences.  Pagitt explained that we now see news feeds from Twitter that are personalized instead of an entire newspaper delivering detached news to our doorsteps every morning.

Pagitt says in his book, “Authority is found in the way our experiences come together and create reality.”  In other words, we attain knowledge in the Inventive age through meaningful relationships, and we rely less on books, newspapers, TV and what we used to see as "objective" information.

So what do we next in this Inventive age?  Pagitt says in his book, It’s like “planning a summer wedding outdoors.  The church in the Inventive Age means taking your chances and constantly being prepared to change course.”  Being part of the Inventive age means being aware that there is more than one expression of Christianity globally, and at the same time, communicating our faith in our own setting.  “The Church as the Inventive Age has to make room for people of vastly different backgrounds.  We can’t play favorites or, worse, make everyone who isn’t us the bad guy.”

Pagitt explained how the leadership in the Inventive age doesn’t mean forgetting about the past, but bringing the past with us.  “Churches in the Inventive Age need leaders who can connect present-day expressions of faith to their roots in other times and other places.”

Pagitt explained this is a major challenge for leaders today, and they may need extra training to connect the past with the future.  He used a commercial for Chipotle with Willie Nelson singing “The Scientist,” (see video below) to illustrate how each age is connected, and that the ways to connect with people in the Inventive age are always changing.  But for now: personal, meaningful, and connected.  These get at the heart of doing ministry today in the Inventive Age.  

Rev. Alex Lever 

below is the Gorilla Video mentioned in the article

Welcome to the Vision Ministry Team Blog!  Here's your chance to find out what are the conversations on the cutting edges of ministry here in Hudson River Presbytery.

For a while now, we've been meeting regularly, chewing on all kinds of intriguing/inspiring topics.  Every once in a while, we'll bring in a speaker.  Which - we pray - has been really helpful.  But, we also know that we want to do a better job of broadening the conversations so that more folks in the presbytery can apply the ideas to their unique contexts in ministry.  This blog is one way we hope to do so.

We hope to have articles, reflections, links, and all kinds of things that will be submitted by folks like you to serve folks like you. 

And, we hope to include the minutes - or whatever stream-of-conscious writing captures our very stream-of-conscious conversations - of our Vision Team Meetings.  Here's a photo from the white board of our last meeting.

Stay tuned for more.  Let us know what you think.


Ben Larson-Wolbrink
Vision Ministry Team Chair




Growing up, every summer that I can remember, my mom, my sister, my brother and myself would pack and pile into our pink and white conversion van to drive from Philadelphia to West Texas.  Unfolded in the front seat were always the AAA maps that would get us across seven states and 1,819 miles.  As I got older, my mom took the time to show my sister and I how to take on the role as navigator and read the maps.  She showed us how odd numbered interstates run north-south and even numbered ones run east-west; she told us what rush hour was, and a beltway and why you needed one to avoid the other; how the little numbers above roads show you the miles between towns, and if you know that it takes about a minute to drive one mile on the highway, you can estimate the time and distance and pick the town in which you want to spend the night.   

Ever since those years of navigating cross-country, I have loved maps.  I love the feel of them between my fingers, the boxes showing close-ups of certain cities, the distance charts on the back, even the intentional and puzzle-like way they fold up.  But these days I hardly look at a map, except when it’s on my smartphone speaking out loud to direct me to my destination.  And I admit, it is better than the old days when I would spend hours going out of my way to get somewhere, having passed my turn, missed my exit, or driven in the wrong direction.  How many hours of my life have I spent lost, I am not sure. 

So when do you feel lost in these times?  There are all kinds of things that we encounter every day that disorient us, confuse us, and make us feel like maybe we don’t know the way. 

Here in Florida, I am at a conference where I attended one workshop on orienting ourselves as the church in the changing times.  This conference is a strange mix of new creative ministry leaders and pastors of aging congregations trying to figure out how to navigate the waters ahead.  As we discussed this same question of “what makes you feel lost in these times?” there were several at my table who talked about how the technology, the cultural relativism or pluralism made them feel lost, but many at the table acknowledged that they usually feel right at home in the post-modern culture – and it is the traditional church world that can make them feel lost. 

So what do we do when we feel lost?  Sometimes we start with denial, insisting that we are not lost at all; we are just going to keep heading in the same direction we’ve been going.  Or maybe we look around for a map, but some of those may be outdated.  Then perhaps we hit the fear and panic stage where we realize that we are lost and we get that tight feeling in our stomach, anxiety creeps up and we are afraid of all sorts of things. 

The more we talked about this in the workshop, the more I thought about how we are all part of this changing world and no matter how comfortable we may feel, it is less of driving on well-paved highways and more of being pioneers once again, making our way across unknown terrain.  Everything is new and there are fewer and fewer familiar landmarks around us.  

So I wonder, what tools do we use to find our way?  What are your maps, your equipment and tools for the roads ahead?  What helps you to get your bearings?  For me it has been a few books that still speak new wisdom to me every time I go back to them.  Prayer, or time reflecting on life and the paths I’m facing and what I hear God saying to me about it.  Or friends who really know me.  Somehow they always know how to make me feel less lost.

And so we head into new territories, new landscapes of life, new experiences and cultural changes.  In the past one hundred years, things have changed so dramatically it is truly strange to think about.  From technology to the way we organize family and community, from education to workplace, from local to global, we are pioneers covering new ground.  But, we don’t have to feel lost or disoriented, or if we do we can work towards a new way of looking at things.  During the workshop, the presenter shared this quote about getting lost, and I hope we can all find a way of living into it. 

 Laurence Gonzales, author of Extreme Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why, states, “Like it or not, you must make a new mental map of where you are or you will die. To survive, you must find yourself. Then it won’t matter where you are. Not being lost is not a matter of getting back to where you started from; it is a decision not to be lost wherever you happen to find yourself. It’s simply saying, ‘I’m not lost, I’m right here’”

Abbie Huff