Hearing Voices


how the Holy Spirit is at work in complexity, diversity, and uncertainty

Sometimes I get this idea in my head the “movement of the Holy Spirit” is this inspirational feeling like the end of a movie. But, I’m beginning to suspect that the movement of the Holy Spirit can, in fact, be messy and unexpected.

Hi. Kevin here, Advent’s Communications Coordinator and Vision Team co-chair.

For me, the Visioning Process has been tumultuous — but it a Holy-Spirit-moving kind of of way. It continually undulates between periods of challenge and inspiration, often within the span of one week.

Are we moving fast enough? Are we being comprehensive enough? Are we being inclusive enough? Are we losing the Gospel in the quest for efficiency? These (and many more) are questions we ask ourselves daily, in a flurry of emails and Google Docs comments that could leave many dizzy and yet some where in all of it . . . the Holy Spirit is there.


Our Vision Team meeting one week after the Vision Retreat

Being on the Vision Team and on staff, I sit with a vast multitude of voices calling up from my memory . . . countless conversations with members about life, ministries, stories, ideas . . . staff meetings, Council meetings, ELCA conferences, sermons, a conversation with a homeless person who wanders into our building on a Tuesday night, theory and research, Scripture, 250 responses on little colored post-its from our Vision Retreat . . .

From the Vision Retreat alone, our 10-person Vision Team spent 2 meetings unpacking what we heard and all the data we gathered, discovering emerging themes and patterns, and discerning how these might guide the next “Listening” phase of our Visioning Process.

Personally, I realized the other day that I have spent over 10,000 hours at Advent in the past 6 years, which includes hundreds of meetings, hundreds of sermons, and many, many more conversations and interactions will all the different kinds of people who connect with our church: space sharers, members, wanderers, teenagers . . .

The challenging thing with mission and vision is that the perspective, needs, ideas, suggestions, and experiences of these people are all different — and there are hundreds of these voices. Each one coming from a beloved child of God.

Sometimes the differences are slight, but being a church in a community with such vast socioeconomic, language, cultural, and religious diversity (and I could go on), we also see polarities. And yet in the Gospel we hear the promise that somehow, we are one, and together we are the Body of Christ.

Whether I’m working at Advent, riding the subway, or too often when I’m trying to fall to sleep, these voices call up from my memory. I observe the ways they ways crash together, react, and intertwine. Sometimes two perspectives seem irreconcilable, and sometimes they spark an incredible moment of inspiration. I sit with all the complexity, diversity, paradoxes, emotions, and conundrums and somewhere in all of it, I feel the Holy Spirit guiding us toward something . . .

Yes, it is tumultuous and challenging. But like I said, it’s a good, Holy Spirit, kind of tumult. I keep seeing an image of God churning up the soil, so a seed can be planted.

One exceptionally inspiring speaker at the ELCA Youth Ministry Network’s annual Extravaganza Conference a year ago in January 2018, compared the complex, changing environments many churches are facing today to an ecological phenomenon called the “ecotone.”

What on Earth is that? Ok, stay with me here.

An “ecotone” is a region where two different biospheres overlap. An ecotone is messy and muddy, but also biodiverse and fertile. For churches is this metaphorical “ecotone,” the speaker said, “there is diverse opportunity to unearth God’s compassion in the midst of the clutter.” I believe that.

The way Holy Spirit works is messy — messier than we’d like, sometimes — but it’s by listening and letting the Holy Spirit lead the way that we unearth God’s compassion in the midst of complexity and uncertainty.

The Vision Team, too, is seeing themes and patterns, guiding us into the next steps on our Visioning Process.

And what is our next step in this Visioning Process? Listening more. In fact, opening our eyes, ears, and hearts even wider. We will be digging deeper and looking for insights that will connect to become the spark of our new mission and vision at Advent. This is the “Listening” phase of our Visioning Process.

During Lent, our discipleship groups, Lenten devotional, and anti-racism series all offer important touchpoints of spiritual support, Bible Study, and social justice as we move into the Listening Phase of our visioning process together.

The heart of the Listening Phase of our Visioning Process will be our listening groups. All in all, you will have multiple opportunities to be heard and hear others during our Listening Phase — and that still leaves the “Distilling” phase and “Empowering” phase.

Our Vision Team is working hard to get all this prepared, and will launch a multifaceted wave of outreach once signups are ready, which we expect to be soon.

Advent Lutheran Church