Who Are We? Who is our Neighbor? What is God calling us to do?

From the Interim Pastor:

In May I led a Session Retreat in which the Elders were asked to look at the mission and ministry of the church. Session members were invited to look at the life of the congregation through several “lenses”: Bible Study; the cultural context in 21st century America; Leadership Styles; Membership, Attendance, and Giving; and the Life Cycle of the Church.

It’s easy to recognize that the cultural context in which the Church is called to ministry has changed dramatically since the time of the church’s founding in 1962: Mainline decline shown in loss of membership across the country, the rise of the “Nones” (those with no religious affiliation), a shift in definition of “regular attendance” at church from what used to be 3 or 4 Sundays a month to perhaps two times or even one time a month; 90% of pastors wishing to make their own housing arrangements, whether owning or renting; and movement through what is called “The Life Cycle of the Congregation”.

Let’s focus on the Life Cycle for the moment. The Session and I looked at a model of church life cycles that I had learned at an Interim Ministry Workshop in Florida. Other models use terminology like “Start, Incline, Recline, Decline, and Death” to cover the stages of a congregation’s life cycle. Those words are a bit mechanical, so we used a model which compared a living congregation to a living human being. The broad stages are Birth, Growth, Prime, Redevelopment or Revitalization, and Aging.

In looking at the internal life of a congregation, there are four main areas that contribute to a church’s vitality: Vision (Purpose, Core Values, Mission); Relationships (Experiences, Discipleship); Programs (Events, Ministry, Services, Activities); and Management (Accountability, Systems, Resources).

At the start of any church’s life, Vision is paramount: Who Are We? Who is our Neighbor? What is God calling us to do? This grows into Relationships and Programs, along with Maintenance, and a church at its prime of “Adulthood” is characterized as VRPM—all cylinders are firing, and everything is strong.

As with any living organism, the church can change, and as something becomes less of a priority or less of a stated purpose, it gets characterized by a “small v” or “small r” or “small p” or a “small m”. As a church moves past its mature peak, more letters are in lower case.

Working independently, two groups of elders each came up with the same conclusion of where BPC is at this point in its ministry: vRpM. Relationships are important, as is Maintenance, but vision and program have suffered. The Elders all agreed that some degree of revitalization is necessary for the church.

The Presbyterian Church in Burlington is indeed a living, breathing organism with a rich history, but there are issues to be faced as the congregation seeks to live up to its full potential. The Session’s evaluation leads to the conclusion that new work has to be done on Vision and Program to restore some of the vitality of previous years.

This is the point at which you, the members of the church come in. Session will be making a final decision on July 15 on what the Mission Study we are required to do will look like. No matter what shape the Mission Study takes, your input, your opinions, your thoughts, your prayers, your concerns are all necessary to helping the church plan for the future under a new pastor. The church must re-establish its vision and begin to rebuild some of its program, and put all that in writing, which will be the basis upon which the pastoral search is conducted. Essentially, this is the church saying to potential pastors: “This is who we are and what we feel God is calling us to do. Do you want to be a part of this and share your gifts to help us pursue our calling?”

When the Mission Study rolls out in the fall, in whatever form it takes, be assured that you will be an important part of that, and your participation is absolutely necessary to help us discern God’s will for the future of the Presbyterian Church in Burlington. Stay tuned for more word from the Session as the summer continues………

The Peace of the Lord be with you,

Mike

The Ascension of Christ & next pastoral steps

Dear BPC Members and Friends,

On the liturgical calendar, we’re still in the Easter season, celebrating the Apostle Paul’s declaration in Romans that “Christ Jesus was raised from the dead by the glory of God, so that we too might walk in newness of life.” Before the month of May is finished, we will be celebrating Pentecost, when the gathered Church in Jerusalem received the power of the Holy Spirit.

Tucked in between Easter and Pentecost is the Ascension of Christ. To be honest, for most Presbyterians the Ascension is often overlooked, and not given the attention it probably deserves. In the Acts of the Apostles, which is the second volume of Luke’s history, he writes, “So when [the apostles] had come together, they asked him ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times of period that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The apostles are asking the time honored question that parents often hear from the back seat of the car, “Are we there yet?” ☺ To which Jesus answers, “not exactly”, in fact “you have work to do in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.”

At BPC, the equivalent question that is asked is “When will we elect a Pastor Nominating Committee and search for a new pastor?”, and the answer is “we have work to do…” on a Mission Study. Boston Presbytery, through its Committee on Ministry, has shared its wisdom, based on experience across the denomination, that any church after a long term pastorate should take its time before jumping into a Mission Study. Well, the time is now and we will be moving forward. The first step will be a Session retreat on May 2, the formation of a Study Team, and then information gathering and planning for events in the fall. The basic questions we will be asked to answer are “Who are we? Who is our neighbor? What is God calling us to do?” We’ll look at internal and external Strengths, Weaknesses, Threats and Opportunities as you set a vision for what you hope the new installed pastor will help BPC accomplish, with God’s help. We’ll identify how “being witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth” translates into BPC’s context. Here’s a hint: Jerusalem? This is us. It is the people who are already here as members and participants of this congregation. These are the people whose names we know, whose faces we recognize. We are comfortable with these people. But God’s call doesn’t stop there—the mission we are called to begins as we leave the church each Sunday.

In the coming weeks my preaching will focus on the Acts of the Apostles and lessons we can learn from the early Church as they asked and answered these kinds of questions. Perhaps we can have some discussion/feedback times after those sermons as we take those first steps into the future that God is calling us to.

In Luke’s report on Jesus’ Ascension, he writes, “While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Jerusalem, why do you stand looking up to heaven? The next chapter begins in Jerusalem…….

Welcome to Reverend Michael O’Brien!

To the congregation of the Presbyterian Church in Burlington:

The Interim Search Committee, having met nine times, reviewed the qualifications of five candidates, three of whom were interviewed directly. We also wrote a position description, interview and reference questions and terms of call for the position of Interim Pastor.

We are pleased to announce that our unanimous choice, Rev. Michael J. O’Brien, was appointed as our Interim Pastor beginning on August 19, 2014 by vote of the Presbytery of Boston held at our church on August 18, 2014.

Rev. O’Brien is a graduate of Gettysburg College, holds an M.Div. degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and a MSW degree from Rutgers University Graduate School of Social Work. He did his Basic Clinical Pastoral Education unit at Worcester State Hospital and completed 4 Advanced units of Clinical Pastoral Education in a Chaplaincy Residency program at Sutter Medical Center, Sacramento, CA. He has served as either Senior Pastor, Pastor, Assistant/Associate Pastor or Interim Associate Pastor at four Presbyterian churches in New Jersey and Maryland from 1977 to 2009. From July, 2010 to July, 2014, he served as Chaplain at Beacon Hospice in Plymouth, MA, having been Chaplain at Sutter Medical Center for the prior year.

The Interim Search Committee did reference checks on Rev. O’Brien and all were found to be very satisfactory. Our direct interview with him revealed a very competent, enthusiastic and compassionate individual committed to serving the whole church in its many facets. His preaching, which we viewed on YouTube, was lively and presented the Gospel in a relevant and personal way. He is an effective administrator and has a true gift for empathic listening We would encourage all to introduce themselves to Mike, and his wife Pam, in the coming Sundays.

– The Interim Search Committee