Local Mission Approaches Make Meaningful Progress
Dramatic Presentation Demonstrates God’s Process at Work
Local Mission Approach has been described as “God’s Process at Work,” “the Jesus Movement in Vermont,” and “a documented process of discernment, planning, acting and reflecting,” but the question for many Vermont congregations seeking to identity and articulate their own Approach is, “What does it look like?” In an effort to provide examples and to highlight the progress being made across the diocese, several parishes participated in a dramatic presentation at Diocesan Convention.
The skit, written by the Rev. Susan Taylor and led by the diocese’s Local Mission Approach team, demonstrated how the four theological aspects of Local Mission—seeing, sending, transforming, and returning—have taken different forms in response to each parish’s local context. The Convention participants shared the following testimonials:
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church-White River Junction. Our eyes were opened after the South Carolina church shooting. We saw that it was more than a ‘church’ problem; it impacts the whole community. Our conversations moved to a public library study of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, Between the World and Me. Our mission was not to provide or solicit answers or prescriptions nor were judgments rendered, but rather each of us was asked to become more deeply aware of personal practices and presuppositions around race. And in this ‘awakening’ to our own racism, community members seemed to draw church members along.
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church-Northfield. We saw a letter to the editor that described a need for supplies that were not being met through the resources at the time: food, clothing and even a ‘pet shelf’. We were sent in that the parish committed itself to creating a ‘Living Supply Closet’ for our neighbors in the Dog River Valley. The realization that transforming takes place not just in the distribution of products, but also in building community, led to opening-up a neighborly communal lunch at the time of distribution. The returning is a continuing cycle since 2014 as we see new faces nearly every month. And with the Spirit’s guidance, the cycle goes on.
A Letter on Behalf of Community Priest the Rev. Susan Ohlidal-St. Johnsbury. The townspeople of St. Johnsbury saw the need to improve housing and caring for people without homes. The collar she wears identifies her as a faith leader within the community. A glimpse into her day reveals her joining in the conversation, continuing later in the day at the smoker’s table, and her day closes out after the evening facilitating Pub Theology. It is both seeing and being seen, being available as “sent-ness,” gathering and connecting as the Holy Spirit permeates our transforming experience, the returning as the continuing unfolding.
Christ Episcopal Church-Montpelier. We, too, saw the plight of those without housing in our area and joined in the area-wide commitment to end homelessness in central Vermont by 2020.
We were sent to embark on an ambitious program—to develop housing on our property to serve individuals with low incomes. Our transforming journey of faith has impelled collaboration and mutual ministry within our congregation and in returning, a strengthening and expanding of ministry teams focusing on specific areas, issues and concerns.
Church of the Good Shepherd-Barre. We were invited to write on a white board what we saw or felt while doing local mission and to give concrete examples. Here are brushstrokes from one week:
- Voted early and paid my water bill. Voting felt better!
- Noticed how the people at City Hall are always friendly and nice.
- Transported a wounded grouse 50 miles to the Vermont Institute of Natural Science.
- Rejoiced to find so many young people ministering to wild creatures.
- Brought a homeless man to lunch. It felt really good to help someone else.
- Felt joy and love sharing Fall flowers & the garden’s bounty with neighbors.
- Loving my neighbor has given me utmost joy. Amen.
- Visited a sick friend in the hospital, felt very good.
St. John’s Episcopal Church-Randolph. We saw that efforts to meet people’s food needs within our community was ample but that shelter—in varying degrees—is severely needed. Recently, Randolph reached out to address short-term, transitional housing through collaboration with the Haven and Capstone (formerly Community Action). And since 1991, our ecumenical organization Randolph Emergency Committee on Housing (REECH), which represents seven parishes, has worked to bridge the gap for those who may not qualify for assistance, but REECH is relatively unknown. As we’ve heard in other local mission stories, transformative experience is relational, thus our “sent-ness” this year involved collaborating on the first annual Celebrate REECH day. St. John’s also hopes to partner ecumenically and communally to find a way to provide emergency shelter, a resource that currently exists only in our vision.
Cathedral Church of St. Paul-Burlington. There is a lot to see here: an unjust prison system and racism, also a hunger for quiet and beauty. We are sent to work with Vermont Interfaith Action to offer an evening program called “Working for a Second Chance” —bringing together panels of ex-offenders and potential employers to share their personal stories of looking for work and of hiring workers. We partnered with Christ Church Presbyterian with whom we already have relationship in their use of our parish hall for worship on Sunday afternoons—encouraging discussion about our prison system and racism initiated through study of Bryan Stephenson’s book Just Mercy. Working with artists, our Cathedral space is transformed through painting exhibits, colorful vestments and furnishings, and free concert series, in an effort to provide spiritual refuge amid a noisy world. Transformation and returning are a continual cycle of ebbing and flowing.
In the skit, the Rev. Taylor reminds that there are two powerful methods for identifying Local Mission and propelling it forward. Additional information on both Asset Based Community Development and Appreciative Inquiry can be found on the Local Mission Approach page.