Our story is indeed one of the Spirit and peace. Our chosen name, “Spirit of Peace” couldn’t be more fitting.
It is a joining of two stories. Mizpah UCC’s Story and St. Paul’s Lutheran’s Story coming together to become Spirit of Peace. This is what the Minnesota Conference of the United Church of Christ says about our Spirit of Peace story.
Our Story begins in the spring of 2018, when both Mizpah and St. Paul’s had been considering what it means to become something new. We found one another when the Spirit led us to consider the possibility of coming together to share joint Lenten services.
The Spirit didn’t stop there. It continued to blow through our congregations like the wind. Our paths continued to become more and more intertwined. We moved from meeting and greeting and reveling in our converging commonalities, to worshiping together in combined worship services to authoring a formal shared ministry agreement, and all of this by the end of September 2018. At that time, we began calling ourselves The Shared Ministry. We later chose the name, “Spirit of Peace” (more about that later).
The shared ministry set us on a path leading to a single multi-denominational congregation. 2019 began not as two congregations, but as a single shared ministry, living into the single congregation at the end of the journey, working toward and discovering who we are becoming. This is all lovely and inspirational in concept, but living into the spirit of a single shared ministry when we are also two other entities, non profit corporations. All that goes with that can be very complex. Some of the things encompassed include:
- Combined Congregational Meetings and Budget (Spirit of Peace, Mizpah, and St. Paul’s)
- Congregational meetings are called in accordance with both existing constitutions
- Quorums are satisfied for both constitutions
- A combined operating budget is presented and approved by Spirit of Peace (implicitly by all three entities)
- All giving and operations are consolidated into the single Spirit of Peace operating budget
- Congregational management is a single body
- Spirit of Peace church council and Mizpah church council and St. Paul’s church council meet as a single entity
- Officers are common, e.g., The Spirit of Peace chairperson and the Mizpah moderator and the St. Paul’s president are all the same person.
- The shared ministry agreement stipulates constraints to assure balanced representation from both original congregations
- Representation from both original congregations is assured on Spirit of Peace boards and committees
Many would think of this approach as daring and replete with opportunities for things to go wrong, but we surprisingly had very little of that. Many would think, “WOW, we did it! Now we can step back and relax for a while.”, but we had NONE of that.
In retrospect, this great progress was more like the price of admission. Now that we are “Actively Pretending” to be a single congregation, we have to find a way to make it real without getting in the way of the pretending. It turns out to be a lot like building an airplane in the air. We are operating this new church while we are still bringing it into existence. The most important next steps are:
- Becoming – We effectively joined by adding two congregations together. Now that we are living as one, we must explore and develop things that make the sum greater than the total of the parts.
- Being known – We needed to find a new name for our shared ministry and then to let the world know who we are.
- Making it Legal – The objective is to move from two non-profit corporations and a shared ministry agreement to a single non-profit corporation in relationship with multiple denominations.
2 Corinthians 5:27 – So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
We are indeed new. It is a huge challenge to set aside the old and focus on the new. Some of us tend to cling to things that might be past their time. Some of us want to try bright new shiny things and risk doing it at the expense of others. What is the correct approach? We think the correct approach is recognizing it as a journey. We continue doing the things that we find important while also focusing on the new things we can now be that neither congregation could have been alone. We live in recognition that if it has an end it is no longer a journey.
Being Known – Choosing a Name
Choosing a new name. How hard can that be? We set some pretty outlandish rules and just started running. We said:
- Anyone can suggest a name (even non-members)
- Anyone can vote for the name
- We allow absentee ballots
- The selected name must have at least 75% approval
What could possibly go wrong? Well, let’s just say that the list is too long to try to describe. We had A LOT of names, and many were so similar that it became clear no amount of voting would produce an unambiguous result.
… So we started over. This time we required every name submission to include a brief description about why this name was chosen and what is important about it. The naming task force also was allowed to converge similar names into one (with permission from the submitter).
After a couple of ballots, we were down to two names. It looked like an emerging stalemate. Then the naming task force was asked to create detailed analyses discussing all kinds of relevant characteristics of the two names, and they were discussed at length in various gatherings.
Then, for the final ballot, the ballots were designed to that the voter could choose A or B, AND ALSO indicate that they were OK with either name. Spirit of Peace was the winning name with an 81% majority.
Being Known – Letting the World Know
We have to tell the world who we are becoming and have them know us the name, Spirit of Peace. Part of that is creating THIS WEB SITE, but there are many other aspects to letting the world know. We need to tell the story of who we are becoming clearly and succinctly, while we are simultaneously finding out. We are both not ready for this yet, and urgently needing to do it. Here we are building an airplane in the air again.
Making it Legal – The Constitution
We need to write a new constitution that is not only true to who we are, but is also compatible with the denominations that we intend to be in relationship with.
Of all the audacious things we are doing, this may be the most audacious. Of all the things one might expect to be distant from theology, this may be the most theological. Of all the activities leading to the discovery of who we are, this leads to the most discoveries.
The Constitution Task Force struggled mightily to find a strategy that would accommodate the requirements of both denominations. Imagine the freedom that comes with acknowledging that to be impossible. The constitution task force is proceeding though the components necessary to produce a constitution, exploring what they mean rather than accepting what one denomination or another tells us they mean.
Imagine entire sessions devoted to, “What does it mean to be a member?”, or “What goes into a statement of faith?” The constitution task force meetings continue to be compelling and inspirational, and anything but boring.
Making it Legal – The Corporation
We might think all of this corporation and legal stuff would be especially challenging. From where we stand, it looks like it will fall into place once a constitution is approved.
The Journey Continues
So here we are. The journey continues. many parts completed, many parts in progress. There are, of course, many obstacles and many inspirations. The end of the journey may not be in sight, but that’s what a journey is all about, isn’t it?