My Distilling Process: Deacon Ross Murray
As a part of Advent’s Vision team, we’ve spent a lot of time doing the following things: praying, listening, writing, planning, interpreting, and discussing.
As we get to the close to the end of the process for the Vision team, we realize that the work continues for the congregation. We are currently in the “Distillation” process. That means we have been going back through everything we’ve collected in the past several months, trying to “distill” it down to something that can summarize the vision for the entire congregation...no small task.
I personally spent a lot of time with the notes from the congregational kick off retreat, as well as the listening small groups. I sorted them into themes, noting when the same comments appeared from multiple sources. I looked for patterns, outliers, and comments that seemed to be consistent with the Gospel, Advent’s history, and the ethos of where we are going. I even entered all our notes into word clouds, to see what phrases appear the most.
At the beginning of the summer, the Vision team submitted an initial report, noting some of the most relevant themes. Now, we are being asked to, once again, do some individual distilling. We review everything, we pray, we discern, and then we answer five more questions.
With some trepidation, I’m sharing my own personal reflection with you to read. The answers here are not to be our own opinions, but rather our understanding of where the Holy Spirit is leading Advent based on our listening process. I’m proud to have served in this capacity, but this work is about more than me. It’s about more than the Vision team, the council, or the staff.
This is about our life and our future together as the people of God gathered within Advent.
Take a look at what I wrote, and offer your own reflection. Maybe you’ll agree wholeheartedly. Maybe you’ll disagree with some or all of it. Whatever your reaction is, it is an important part of the process for our life together as a congregation.
Contemplate Matthew 22: 36-40:
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
And answer these 5 questions, basing ALL your answers on the Listening Small Group Notes and Initial Distilling Report from our Visioning Process.
1. What should “loving your neighbor” look like at Advent?
Loving starts with hospitality that assures dignity and respect for everyone who walks through our doors. Loving our neighbor means serving those in need, preaching a word that speaks to their situation, engaging in transformative worship, and dropping barriers to full participation in church and society. This is something that comes from each individual member of Advent, as well as from the leadership and institutional structure of Advent Lutheran Church. All our questions and decisions about ministry, budget, and building should be answered through the question, “How are we best loving our neighbor through this decision?”
2. If we could do only three things to put this love of our neighbor into action, what would they be?
Be present: Make Advent’s positive presence known in the immediate neighborhood, the city, the state, and throughout the church. Offer elements of worship that are outside the church walls (we do this occasionally through the liturgical year), and participate with people in the neighborhood. We also show up where we are needed: in immigration court, the state capitol, city hall, etc. to advocate for the justice that God calls us to.
Invite: People’s connection to Advent seems to either be through their appreciation of worship (liturgy, music and preaching were named several times) or through their involvement in a particular ministry. Ergo, the invitation could be an invitation to worship, but an invitation to participate in one or more of our ministries would also work. We are a vibrant community that is functioning all week long. We need ongoing support for our ministries, and our ministries (esp ones that involve working side by side with others) are where people feel the most connected to the community.
Pray: Confess the ways in which we fall short. Call for God’s intervention when the problem is more than we can handle on our own. Invoke God in private prayer and public worship. Pray in all its forms: music, song, service, silent, aloud.
3. How does the world change when we love our neighbor in these ways?
Our words and actions...or Word and Service, ripple out. It is the gospel being passed, quite literally from person-to-person contact. People feel a connection when they benefit from our love and our ministry. People deepen that connection as they become active participants in our worship or our service. And people carry that love outside of Advent to a world that needs to hear it.
4. If we gave Advent’s collective faith a verb, what would it be?
It’s hard to come down to just one word, but I think I found two that compliment each other and describe Advent very well:
5. Name a core value that sets Advent apart in the world. How does it have the power to change us if we live our lives consistent with that value?
We are a dedicated, driven, and hardworking people. That’s a typical New York value. What sets us apart is that our drive is for the Gospel to be shared, heard, and experienced by all.