Each month, we will be highlighting the stories of the churches in Vibrant Faith’s C3 Project to illumine the GOOD that we are blessed to partner with the Spirit to do through this project. This month, I share two snapshots of churches who are busy claiming their calling in a variety of ways.

The Catholic Community of St. Charles Borromeo (Skillman, NJ)

The Coaches Perspective:

“When I think about the people at St. Charles Borromeo I immediately feel the hope and joy their leadership team has shared with me. They have such a great openness to the Spirit at work in their community through the diversity of its members, and the gifts they all bring to the community.  I’ve witnessed them integrate the theme of calling throughout the entirety of the parish, from small Christian communities, to seasonal events (liturgical, cultural, and public holidays- like advent and Lent, feat days, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day) , to the curriculum for their family faith formation program. I am most excited to see how their idea about using StoryCorps’ approach (interviews with and between parish community members) comes to fruition in year two.”- Coach Denise Utter

The Snapshot:

According to Cathy Souto and Trish Scalese, Pastoral Assistants for Formation and Religious Life at St. Charles Borromeo, the Spirit is using the C3 project to offer a Catholic parish, very much in the proverbial crosshairs of public scandal, a deeper opportunity to reflect on their collective callings to experience and express GOD’s grace. C3 has given St. Charles Borromeo an opportunity to see the crisis of the church through a different lens; it has allowed them to see and hear how GOD is calling them to something new that is shaped by and influencing beauty, community and the sharing of faith.

As one example of this, on November 4th, the Feast of St. Charles Borromeo, the parish is planning to have a recommitment of faith celebration during mass, to kick off the C3 project year. Their priest, Monseigneur Greg Malovetz, has also commissioned a young artist to create a sculpture of St. Charles Borromeo to display in the parish. At the November 4thevent, the artist- an individual who has recognized his call from a young age- will be invited to share some of that call journey with the congregation.

Trish Scalese notes how it has taken up lot of their energy as a parish to figure out how to respond to everything happening in the news with the Catholic church in ways that are helpful for their parish community. In fact, they have had to re-examine the whole C3 initiative in light of those recent events, especially given the proximity of the scandal to their own geographical and ecclesial roots in New Jersey. “It has certainly affected us as a staff and it has affected a lot of our parishioners,” says Trish. However, at one of their C3 gatherings, the team was able to ask the question what are we being called to in light of this scandal and how does this influence what we want to do with the C3 project? In the end, the context of C3 (Creating a Culture of Calling) gave them a framework with which to respond creatively and authentically to their own fraught narrative as a church. “The C3 initiative becomes ever more important for us and offers a deeper opportunity to see what our call is, in light of the realities of what’s happening in the church,” reflected Trish. The language and theology of calling has allowed them to see that they are being called to deeper relationship with God in the midst of all that has happened, and has empowered them to affirm that calling collectively as a parish.

The C3 initiative becomes ever more important for us and offers a deeper opportunity to see what our call is, in light of the realities of what’s happening in the church.

-Trish Scalese, St. Charles Borromeo church

Cathy Souto shared other examples of how they are claiming their calling as a congregation. Through their intergenerational faith formation program, “Families Come Together”, they plan to spend the whole year incorporating the theme of ‘How We’re Called’ during each month. During Advent, they plan to send out a daily prayer email that includes a calling-related prayer. “One of the aims will be to help us discern which generations are responding and who we need to reach out to a little bit more,” says Cathy.

If you were to take away one thing from this snapshot of St. Charles Borromeo, they would want you to know that they have come to understand the value of beauty as something that is central to the work of growing in their calling. Trish explained that the three initial lenses through which they wanted to consider calling were 1) beauty, 2) community, and 3) sharing of faith. In the midst of scandal unfolding around the Catholic church, they questioned at first whether these lenses were still legitimate. In the end they’ve come to recognize that beauty is not frivolous. Rather, “beauty has a larger power and grace that can call us to something deeper than the [broken] humanity of our leadership”.

The C3 team at St. Charles expects the November 4thkickoff to be an uplifting time for their community. At its core, they see it as an opportunity– “It’s an opportunity across all of the generations… to understand being called all the way from birth through death,” reflects Cathy. They share a hopeful anticipation that the work of exploring calling will equip them to move beyond the church as an institution and to grow deeper in their relationship with God.

Lord of Life Lutheran Church- Fairfax, VA

The Coach’s perspective:
“When I think about the people at Lord of Life I think, “Wow! They have a great leadership system!” Pastor Nathan tool a sabbatical over the summer as the C3 project was getting off the ground, and his leadership team didn’t miss a step. Communication has been outstanding, and the congregation continues to move forward towards project goals. The most intriguing part of working with this team has been their passion for learning and growing. They really respond well to new concepts and ideas. They wrestle with them and integrate them into their work almost immediately. This kind of agility is what I love to see in a 21stcentury church!”- Coach Jim Merhaut

The Snapshot:

Lord of Life Lutheran Church, is “one church, with two locations in Northern Virginia (Fairfax & Clifton). Today, both campuses combined, more than 555 families worship at Lord of Life. Since 2015, Pastor Nathan Swenson-Reinhold has served as the Lead Pastor of this multi-staff parish.

Pastor Bruce L. Burslie, introduced the congregation to the C3 Project as he launched a new fall sermon series on Calling. During his introductory sermon, Pastor Burslie shared the notion that Lord of Life has “been selected as a guinea pig to make Christian ministry better for the whole church.”[1]He believes “that GOD has a special experience in store for Lord of Life because of what they are doing in the Lilly study.”[2]

At Lord of Life, congregational communication is important. Congregants are provided with many channels to stay abreast of the happenings at Lord of Life. Accordingly, in addition to launching the sermon series, Lead Pastor Nathan Swenson-Reinhold put these calling questions in front of his people:

“Do you know what you are here for? Do you know what you are supposed to be doing?

Theologian Paul Tillich had it right: the modern question of faith is one of purpose. “Why do I live here, now, at this point in history? What am I uniquely here to do?”

We are launching into a fall conversation about “calling.” What you may not know is that late last winter, we were asked to be a part of a Lilly supported experiment, working through an organization called Vibrant Faith (vibrantfaith.org). They approached 24 congregations across the US (of different sizes and from different denominations) to be a part of a three-year think tank and leadership lab for the creation of language and processes to bring a more profound sense of the calling of Christ to the Christians that call our congregations home. The findings will be and shared with a greater Christian audience across the US.

Mike Magwire, Julia Boudrye, Kenny Champagne, Alicia Schwenk, Kyle Lorentson, and I form the core team for shepherding this conversation here at Lord of Life. With the help of the larger staff and unpaid servants at Lord of Life, we’ve been putting together exploratory strategies for this conversation. You’ll be reading about it in Lifelines, hearing about it through sermons, will be able to participate in a retreat to explore it, and will be encountering powerful questions through our social media platforms, in chalk around our campuses, on our bulletin boards, and through friendly inquiries of other members and your friends at church. You will also encounter the conversations in our adult forums and Connection Groups. Our youth will be exploring the idea of calling through discussions within their venues.

In the meantime, reflect on this statement of calling, but especially on the prepositions that hold it all together:

We are called by God,

To be followers of Christ,

As we are,

From people, places, or situations,

For service and work,

Through each other,

In suffering,

By the God within,

Calling all around us.

Calling is not necessarily a special vocation. Instead, it’s the responsibility every Christian carries to build God’s kingdom with whatever they have, wherever they are, whenever they can. Today, we all carry this holy vocation. Step with me towards the Kingdom. It’s emerging all around us!”[3]

 

Rev. Shonda Nicole Gladdens

[1]http://www.lordoflifeva.org/content.cfm?id=213&download_id=1784

[2]Ibid.

[3]https://s3.amazonaws.com/storage.nm-storage.com/lordoflifeva/downloads/september_9.pdf

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