Congregations, just like human beings, are living entities. As congregations, we proclaim and seek to live as the Body of Christ in the ministry we share with the communities around us. And like any “body” there are times when we are in better condition than others.
However, unlike for our human bodies, workout facilities with all the weights, machines and amenities to exercise our congregations don’t exist… we have to work out at home. Every congregation has tools and gifts for healthy living but most of us still need resources from outside our single congregation in order to become all that God calls us to be.
In 2010, the Northern Province Synod adopted seven characteristics of healthy congregations. These characteristics—Stewardship, Mission and Service, Worship, Leadership, Community, Spiritual Formation and Purpose—serve to focus our attention to access areas of strength and struggle. Congregations across the Northern Province thrive in some areas and find growing edges in others. Part of the continued search for greater health is reflected in the diligence with which we seek renewal and develop energy around God’s movement as a community.
The characteristics of healthy congregations can focus our efforts by helping us review and evaluate how our congregations are doing. We can then use that evaluation to direct our energy and focus so that our “body” can become more whole and healthy.
On the whole, we in North America seem much better prepared to deal with problems only after the blow up in our faces. A better approach would be to adopt ways of living that promote good practices that avoid those issues before the problems arise.
A Healthy Congregations Task Force (HCTF) was created at the Northern Province Synod in 2014 out of desire to support congregations in their work of developing healthy practices. The intention was to develop better access to—and a greater ability to share—worthwhile resources, ideas and stories about their own congregational journeys toward healthier practices of faith. Task Force members include Nicole Fowles (Ohio), Linda Wisser (Pennsylvania), the Rev. Jenny Moran (Minnesota), the Rev. Kerry Krauss (Wisconsin) and the Rev. Rebecca Craver (Alberta).
Since forming in October 2014, the Task Force has developed projects and plans intended to help more congregations to share resources and wisdom directly with one another. The HCTF also hopes to learn how the denomination can support and encourage this work in all Northern Province congregations in the future.
Here are just a few goals coming to a congregation near you:
- Healthy Congregations Planning Retreat for Joint Boards—The task force plans to work with five congregations throughout the Northern Province on a pilot project to introduce a Healthy Congregations Retreat format for use with Joint Board leaders. Using the Healthy Congregations characteristics to evaluate and set goals, the retreat allows for congregational leaders to direct attention to areas of strength and difficulty. After evaluation the leaders can use what they learn to set goals for the coming year. This retreat also gives the Task Force direction for what resources might be most helpful to share and develop over time. This retreat was originally created by Rev. Jenny Moran and has been a helpful tool at Christ Community Church in St.Paul, Minnesota.
- A series of articles in the Moravian Magazine that highlight stories of our congregations and the ways they are seeking to live out these healthy characteristics in their own contexts and the resources they use. We all love stories and though many congregations are doing amazing work and experiencing God’s redemptive grace in the life of their communities we do not always have a way to share that with the larger Moravian Church. The Task Force hopes to encourage more sharing of stories of both struggle and success so that we might all be built up for the work of ministry.
- Social Networking—The Task Force is working to connect people and resources throughout our province through social media. We are seeking ways to strengthen the networks that are already in place and make further connections so that more congregations can gain access to support and ideas directly from one another. We will produce an e-newsletter highlighting stories and resources and using Facebook to share what congregations are learning throughout the province.
Imagine what it would be like if we had a strong network of lay leaders and clergy throughout the province who were invested in sharing resources with one another for the development of more holistic and healthier practices in our congregations. It would grow from the already committed core of leadership who invest themselves in the life of the church, to a spiritual embracing of one another for the sake of the Gospel mandate we share. It would spread through our congregations and communities to shape Christians for the dynamic life of faith that called out to fishermen all those years ago.
Every “body” can become healthier. The HCTF hopes you will join us as we share stories of God’s work among us and share your own stories of Jesus’ love. This is the story of all of us… of daring, courage and a vision of God’s dream for the wholeness of all creation!
Rebecca Craver is pastor of Edmonton Moravian Church and chair of the Healthy Congregations Task Force for the Northern Province. For more, visit https://healthymoraviancongregations.wordpress.com/