Several years ago Tanya and I were looking at some old photo albums. There was a picture of me when I was one, being held by my Grandpa. After doing a little math I realized that my Grandpa was the same age I am right now! Another picture (in a later album) was of my Dad and me at our wedding. My Dad was several years younger than I am right now! Both pictures really threw me. My Grandpa was an old man and I don’t feel old. In many ways I don’t feel much older than I was when Tanya and I got married, but the pictures told a different story. My self-identity seems to be off from my reality. Our identity keeps changing over time and it takes time for our self-awareness to catch up to our actual identity – true for individuals; true for the church.
Over the past several years the identity of Sharon Community Presbyterian Church has changed significantly. In the 1970s Sharon was a growing, suburban church with a large staff. In the 80s, 90s, 2000s, Sharon started on what I often call the typical “Presbyterian slide,” declining membership and decreasing staff. Many Presbyterian/mainline congregations are going through similar struggles. Then, in the last several years, the conflict at Sharon led to some big changes – staff changes and congregational members leaving. As we move into 2017 Sharon Church is a different church than it was when I arrived in October 2014, much less what it was in 2010, or 1980, or 1850. Sharon is no longer a rural, community church (one of the only ones in the community) or a large growing suburban church. Who are we now? This interim time is a good time to reflect on, and possibly make intentional changes to, the identity of SCPC.
The second developmental task of the interim time is Renewing the Congregational Identity. The first task of the interim (see the November Good News) was Coming to Terms with Our History. We are going to look at this task in more detail during the Sunday school time on January 15 (see the other article in the Good News). The history of SCPC is actually part of the identity, but the question now is “Who are we now that the conflict has ended? Who are we as we move closer to calling a new pastor?” Here are some questions to help us think about the identity of SCPC (along with a few of my observations):
1) Who Are We?
- What is unique about SCPC? What type of people make up the membership of SCPC? What are our gifts and strengths?
- We are predominantly white, suburban and middle-class.
- We have people of all ages, but there is a large group of active retired adults, and newly growing group of young adults.
- We have many members who have belonged to this church for a long time – 50 plus years.
- We are at the transition point between a small, pastor-driven congregation (50-150 in worship) and a mid-sized, program-style congregation (125-350 in worship, with some staff). Since SCPC was larger at one point I have the sense that most members think of SCPC as a mid-sized church, but the reality is that we don’t have much staff to lead various programs.
- How would you describe who we are?
2) Whose Are We?
- What is our theology, our understanding of who God is, what God has done and what God is doing; in our lives and in our world?
- We are not theologically conservative or liberal – do we have a clear understanding of our faith?
- As in most congregations, there are many people who grew up in non-Presbyterian churches.
- How would you describe SCPC in terms of our faith and understanding of God?
3) Where Are We?
- What is the community like in which Sharon Church carries out its ministry? What are the needs? the opportunities and obstacles for ministry?
- What is happening in the larger world around us (western PA, USA, world) and how does that impact our ministry?
4) Why Are We?
- What is our purpose as a church? Why are we here? Where is God leading us?
- The session spent a significant amount of time rewriting our mission statement and we looked at the new statement in the fall of 2015. However, a mission statement on paper does not inherently mean it is truly part of our DNA.
- Can you describe the four aspects of our mission statement?
- What is the primary focus of our ministry?
- How would you describe the reason SCPC exists?
“Who are you?” said the Caterpillar… “I – I hardly know, Sir, just at present,” Alice replied rather shyly, “at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then” (Lewis Carroll).
Sharon Community Presbyterian Church continues to change. Understanding our identity will energize the congregation and prepare SCPC for the ministry of the new pastor. I invite you, in your own times of prayer and in conversations with others, to keep these questions before you. Please share your answers / reflections with others – I’d love to hear what you think.