1. Who are we as a congregation? (The question of identity)
Union Memorial United Methodist Church is a congregation with a rich legacy and, prayerfully, a grace-filled future. We have had significant challenges in our past, including the collapse and rebuilding of our church building in the 1950s. This event has been thematic for our congregation as we attempt to discern the non-physical necessities to deconstruct and re-construct our congregation and our surrounding community. Worship and outreach/service tend to be our primary emphases. We have three families who make up a significant portion of our congregation.
2. Why do we exist? (The question of purpose – missio dei)
Our stated congregational mission is "to witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ through ministering to the needs of the community, local and global." Leaders of the congregation discerned this as the mission of the congregation a few years ago through a similar process as we are using in the "Next Step Initiative." The congregation has done fairly well living into this vision. However, the participants of this initiative discerns that there are terms within the statement that may be insufficient and may limit our perceptions of why we exist. By "love of God" we have typically responded in serving our neighbors without establishing deep relationships and inviting our neighbors into fellowship with God or the Union Memorial Church family. Perhaps, a more comprehensive term, which may address our preconceived limitations, is "the fullness of God." Other words in our statement which this team discerns demand critique are "ministering," "needs," and "community."
3. Who are our neighbors? (The question of location)
This process has helped us to refine our perceptions about our neighbors/neighborhood. As our "neighborhood" is densely populated, our focus is refined to 3/4 of a mile. That 3/4 mile is occupied by a dozen churches, 2 colleges, 1 high school (and 2 high school/middle colleges), 1 middle school, 3 elementary schools, a housing project, a library, a community center, and several residential areas of various income ranges (but primarily low-income). Many of our congregants live outside of our "neighborhood" range. Our neighbors have many material needs that make life uncomfortable, including illiteracy, hunger, and substance abuse. We have opportunities to engage our neighbors in the many open community spaces, including the schools, the community center, and the library.
4. What is next step? (The question of responding to God’s Will)
We have discerned that the next step will be enhancing the ongoing relationship that we have with one of the community schools. Part of that includes congregants being lunch buddies and reading buddies at the school and having a tutorial program at the church. Out of that relationship, through this program, we discerned that we would provide Christmas gifts and gloves for the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students of the school. The congregation did a great job supporting this initiative through giving gifts. The next step for this effort will be to evaluate our efforts and discern how to continue. While the congregation did well in providing gifts, they did not participate as much in being physically present to distribute the gifts. The pastor will meet with the school social worker and principal in January 2015 to evaluate the Christmas gift initiative and talk about possibilities. The outreach team will discern our potential level of engagement at the next meeting in January.