Christ Church Discovers Local Mission
through Centers of Creativity
Discernment process unites church and community
In the past five-plus years at Christ Church-Montpelier, discernment has been at the heart of all major decisions, and it’s a discernment process that revolves around what the Rev. Paul Habersang calls Centers for Creativity. He defines Centers of Creativity as a discipline that invites different people from various perspectives to focus on a specific challenge through prayer, conversation and dialog both within the church and the surrounding community. It is through Centers of Creativity that Christ Church has identified and begun work on a powerful local mission, in cooperation with Vermont Interfaith Action and the City of Montpelier, to end homelessness by 2020.
According to the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness, the Point-In-Time Count on Jaunary 26, 2016, showed an overall decrease in homelessness by 28% compared to the 2015. That’s good news for the state overall, but in downtown Montpelier, an area with a lengthening list of retirees waiting as long as five years for housing to become available, the risk is simply too great to reduce the urgency. That’s why Christ Church has begun discussing a strategy to create 150 new housing units locally.
In a recent interview, Habersang discussed the origins of Centers of Creativity, offered some practical guidance for congregations in discernment, and explained how diocesan funds set aside for local missions can be used to fuel the local discernment process.
He said, “One of the first things that we engaged in as a community, when I first came to Christ Church in 2011, was to develop a discernment team that studied the book Changing the Conversation by Anthony Robinson. It’s an excellent book. Robinson gets the fact that we’re in a post-Christendom era where churches have to change if we’re going to be relevant, thriving and more missional in our communities.”
As the book study group wrestled with Robinson’s theme, it helped them to examine how they were engaging within the church walls as well as the outside world. During the 2011-2012 timeframe, Christ Church was presented with an opportunity to partner with the City of Montpelier and the State of Vermont in Montpelier District Heat, an alternative-fuel heating project designed to reduce petroleum consumption in the local area. The first Center for Creativity—a term coined by a former senior warden—was convened to look at the scope of the project, related costs and potential return on investment. The Center for Creativity process—specifically, the inclusion of community voices in the process—inspired an anonymous donation of $40,000, making the otherwise impossible project possible.
Habersang continued, “As a result of that first Center for Creativity, we’ve opened our doors and welcomed people in. It’s been through that discernment process, through those Centers for Creativity, that new thinking has challenged us in ways that are leading us to a rebirth at Christ Church.”
Part of this rebirth could likely entail creating affordable housing units on Christ Church property, a serious commitment indeed.
“As we move forward with this housing project, there will be a feasibility study that will have to be undertaken that looks both at the environmental impact and the economic implications,” Habersang added.
There is a cost associated with the in-depth feasibility study. Local Mission Approach grant monies, which are available to all congregations in the diocese, will empower Christ Church to engage the architects, engineers and environmental experts necessary to complete the research.