History is not a burden on the memory but an illumination of the soul.
Much of pastoral ministry involves not speaking, but listening. A new minister slowly learns the stories of their congregation, both individual stories and the collective history of that faith community. Listening takes time and intentionality. As relationships deepen, the opportunities for sharing significant and personal experiences grows.
A few months ago I shared some of what I’ve been learning about FCC Morehead, gleaned from conversations and practices. I listed the core values I’ve see in this faith community: communion, compassion, education, beauty, Creation, hospitality, community, history, and practicality.
It’s an incomplete list, I know. Still I hope we can continue the conversation on these core values. I’d love to see where our lists overlap and what you know of this congregation that I have yet to learn.
Let me say a bit more about one of those core values: history. I am mindful of the rich tradition of this congregation, under the direction of Frank C. Button its joint history with the founding of the Morehead Normal School, now Morehead State University. The very foundation of the church building rests upon the ground of its predecessor, the Union Church, which was built at the encouragement Col. John Hargis, founder of Morehead. Those two parts of our congregation’s history reveal the threads of ministry which continue to this day: our ongoing commitment to education and our dedication to ecumenism. It is, borrowing the words of Lord Acton, “an illumination of the soul” of this congregation.
An exploration of one’s history also calls us to reflection, and at times repentance. Our ancestors, both personal and corporate, were human beings like us, sometimes inspiring, at other points most fallible. Engaging in history requires much of us, to be willing to face uncomfortable facts and to learn what those parts of our history reveal about ourselves. Our congregation’s history is no exception. The first financial supporter of the founding of the Normal School and of the Christian Church in Morehead was William Temple Withers, a former Confederate general and slaveowner, and also a prominent Lexington philanthropist and supporter within Christian Church circles. His name is included in one of our stained glass windows.
History is complicated because human beings are complicated.
We are beginning our worship services with an acknowledgement of the land, a public recognition of the stories of this place before us, of the people who lived on this land, loved it, cared for it, and who were forcibly displaced from their lands. That story is part of the history of the American church, too, and of ours as members of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). It’s a history which may make us uncomfortable, which challenges the narratives our ancestors told about themselves. Learning about the Doctrine of Discovery, the role that Christian churches played in the forced removal and the intentional erasure of indigenous culture and practices, enables us to tell our own stories with more honesty and humility. And it can change the ways in which we engage in ministry today, as we learn from the mistakes of the past and see how those historic decisions still affect the present day.
Our histories are a mix of cherished stories and of regrets. I’m grateful that this congregation is committed to being faithful storytellers who both inspire and who don’t flinch at the painful chapters of the past.
How do you understand the role of history in this congregation? In your own life? What lessons are you learning from the past? What stories do you want to know more about?
Let’s keep this conversation going.
Be well. Be kind.
And always be the church where you are.
Living into our values means that we do more than profess our values, we practice them. We walk our talk — we are clear about what we believe and hold important, and we take care that our intentions, words, thoughts, and behaviors align with those beliefs.
Planning meetings are seldom glamorous. Calendars are a must. Events and projects will get listed. Names of potential volunteers are floated. To-do lists grow. If all goes as designed, everyone goes home with their share of tasks to complete. Planning meetings are a necessary part of the life of any organization—business, nonprofit, or church. We’ve all been part of planning sessions, some productive, some perfunctory, and others fruitless. I don’t know about you, but just writing those sentences make me tired!
My response may have something to do with those “planning for planning’s sake” meeting I’ve been a part of, when everyone there is already overtaxed, and the last thing they want to do is add to their workload. People leave such meetings with their shoulders sagging and their hearts heavy. It’s a recipe for burnout and disappointment.
Planning sessions don’t have to be that way. With focus, intentionality, a wee bit of flexibility, and a whole lot of grace, folks with a common purpose can come together to map out their next steps, breathe new life into ongoing projects, and imagine new endeavors. Productive planning starts with knowing the groups core values and using those values to design and evaluate the work of the group.
I’ve spent much of my time this past year listening, paying attention to stories of what you’ve done as a congregation, what you miss, what you hope for. It’s been a challenge in a pandemic, and I hope to have many more conversations to come. One of the things I’ve been listening for are what the core values of this congregation are. Sometimes those values are explicitly named, other times they show up as common threads in activities and projects in which people are invested. Every church community is different.
Here’s a start at what I’m learning about FCC Morehead, in no particular order.
What do you think of it? Any thing you would add?
Which ones do you think are core values of our congregation?
Any questions about how I see these values in our congregational life?
When a congregation is clear about its values, we can focus the planning process. Planning sessions can take on new life, as we evaluate, dream, and design our activities through the lens of our core values.
In a few weeks FCC ministry leaders and volunteers will come together for an annual planning workshop. We’ll focus on our values and how what we choose to focus on in the coming year reflects those priorities. I invite all of you, whether you’re a part of that planning meeting or not, to pray for our work. May the Spirit guide us as we seek to be faithful to God’s call for us here and now.
With Christ’s grace and peace,
A native of Illinois, Rev. Nancy Gowler lived for 26 years in the Pacific Northwest. She joined the ministry of First Christian Church in Morehead, KY, in July of 2020.