Why a D.Min. at Luther Seminary

I was asked to write a short reflection paper discusssing the topic, "Why a D.Min. at Luther Seminary?" I've also been asked to share it with my parish "conversation group" for this first course and invite your comments on how you might see this course as a benefit to SJE.

A number of experiences bring me to study Congregational Mission and Leadership in this D.Min. programme at Luther Seminary. The first and most important has to do with the dramatic changes and challenges faced by the church at the beginning of the second millennium. These changes and challenges can be described in a number of ways and are related to the end of Christendom and the collapse of the project known as modernity. These great changes have left the church confused and disoriented, unsure whether to attempt to reassert its former place in the culture or how to adapt to the new realities. Declining church attendance, church closings and moral confusion point to a crisis in the life of the church. And yet in this time of confusion the Spirit of God seems to be stirring the church to a renewed sense of itself as a missional enterprise participating in the mission of God.

As a leader in today’s church I feel called to help lead change towards a more missional church. It does not have to do with the institutional survival of the inherited church, although I love its liturgies and forms. It does have more to do with whether a present generation of Christians will follow God into the world, where God is already working, to become the church with people who are not yet the church. It has to do with whether the present generation will be faithful in announcing and showing forth the Kingdom of God.

I see these stirrings of the Spirit in the parish that I serve, in the diocese of which it is a part and in the wider church. I am the Rector and parish priest in the Church of St John the Evangelist in Hamilton, Ontario which is part of the Anglican Diocese of Niagara and the Anglican Church of Canada. Hamilton is the see of our diocese and our parish is located not far from our diocesan cathedral and synod offices. The parish was established more than 100 years ago as a high church, working class parish. St John’s has always been very much a neighbourhood parish with most people walking to church even to this day. Over its history the neighbourhood has changed.

Beginning as a working-class neighbourhood, the area became more impoverished and transient neighbourhood in the 1980’s and 1990’s as many of the original inhabitants moved to the suburbs. The neighbourhood is now becoming gentrified with families moving back into the neighbourhood, drawn to the area by a desire for community.

Increasingly we find that people who move into our urban context are no longer enamoured by the attractions of suburbia. They are not as interested in the big box stores as they are in the local businesses on our streets. Likewise, the big box churches of the suburbs have lost some of their lustre. As people flock to our neighbourhood to experience community in the restaurants and coffee shops, the veneer of community that can be found there does not in the end satisfy and this is where our parish has something to offer if we can do so in a Christ-like way.

The parish has resources to meet this challenge. Historically, the parish has always had a strong sense of mission. After the Second World War the parish saw the needs of urban children with working parents and started a summer camp. After a fire burned down the parish hall in the 1980’s, the parish decided that it could better serve the community by building non-profit housing on the site. That impulse to serve is still part of the character of the parish.

The people of the parish are also open to talking about their faith. This is worth mentioning because comfort with talking about one’s faith is not necessarily typical of Canadians in general or Anglicans in particular. This comfort is perhaps the result of the long tradition of “witness talks” that are occasionally part of worship life of the parish as well as the occasional series of meetings where people discuss how their faith intersects with their work life. For example, a young emergency room doctor will speak next week in a small group about his faith and work.

But being a missional church is probably more about listening than it is about talking and we have been learning to listen as a parish as well. The parish recently participated with other neighbourhood churches of different denominations in conducting a “neighbourhood scan.” The scan consisted in a mixture of hard and soft research into the demographics and needs of the neighbourhood. Statistics were collected from government sources; interviews were conducted with community leaders, business people as well as people on the street. The scan provided us with insight into the needs of our changing neighbourhood.

It was noted that there was an increase of young families in the neighbourhood. We heard that people in the neighbourhood do not feel that they know each other as they once did. We heard that despite the proliferation of coffee shops and restaurants, there was a need for third space where “community” can happen.

But more than study the needs of our neighbourhood (as if we could love our neighbours by studying them with scientific objectivity) we are working at building relationship with our neighbours in new ways. Groups which have in the past have simply used church space, such as our scouting groups, now find themselves engaged in a conversation where we are getting to know one another. We are trying to find ways to get to know our neighbours one family at a time, engaging our entire parish in this work.

And so St John’s is open to doing new things, to experimentation and to risk. In the fall we will be planting a new worship service in the model of “Messy Church”, designed for families to worship together. Messy Church congregations typically meet once a month for a focused two hours of worship that may include art, crafts, drama, story-telling and a meal. We also plan to experiment again with a model of church that will meet in a local café.

At the same time as we seek to reach out we also work hard at maintaining the health of the inherited forms of church and are dedicated to their nurture and growth. Many of the resources that support our inherited forms of church, whether physical plant or discipleship programme are also available to support fresh expressions of church.

Our bishop has been clear with us in the Diocese of Niagara in telling us that “the status quo is no longer an option.” Part of what he has meant by this has been a challenge for each parish to understand its mission in its neighbourhood in a fresh and engaging way. We can no longer hide behind our church walls with happy thoughts of mother England and assume that other people of good taste will eventually realise that they need to come to worship with us.

The missional stirrings of the Spirit on the parish and diocesan levels have been supported by some excellent work and a partnership between the Institute of Evangelism at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto and the Anglican Diocese of Toronto. Dr. John Bowen is a parishioner at the Church of St John the Evangelist, Hamilton, and is the director of the Institute and a dear friend. The partnership between the Institute and the Diocese of Toronto has led to a number of annual conferences having to do with, of all things, church planting. At a time when dioceses across Canada are closing parish churches, few were thinking of planting churches and all of this seemed quite counter-intuitive. However, what we were learning was that new fresh expressions of church were reaching all sorts of people even while inherited forms of church were declining. The Vital Church Planting Conferences, as these were known, brought us learning and inspiration from the church in England and the exciting things in mission happening there following the hugely influential Mission-Shaped Church report from the Church of England’s Archbishop’s Council on Mission and Public Affairs.

During 2011-2012 academic year I participated in a year-long course called “Mission-Shaped Ministry” at Wycliffe College that was originally designed in England in response to Mission-Shaped Church and the Fresh Expressions movement. This course was modified for Canadian use but still administered under the auspices of Fresh Expressions in the UK. I attended this course with a small team from the parish and I am delighted to report that around that small team there is a larger group in the parish who are excited about doing ministry in a new way. In the parish we have been studying the first part of Luke 10, where Jesus sends out the 70 to all the places where he himself intended to go. We’ve been learning together about what it means for us to be people sent by Jesus.

All of this has brought me to a point where I now feel passionate about the mission of the church. And I am even more aware of the responsibility that I have as a leader both in parish ministry and among my diocesan colleagues to help lead the change that is required in this new time.

I was attracted to this program because I hope that it will help me to grow as such a leader. Over the past 10 years I have done a number of things in terms of continuing education, but I have missed the challenge and collegiality that I enjoyed during my seminary days. By enrolling in this D.Min. programme I am hoping to bring some order and discipline to my continuing education and to enjoy again something of that seminary experience. I enjoyed both the academic and relational aspects of my M.Div. work and that is part of the attraction for me in this program.

I attended a preaching conference at Luther last fall and was immediately impressed by this institution. I considered whether I might undertake the D.Min. in Biblical Preaching, but experienced my heart’s call to this programme.


7 comments (Add your own)

1. Sarah Wayland wrote:
I like the post overall and agree that it reflects the feelings of many people at St John's that we are on the right track. I had two conversations yesterday morning at church, one very positive on just this topic but one more negative. It is my view that more people are on board with the message of discerning, mission, and neighbourhood engagement, but that we are not really DOING it. I am frustrated at my own inability to see how to go about it. I wonder: if nothing is becoming apparent, maybe the time is not right? But I want the time to be right.

Offering coffee to Scout parents was a good experiment, but it is an exaggeration to say "Groups which have in the past have simply used church space, such as our scouting groups, now find themselves engaged in a conversation where we are getting to know one another. We are trying to find ways to get to know our neighbours one family at a time, engaging our entire parish in this work." I love the idea of this, but we still need to discern how to do this.

June 11, 2012 @ 7:57 AM

2. John Bowen wrote:
This is a good summary, David. I think I might add that:

(a) with demographic changes, the educational profile of the parish has changed. We now have a lot of teachers, and a ridiculous number of people with doctorates--though some of the latter (Mark Boda, Nancy & David Koyzis, Jeff Biggs, and Norm Klassen)have moved away in recent years). How has that affected the ethos of the parish?

(b) though the church was begun as an Anglo Catholic alternative to an evangelical Anglican church (we have more steps between nave and altar than in any other church in the diocese, David Little told me), a good number of new people in the last 10 years have been from a more evangelical background--some of them on "the Canterbury trail." David Little described SJE to me as "an Anglo-Catholic parish in process of evangelicalisation"--which was a new word to me! Some of those new people come with a more missional mindset than the average traditional Anglican, and that has also affected the mix.

What do others think?

June 11, 2012 @ 8:04 AM

3. David Anderson wrote:
Thank you Sarah and John,

Of course I've heard that feedback about us not DOING as well. But I would challenge people to think about what we are doing.

1. Messy Church is a big step forward in moving us into a more missionally appropriate outreach.

2. People do seem to be taking a renewed interest in the neighbourhood and local engagement. Note all of the interest in the upcoming neighbourhood meeting, etc.

3. Missional thinking is becoming the norm by which we are evaluating many of our existing ministries.

4. The experiment with our scouting groups was an important movement and will need evaluation to see what we learned.

5. My statement, "We are trying to find ways to get to know our neighbours one family at a time, engaging our entire parish in this work" may seem overly optimistic, but I did not mean that in a limited way with the scouting experiment. What I meant was that I hope that we are helping people to learn that they participate in God's mission in their own neighbourhoods and families. When people comment that we are not doing it, I would like to ask what is it that is keeping you from doing it?

I do agree with Sarah that we still need to discern how to help us all with this.

I agree with what John has added about the parish as well. There is the fact that we do seem to not only have a lot of people with higher education, but there seems to be an attraction for graduate students as well. I think that is an important fact and is related to why we have continued to slowly attract people within the 20-30 demographic as well. Many of these are academics. BTW, Norm Klassen still attends SJE. He is a regular at 8:15.

What John says about the infuence of evangelical commitments is also very true. The comfort with which people talk about their faith, our basic orientation towards scripture, and our general understanding of our mission is at least in part attributable to the evangelical influence. The reality today is that evangelicals find themselves allied with others they might have not expected.

Andy, Sue and I had a conversation about this not long ago. Andy was I think making the point that in his experience it is often those with a more "orthodox" (we struggled to find the right word) point of view that also are more missionally minded.

The post-liberal theological movement has brought along a lot of people who might not think of themselves as evangelicals, but who share a commitment to the narrative of scripture and a helpful sense of the reason for the church's being in the world.

Thanks everyone.

June 11, 2012 @ 11:29 AM

4. Andy Kalbfleisch wrote:
When we think of being missional I think it is often easy to fall into the trap of just 'serving others' rather than transforming lives through Jesus while we serve them. Much of what I see in Niagara is the former since in my opinion it is easier and we don't have to do the Jesus talk. I had coffee with a priest (associate, from another Diocese) this morning and we discussed this very issue. His parish feeds about 200 people every week, but nobody talks to these folks about the importance of getting to know Jesus and thereby feeding their souls. In fact he went as far as wondering what the parish reaction would be if one of those folks turned up on a Sunday morning. We can pat ourselves on the back and say 'good job' but what have we really done?

Example. St. John's Thorold offers a free lunch after Sunday worship for the disadvantaged and now gets 20-30 folks attending. I was in conversation with Cathie a few weeks back as she was leading the parish through some missional discernment wondering what they could do in the community, yet the answer was right there - disciple the lunch folks that come every Sunday.

June 11, 2012 @ 1:16 PM

5. Sue Kalbfleisch wrote:
I like your 'Reflection', David and the comments thus far are thought provoking. What I'd like to add to the mix as food for thought is that for me it is important to have a clear focus...

Who are we at St. John's? (kept this question deliberately open-ended)

There seems to be three distinct - and quite separate - congregations at St. John's so to move beyond the walls, what image are we projecting in the community when people of St. John's talk to others about their church?

I agree that things are indeed happening, but to be effective we all need to be on the same track which may or may not be the case. That's why I suggest we think about these two questions that I have posed.

When Andy and I were in the UK we visited St. John's Hillingdon where the Vicar, Rob Harrison found a way to blend his three congregations (very separate entities) into one congregation, called 'Come & Go' worship. I am not suggesting we do that at St. John's Locke, but we just finished a video of their worship style/interview with Rob. You can check it out at: http://youtu.be/PqaACgh06jo

June 11, 2012 @ 2:34 PM

6. Sarah Wayland wrote:
I think this transformation of lives becomes easier when we ourselves are comfortable talking about our own faith, our own journeys and our own doubts. David mentioned that we do that at St John's from time to time. I think we used to do it more often, e.g., entire Lenten sermons during Lent. The only ones I can think of in recent years were the two-minute stewardship talks, which I thought were excellent. We have a caring community at St John's but at the same time there are many people who don't really know each other, and these kinds of talks that personalize faith can really help in that regard. I felt that I went through a great exercise in 'testimony' in having to prepare two sermons over the past year.

I hope my contributions are not too 'action oriented,' but David knows I am that way and he asked me to join this group. I have a lot of ideas lately, so watch out.

Re: Andy's comment, Church of the Holy Communion (Episcopal) in DC offers a large Sunday 8am Eucharist for the homeless followed by breakfast. Many people who are not homeless also attend. Not sure about discipling, but this congregation found a way to serve the need around them in an interesting way.

June 11, 2012 @ 9:01 PM

7. Debbie Rudderham wrote:
For the most part I agree with all of the comments made so far. I'd like to emphasis or add to them with just a a few thoughts -

1. Education level - of both the parish and the neighbourhood is making a difference, both in our own needs and attitudes to Christianity and in the type of approaches that will resonate with our community. The educated, young parent with no church background is certainly a different animal from the working class community steeped in some form of organized religion -which is basically where the parish started

2. Mission shaped church - while I agree that many of our parishioners are on board with this shift I'm not sure that we all have the same understanding of what this means. St. John's certainly has a long and admirable history of serving the community but I think that in the past there has still been a well defined line between serving and being ourselves in our church community. It is my understanding of missional church that these lines will need to be erased? minimized? Many of us still believe that we know what is best for our community members and we just need to figure out how to communicate it to them. I think David's emphasis on the need to start building relationships by listening is very important - and very difficult.
As we have listened at the recent Cathedral meetings as various Undermount churches relate all the dinners they serve or community meetings they host I am usually come back to the question of how we relate this to our mission of spreading the Gospel. Andy's questioning this approach is very timely and I think important for us. While people are asking what actions are we going to take I agree that we need to be very mindful of which actions we take and why.


3. Evangelism - I also remember David Little's comments about SJE moving towards evangelism - and I'm sorry to say that at the time I was wary and a bit scared to recognize it. For people my age or older evangelism smacks of "witnessing" and Bible thumping on street corners - hardly the Anglican thing to do. This is where I think educating the parish comes in as an essential element of our way forward. And since we have an increasingly educated group of parishioners I think they are more than capable of hearing and discerning the necessary chanages. Again not easy but essential.

June 12, 2012 @ 10:52 AM

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