Diana Butler Bass tells of leading a clergy event where she asked the participants, “Who are we in God?” One participant responded that, as a pastor for twenty years, he has been through many discernment processes to figure out who we are, how many members we have, what their annual income is, their educational level, how they vote, and what our neighborhood is like. He knows everything about their church but has never considered the question, “Who are we in God?” (Christianity after Religion, 183).
This story especially caught my attention because our congregation recently began a long-range planning process; we have been asking ourselves similar questions related to our dreams of who we will become in five years. Our discernment is especially challenging and energizing because we’re a small congregation within the Anabaptist faith tradition and we’re located in the greater Washington DC area, in the City of Fairfax—right in the middle of one of the most affluent regions of our country. Who are we in God in this place?
The members of our long-range planning committee jointly wrote this prayer, “Dear God, thank you for your love and care for your church. We seek to find and follow your will for our congregation. We are thankful for our church and for all the people associated with it, both past and present. Forgive our missteps and lead us in paths of life. Let us be mindful of your teaching on peace and inclusiveness as we deliberate. Fill us with your love and give us a spirit of adventure and joy. In Christian love, Amen.”
Our prayer beautifully expresses who we are in God as well as our hope for who we will become. We’re especially aware that our church identity cannot be a static, inherited identity in our greater Washington DC context. Instead, it’s more like a location on a map in relation to where we’re heading. It’s like punching in the addresses in a GPS device. As Diana Butler Bass writes, “Church is no longer membership in an institution, but a journey toward the possibility of a relationship with people, a community, a tradition, a sacred space, and, of course, God” (Christianity after Religion, 192).