Saint Patrick’s Parish over the past 19 months has gone through the invitation process to becoming fully active within the Living Local: Joining God process in the Diocese of Maine. Living Local: Joining God was presented to the 13 participating parishes as a process with several interlocking phases: Dwelling in the Word, Listening to Our Congregation, Observing in Our Neighborhoods, and Listening to Our Neighbors.
The St. Pat’s Guiding Team began the process with Dwelling with the Word using various translations of Luke 10: 1-12 to ground ourselves and the parish in the scriptural basis for Living Local: Joining God. We asked various groups within the parish to join us in this activity. Through Dwelling in the Word, we, as Guiding Team and St. Patrick’s parish, began the work of learning to listen to each other to find God as we get to know each other better.
The next phase was Listening to Our Congregation. Continuing our work of learning to listen to each other, we conducted interviews of several parishioners who had not shared their stories in prior parish interviews. The consistent themes of these conversations were: hospitality, inclusiveness, feelings of being a family, the parish’s focus on the communities around us and serving outside and in the parish (out-reach and in-reach), love of the music and varying types of prayer being done (Taizé, use of the New Zealand Prayer Book, etc.), and statements about the consistency of having one priest to help us on our journeys. We also created Concept Maps of the whole parish’s understanding of the terms “Neighborhood”, “Community”, and “Living Local”. The Guiding Team found the parish understands “Neighborhood” as global connection, physical nearness, groups of caring people with a spiritual connection, “Community” as parts of the body (mind, body, spirit), and “Living Local” as spiritual and prayerful, hands-on, and mindful living. Also, the parish consists of three groups of people who are needed to accomplish our work: Thinkers (head or idea people), Actors (body or doers), and Supporters (spirit or praying people).
Phase 3 was Observing in Our Neighborhoods. We observed within our neighborhoods (Pickering Square, Brewer Ecumenical Food Cupboard, Brewer Playground, Holyoke Street neighborhood, and more) looking for places and ways where God is found and working. We saw people living and working in our neighborhoods as well as many problems with access to transportation, jobs, food, and safe, adequate shelter.
Phase 4 was Listening to Our Neighbors. We interviewed our neighbors in variety of settings (Homeless Shelter, Holyoke Street, Brewer businesses, Worship on the Waterfront, Columbia Street lunch, and more) listening to learn about them and some areas where the Church is or could be more active helping them and working with them to better their lives. We heard from people who truly care about their neighborhoods and were not bashful about pointing out those issues foremost in their minds. We found there are many problems in our neighborhoods but also many agencies or groups actively working on most of these problems.
We had a Harvest Gathering during at which we reviewed all of these activities and asked the parish to help us discern where God is leading us to do His/Her work in our neighborhoods using puzzle pieces. We found the parish is beginning to learn 1) we cannot be social work agencies but can assist the agencies and groups (Food AND Medicine, Faith Linking In Action, Partners for Peace, Shaw House, and others) in their work in our neighborhoods; 2) when we have casual conversations we are able to make connections with others and may be surprised to realize how much we have in common (people are hungry to have their stories heard); and 3) when you touch one person’s life it may have a ripple effect in the lives of others.
We presented and discussed the YouTube video “Life On Purpose” in relation to Living Local: Joining God. The discussion helped us to connect with our puzzle pieces to discern the mission of our parish in our neighborhood. We will focus on honing our listening skills and making more connections with our neighbors. Our work is not complete and the process is a cycle or spiral in which we revisit each phase repeatedly as we discover more about where and how God is already working and is leading us to serve WITH our neighbors. We need to do more listening to each other and our neighbors to keep this process going. We all need to practice active listening whenever we are in conversation with each other!!
An Advent Reflection time was provided. We took time to reflect on our current relationship with God, then thought about our spiritual growth practices, it’s impact on our lives, and exploration of other spiritual practices.
The next phase, Ways of Being WITH Our Neighbors, builds on our work of discernment by designing some specific activities. These activities are not intended to be work projects but, instead, learning opportunities through which our own understanding of what it means to be God’s people may be shaped and strengthened. In the coming months we will be bringing in people from our communities to talk about their work in our neighborhoods and how we can help them as they work with our neighbors! We also will be exploring other ideas you have shared where the whole parish can Live Locally and Join God.
Remember it is God who transforms our lives.
Living Local: Joining God Guiding Team
Pat Blethen, Jane Harburger, Mary Ann Perry, Peg Olson, and Tom White-Hassler (Coach)