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Acting in Between

Is life on hold while an organization contemplates the future? Hardly. The reality is that we act in between. Here's my latest letter to University Baptist Church of Austin.

Acting in Between

Photo by Daniel Pryfogle

Dear Church:

How do we act with intention in a time in between? As we embarked upon this season of discernment last year, I told you the life of the church would continue during the process. We would worship. We would serve. We would experiment. And we would make decisions. All of that activity runs counter to a common misperception of discernment and strategic planning, which says life is on hold while we figure things out. The reality is that we act in between. The intention is the key: That our actions flow from what is clear so far and that we reflect on our actions to find greater insight.

While the Discernment Committee continues to seek clarity about the church's vision and the leadership required to live into that vision, the church staff is taking action. Every week the staff creates, organizes and promotes the work of our common life. Recently we identified three priorities for the next six months. These priorities set our intention for all of our activity.

The first priority is to deepen our community. Our conviction is that when the community goes deeper, it reaches wider. The approach is known as “journey inward/journey outward,” a model advanced for many years by Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C. Our community will deepen in the coming months through meaningful worship, group study on spiritual practices, Bible study on the parables of Jesus, the Family Campout, Brewed Theology, conversations over coffee, visits with members who are not able to make it to worship, and Midday Prayer that centers us in the Spirit who gathers and sustains us. Through all this activity in which we find belonging, we also hear a calling to share the welcome with others.

The second priority is to maximize our property. We want to share our space with others who share our aspiration for a more just, inclusive and creative community. So we're inviting groups and individuals to use our facilities for programs, meetings and performances throughout the week. The use of our space is a matter of stewardship; it is also an opportunity to advance our mission and clarify larger possibilities related to space. For example, we are working on use of our Kids Place child care center, which closed more than a decade ago and is now only used on Sunday mornings. In the short term, the center could be used for a special program, such as a summer camp. This experience will pave the way for other long-term uses, including the return of a vibrant child care program.

The third priority is to leverage our financial assets. The church is blessed to have cash reserves and investments. The staff is asking now how we might maximize these resources to advance our mission — to create in our parish the justice we proclaim. The growth of impact investing and the presence of social enterprises in Austin present opportunities for the church to seek a social return on our investments. We took a small step in this direction last month by making a $1,000 contribution to University United Methodist Church's Micro-Lending Fund, which provides no-interest loans to startups and small businesses. That experience piques our curiosity about other ways we might put our dollars to work in the wider community.

These three priorities will guide everything the staff does in the months ahead. Please talk to the staff about this work. Stephanie, Jonathan, Paul, Lily and Arnold can tell you more about specific activities under each priority. Ask them about our intention. I think you'll hear excitement about what's unfolding for the church as action creates clarity and further possibility.

Blessings on the good work we share.