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Listening to God

On Sunday we celebrated St. Stephen's 130th anniversary. I know there were times we weren't sure we would make it!

At the start of the service we did a quick survey to determine when people arrived at St. Stephen's. I was standing at the back, so I could see people as they rose. Roughly 1/3 of the people rose to indicate that they started coming to St. Stephen's during the 2010 decade. And most of them were within the last five years.

That is a great statement about St. Stephen's overall strength.

It also means it's time for us to listen. To each other.

You've hopefully heard about the LEAD (Living Everyday as Disciples) program that St. Stephen's is participating in. The team members are Ann Warner, Jason Churchill, Karleen Strayer, Michele Torchia, and Bob Linderman.

The tagline for LEAD is “Listening for God in scripture, in the congregation, and in the community.” We are hoping through LEAD to develop leadership in the congregation and build stronger ties in the community. But first, we need to make sure we understand who we are as a congregation. That's what we're doing now.

In spring we had a congregational assessment. This was a quick multiple choice survey. The results indicated that we are a "becoming" congregation: we are seeking to identify where God is calling us in our own unique context.

In September we asked people to participate in a congregational survey. These were essay questions to discern how people view St. Stephen’s. (By the way, if you haven't answered the survey yet, it's not too late.) We received responses from long-time members and new worshipers.

As the LEAD team discussed the responses, we were in awe. Answers were thoughtful and honest. People commented on our strengths, and on areas where we are lacking. Responses showed an awareness of where our congregation comes from and the diversity of our geographic neighborhood.

It was stunning how many ways people found to say that we are a friendly congregation, without actually using those words: warm feeling, accepting of everyone, no cliques, accepting of differences, kindness is genuine, sincere, a relaxed attitude,

Respondents noted that our neighborhood is made of people who are struggling with poverty, and also well-to-do residents and that St. Stephen’s can serve as a bridge for these two sets of residents.

As we read the responses, we had more questions. We wanted to know more about what people were thinking.

I've been at St. Stephen's for a little over 20 years. There is a whole history of things that happened before me that I still don't know. Hints of that past will occasionally come up as examples of both the good and bad that is a part of the church's history. I have a body of knowledge that is unfamiliar to those who have come to St. Stephen's in the last few years. Those who have come recently are helping us to create a new history.

And so it's time for us to listen to each other. It's good for the newer participants to hear some of St. Stephen's history from long-time members and understand how that history has positioned us where we are now. And it's important for long-time members to hear about the hopes and expectations of newer participants.

To create the opportunity for deeper conversation, the LEAD team is sponsoring several "cottage meetings.” Members of our congregation have graciously agreed to host these dinners. We want to bring together groups of people who perhaps wouldn't normally talk to each other. After a meal and casual conversation, we will have a deeper discussion about where St. Stephen’s is right now and where we want to be in the future.

We want everyone who worships with us to have an opportunity to be heard. It’s not a “members-only” event. If you worship with us, we want you to participate.

There are three day-time cottage meetings and one evening gatherings still available for you to attend. There are Saturday and Sunday events. There are events close to the church and in Hockessin. One will be held at church following worship. If you are interested in attending but have difficulties traveling, please let the LEAD team know, we'll find a way to get you to one of the events. We will work with you on transportation or childcare. We want you there.

This is not just an opportunity to gather and be social; it’s an opportunity to get to know each other on a level beyond casual Sunday morning conversation. It’s an opportunity for everyone to be heard, it’s an opportunity for everyone to listen.

Be a part of listening to God in scripture, in the congregation, and in the community.

Ann Warner

Spots are still available for cottage meetings:

  • Nov. 4, hosted by Jason Churchill and Craig Larimer, 4:30 pm

  • Nov. 10, hosted by Tom and Karleen Strayer, 1 pm

  • Nov. 11, held at church, 12 pm

Please contact the church office to RSVP for one of these events.

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