Last week, I offered a post about the importance of naming the future God is inviting us to inhabit through the practice of naming the possibilities into which we wish to live. In that post, I talked about the ways that we name the very possibilities that are important to us and how naming those possibilities in community when something is at stake is part of what leads us down new roads and into the uncharted territory of innovation. The possibilities that we name out loud must be named in the context of how our community gathers because it is through community that we discern God’s vision for the life of our parish. It is how we begin the long and often slow work of discernment.
The truth, though, is that we have to get beyond simply naming things that are easily possible. To name something that we know we can accomplish in the moment that we speak it out loud is not really naming the possibility that God is holding open for us. Instead, God is inviting us to name those things that feel impossible right now but that we want to incarnate in the way that we practice faith as a parish community. In naming the impossible – or at least what feels like it is impossible – we are naming a future that is going to require that we rely on God’s grace to bring into being.
Here, I think we are invited to name the (im)possible for our community in the context of a community gathering when we feel that something is at stake. It is the first step into living into that (im)possible future. We name it out loud, and we are likely to think to ourselves (or perhaps out loud), “How in the world are we going to be able to do that?” And of course, the answer must include something along the lines of, “Through prayer and relying on God’s grace to guide our feet along the pathway.” The largess of the (im)possibility is important because it is precisely the impossibility of it that demands that we seek creative steps to take along a longer pathway.
In many ways, naming the (im)possibilities for our community is similar to hiking a new trail or striking out on a backcountry trek for the first time. Over time, we have learned that we need to take certain gear with us in order to have an enjoyable hike. We take the time to pack extra food, a first aid kit, extra layers of clothing, sunblock, a compass, a map, and plenty of water. We have learned that it might be important to pack an emergency shelter if we are going on a full day hike, or we may have learned that a really good bear canister is vital to having a safe hiking experience in the backcountry. Before we strike out on the big backcountry trek, we have taken many smaller trips on local trails; we have read articles on how to pack and the required gear for a certain kind of trip. We have learned through the community of outdoor enthusiasts that have come before us, and by listening to those that left tips and tricks behind, we have gotten better at navigating the wilds of the countryside.
The preparation that we have taken up for a trip is important. It has helped us to develop the skills to improvise as we need to when we are on the trail. After a number of hikes into the backcountry, you begin to learn that each trip will present new challenges that were not predictable at the trailhead. As a hiker, you can only answer those challenges through experience. It is through the trial and error of your previous trips that you gain the knowledge and skills necessary to improvise whilst on the trail, and it is through that knowledge that you are able to enjoy the backcountry even when you hit a snag on the trail. It is venturing into the unknown, but it does not mean that you go into the unknown with nothing. Instead, you venture into the unknown with all of the lessons that you have learned on the many other trails that you have journeyed. You go into the unknown with the experience of a community to guide you in your decision making.
Naming the (im)possible for our parish is a bit like going into the unknown with a vast community behind (here, I mean the communion of saints, of course) and with the knowledge that we have gained by journeying the pathway of discipleship over the years. The new (im)possible may not be like any other thing that we have attempted, but we go into it knowing that God’s grace will be present with us as we attempt to navigate the twists and turns of attempting to do what others say cannot be done.
It is important for us to get really practical and really audacious in the naming the future we wish to inhabit. For example, we might want to name the next (im)possibility as being a church without any debt within the next ten years. At present, we do not know how we would be able to make that possibility a reality, but by naming it as a possibility, we are taking it out of the imaginary world of hopes and dreams and placing it into the finite world of lived reality. We are saying that it is a future that we want to strive towards, and we are saying that we will take the many small trips necessary in order to get to that really big push that takes us into the unknown.
Another possibility that we might want to live into is being a cornerstone resource for the neighborhood around us. This feels less scary in the naming, but it is going to require just as much work. To bring this possibility into reality, we would have to begin creating ways to build relationships with the households that live around us. We would need to begin thinking about the ways that we invite our neighbors over to enjoy our beautiful grounds. We would need to think through how we show up for our neighborhood and how we practice listening to our neighbors. The work to get us to being a cornerstone resource would be just as arduous as any other future that might feel like an impossibility.
The truth is that any future we name that is not bigger than what is immediately feasible is not a future worth naming. We must look out to the horizon to see that God is inviting us into big futures. The future that is bigger than ourselves is a future that is worth naming, and it is a future that is going to stretch us to live into the power of the gospel as we seek to incarnate that future. The possible is not something that we know we can accomplish. The possible is something that we know God can accomplish, and we are naming it as the possibility that we want to have for ourselves and for our neighbors – both near and far. The possible begins to take shape when the heart of the gospel – love – becomes the heart of who we are as a community of people. The possible begins to take shape when our actions reflect our belief in the power of the gospel to change the world in order that the world might see the abundant life into which Christ invites us all.
On February 15, the vestry and the Parish Council will continue following the pathways into naming the future. We will gather with each other to pray, to listen, and to discern. We will take one more step into the future that God is holding open to us, and we will begin discerning the possibilities that we see for our context. The work we are taking up is not the simple work of doing what we know we can accomplish. The work we are taking up is listening intently in order that we begin to see the vision God has for our parish; the work we are taking up is to name the future that we wish to inhabit as a community of people that believe through the power of the Spirit. I hope you will considering joining us as we listen to the movements of the Spirit!