The Innovation Business (Post 3)
In the third reading by Dwight Zscheile, “We’re in the innovation business,” the author notes that we are in a moment of profound social and cultural change, fueled by digital technology and globalization, in which all sorts of institutions are struggling to remain viable. For many churches, old patterns of life and ways of doing things no longer speak to emerging generations and neighbors, and this leaves many church leaders feeling frustrated, as they do all they can to revive old ways of doing things.
For Dwight Zscheile, this moment calls for church communities to listen deeply to one another and to become more familiar with the gospel, as we ask ourselves, “Where do we notice God active in our lives and our world today?” Zscheile sees a need for “simple and accessible” spiritual practices that keep us connected to God and to one another, and he advocates learning the Gospel story and living our simple practices, so that the Gospel comes alive in us.
At St. Stephen’s, we have a number of parishioners participating in small groups devoted to listening, mutual support, prayer, and service. These small groups provide a sacred space and time for people to step off the treadmill of their busy lives, in order to reflect together on questions like these: “How is it with my soul?” and, “Where have I sensed God trying to get my attention over the last week?” Many of these groups use our weekly Bible study guide or our weekly poetry resource, “Wellspring,” as catalysts for opening the eyes and ears of our hearts, sharpening our spiritual faculties.
In addition, we routinely offer an annual overview of the Bible for people who want to feel more at home in our sacred stories. People are encountering the sacred in each other through healing prayer ministries and community meals. Tending to the spiritual lives of children and nurturing the souls of parents and their marriages are growing concerns. Groups devoted to ancient Christian contemplative practices are growing in popularity. And we regularly invite noted speakers to help us discern important trends and dynamics at work in the world today.
Finally, encountering God in the poor and marginalized is an important and recurring dynamic in our church’s many outreach ministries. Our new initiative, Episcopal Community Services in Richmond’s East End, is an attempt to listen more deeply to the lives of people in poverty, complementing our ministries through Anna Julia Cooper School, the Peter Paul Development Center, and Fairfield Court Elementary School.
If Zscheile is right, one of the most important things churches can do today is not prop up old church programs but cultivate a sacred environment in which people can come and make sense of their lives and their world in a Christian way. What is most needed, he thinks, is more sustained attention to the Gospel, deeper listening to each other and to our own lives, simple and accessible spiritual practices that keep us grounded in God, and an openness to the needs and longings of the world. Zscheile thinks it’s time to stop wringing our hands about the decline or demise of old ways of doing things, and immerse ourselves more fully in our sacred story, so that we can discover the new and innovative thing that God is doing now.