On Wednesday night, we had about 16 people that gathered in the parish hall to reflect on the ways that we can steward many other currencies outside of money in our efforts to build sustainable missional ministries in our neighborhood. We spent time looking at the ways that relationship internally and externally are central to the ways that we experience and share the grace of God with others that we encounter. We also spent some time brainstorming ways that our parish might be able to grow into this relationally-focused way of being ministers to the world around us. It was an evening that challenged us to think more deeply about the importance of relationship and how we can exchange that relationship for other currencies.
In his book Holy Currencies: 6 Blessings for Sustainable Missional Ministry, The Rev. Dr. Eric Law defines relationship in a couple of ways. In the first place, relationship includes the internal and external networks of mutually respectful connections that leaders, members of a church, and a ministry have. Relationship is inclusive of the internal connections and constructive relationships among the members and leaders, area parishes or ministries of the same denomination (such as with St. Augustine’s or St. James’), area denominational organizations (such as the deanery and the diocese), and the national and international structures of our communion. All of these are examples of internal connections that are important to our ability to be do ministry in intentional ways. They are the connections that help us to dream and to bring into being new ministry ideas.
The internal connections help us to have stability within our parish, and they are central to forming and sustaining connection to the places that are beyond the walls of our parish as we seek to live out our calls as disciples of the Christ. The external connections are those constructive relationships with non-members, different racial, cultural, and ethnic groups within our neighborhood, people with resources and people in need, civic community leaders, local businesses, and interfaith partners. The relationships that we build with those outside of our parish help us to know what is happening in our community not because we heard a news report but because we took the time to listen to the story of others in our community. Through those stories, we are invited to listen to what God is gifting to us through the stories that we hear. We are invited to understand the stories as THE data that informs missional ministry!
As we meandered through this currency of relationship, we began seeing that there are ways of imagining how we can gather to strengthen relationships within our parish and within the neighborhood in which our parish exists. As our closing activity, we had small table groups that sat down to generate ideas of how we could circulate the currency of relationship. Some of the ideas for strengthening international relationships included going to a spring training game together, hosting foyer dinner groups, a bowling night, midweek Bible studies, hiking local trails, and hosting an English tea. As we turned our attention to the external relationships, the groups offered ideas like volunteering through Tempe Community Action Agency’s I-HELP program, tutoring at the local schools around the parish, going to the local fields (at the corner of River and Concorda) to offer cold water to parents and children during sport practices, hosting mixers with other churches in the area, offering Trunk or Treat to the neighborhood, and hosting a movie night on a regular basis for our neighbors.
I offered that we could think about hosting a quarterly game night for the parish. We could have everything from board games to tag to four square to help us grow relationships between the generations of our parish. We could have a parish cook out on the day of the game night and spend an evening getting to know each other through the laughs of playing games and remembering that life needs time for play – even when you are an adult!
To help us engage the community around us, I suggested that we think about hosting a farmers market in our parking lot on Saturday mornings for 6-8 months out of the year. Aside from helping us get a little rental income from the vendors, we would also be providing a way for our neighbors to purchase fresh produce directly from the growers – right here in the neighborhood!
All of the ideas that emerged from our conversation were great ways for us to begin practicing how we circulate the currency of relationship, and they reflect a deep desire in our parish to be a place in which people get connected to each other and to God through Christ Jesus. It was an evening in which we began to see that the currency of relationship is central to being a sustainable parish and to practicing missional ministry in a way that is always inclusive of those that are outside the parish.
What ideas do you have for ways that we can strengthen our relationships internally and externally? What would it take for our parish to consider bringing those ministry ideas into being?