In December 2014, a team comprised of leaders from around our Synod joined a team of leaders from our congregation, as well as several community leaders from around Tulsa – Area pastors and lay leaders, a director at the psychiatric hospital who shares our block, and the director of a not-for-profit that works with formerly homeless people of faith, with homebound Christians, and with faith communities, bringing them all together in healthy relationships.
Gathered together, they discussed our congregation. They talked about our place within the Tulsa community and how we are working to engage (or not engage) in ministry to the people we live among. They toured around our neighborhood in order to get a sense of the physical context of our ministry. In short, they wanted to see how are we doing as a community of Jesus followers in terms of fulfilling our commission to be salt and light in the world.
This gathering was a pretty grueling process that began on a Friday night and continued through Sunday morning. It was exhausting. But it was also really positive.
In the end, the group assembled for us a report that includes a list of affirmations – things they see at work in us that they’d like to hold up as very positive – and a list of recommendations concerning things that they would strongly encourage us to address. I’m just going to list those things verbatim.
* You are to be commended for welcoming and accepting a first call pastor and embracing a major shift in pastoral style. You are serving an important role as a training ground for a first call pastor.
* You have a strong core of dedicated leaders that have worked hard for the good of the congregation and community.
* The congregation has a strong sense of fellowship and community experienced through planned events.
* The congregation has lay leaders taking ownership of taking communion to home-bound members.
* The congregation has quality liturgy and music in worship.
* The congregation is committed to a healthy Mutual Ministry.
* The congregation is supportive [financially and spiritually] of the newly forming Latino ministry, Comunidad de Esperanza, and its developer[.]
* The congregation supports two active W[omen of the] ELCA circles, WELCA sponsored global mission activities, and a redeveloping Men’s Group, which is currently focused on fellowship but plans to begin Bible Study and service activity in 2015.
* The building is located in a prime area of Tulsa, situated at a crossroads where it can serve as a bridge between North and South and between the Downtown and Midtown communities, as well as serve an an integral part of a “mind, body, spirit” care [center – based on its proximity to both Hillcrest Hospital and Parkside Psychiatric Hospital.]
* The building is large and full of petential for expanding ministry and community partnerships.
* The Early Learning Center is a necessary and long-standing ministry in the community.
* The congregation is now starting new partnerships with Abba’s Family, Manna Meals [at St. Paul’s UMC], and a joint youth group with other area non-Lutheran congregations.
* First Lutheran has a strong identity in the community with its longstanding ties to the annual presentation of [Handel’s] Messiah.
* You have a strong Pastor who is building trust with and among the congregation. He is also actively reaching out into the community.
So, these are the very positive things our Review team saw in us. If we were to conduct the review again today, there would be more things to add, I’m sure. Some of those new affirmations would be based on our having begun to address the recommendations that the team offered to us. But those recommendations I’ll save for a follow-up post in the next couple of days.
In the meantime, just let these things soak in. And don’t worry – the recommendations aren’t negative things: they’re more opportunities for us to seize. Some of them are going to be extremely important, others maybe less so. But let’s save those for tomorrow, and focus today on these affirmations. OK? OK.