The BIG conversation at Bethesda






Paul writes to the church in Rome

 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:22-24)


I call for a BIG conversation within and around Bethesda.  We began this conversation with a sample group from the congregation in late April, mapping out much of the same starting points as are being presented today.


I came to Bethesda in 2010 to provide new energy for this congregation.  In just about five years’ time, we have started Bethesda’s Giving Garden, renovated the facilities through a successful three-year capital campaign, welcomed many student leaders, begun an intentional student residential community, enjoyed strong and innovative musical leadership and ministry from Lars Gjerde, solidified some best practices for confirmation ministry, affirmed the gifts of children in our congregational life particularly worship, established a yearly weeklong shelter ministry in cooperation with Columbus House and the Interfaith community, strengthened ministry with students and increasingly additional young adults, discovered the gifts of IRIS a local refugee resettlement program, begun more communal meal gatherings to strengthen our community, increased our building use, revisited our covenants with our major building users and in the case of Wedgewood condominiums changed our covenant with those who use our parking spaces, deepened our connection with the companion synod in the Holy Land, and deepened our experience of God in worship.


We are doing many wonderful things in the service of God and our neighbor.  But it is time to explore more deeply and deliberately what God has in store for us in the future. 
This means we will be planning in conversation.


This means we will be assembling a small cadre of people to seek God’s call for Bethesda, in discernment, seeking to provide framing questions, compiling data and interpreting data, seeking broad input from Bethesda and our neighbors, being open to change and risk.


We will assess our resources and strength for the future.


We will wonder what it is that can bring us to continue ministry.


We will consider new partnerships and new ways of doing ministry.


We will be open to how the Spirit prompts us, not allowing predetermined outcomes or answers, but seeking the right path for who Bethesda is and who Bethesda will be.


We are doing this from a current position of strength, with many assets, with no debt, with a prime location in New Haven, with so many gifted leaders, and strong ministries.


But we know that we cannot continue in this way indefinitively.


We will be looking at financial resources.


We will be looking at human resources.


We will be looking at trends.


We will be seeking new ways of being the church, so that the Gospel that is our great gift can be renewed and reborn through a deliberate and structured process.


In order to be most effective, I ask your commitment to be involved in this process.


There will be no quick or easy fix.  We will not become nor are we already a perfect congregation.  We are limited, and we will include in our BIG conversation what limits we have.


The planning committee is currently being populated.  Bethesda’s council, with Miles and me are looking for a commitment of a number of months to engage the questions, gather data, seek broad engagement, assess our resources, and come up with a proposal.  We are looking for a small group of about six, who are most open to grappling with questions without presumptions, who represent the current diversity in our congregation, who will commit to prayer and consistent communication with Bethesda’s leadership and congregation, and who will be open to the Spirit in all that we do.


I will be offering this book and others as resources: Holy Conversations: Strategic Planning as a Spiritual Practice for Congregations.


Here is a sample:


One of the critical benefits of planning is that it gets people talking and thinking about their identity and purpose.  Even if little needs to change, the conversation enables people to identify and claim who they are and what they are to do as a faith community.


The power of the planning conversation is that is also offers the benefit of new perspectives.  One of the currently popular definitions of insanity is doing the same thing one has always done and expecting different results.  In a changing world, people of faith need to find new paths and practice new behaviors to make a difference.


In a presentation on discerning the path of God in our lives, psychologist and popular author M. Scott Peck suggested that one criterion for knowing that you are responding to God is sensing, even to a small extent, that what you are proposing is crazy.  Were it not crazy and unusual, Peck suggested, we would have figured out the question or challenge ourselves and we would be discerning our own logic rather than the movement of God.  It is God who breaks through with unusual and unexpected demands.  Such discernment takes time, thought, and prayer.


I am planning for three months of sabbatical in 2016, where I can also renew myself in study, reading, travel, and prayer.


I would like to emerge from that sabbatical in ministry with Bethesda where our plan moves us forward in the ways that God is directing us.


I am grateful for your questions and participation in this process.

Pastor Tim Keyl

Bethesda Special Congregational Meeting

May 31, 2015