By now the word is out that the Reverend Marie Onwubuariri will become the Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin this summer. Wisconsin’s gain is our loss in that we had hoped that God would lead Marie to come work with us as a key element of our Renewal Proposal.
In fact, the Proposal that the Task Team and Council brought to the congregation was built around Marie’s unique gifts and skills. Though her decision to follow a different career path is a setback in our progress toward renewal, it is not the end of the road.
On Sunday, March 23, we had a very useful conversation as a congregation about the renewal process to date and how we might move forward. Some honest thoughts and feelings were shared as well as some good ideas about how we might adjust the Proposal and move forward with renewal. At that meeting, the Council was seeking guidance as to whether or not we should continue working on the principles of the Proposal, even though our first candidate is no longer available. Two‐thirds of those present and voting favored continuing to work on the Proposal that was presented in March.
At this point, I cannot say what a revised Proposal would look like but it is clear from the conversations that we have had and the lack of a specific candidate that some adjustments must be made to the Proposal itself and in our process for considering it. Here some thoughts I have about moving forward:
I continue to believe that work of the Task Team and the Council in bringing this Proposal is good work. The time and energy invested in it by all involved was invaluable and was given in love and concern for our congregation and its future.
I also believe that principles of the Proposal are still sound and represent a bold and creative possibility for sustaining and enhancing the life of this congregation as we continue to journey through unfamiliar waters toward a future that is ultimately in God’s hands. That is, no one knows what the church will look like, even in the near future. We know many familiar ways of being church are changing rapidly. If we want to continue to witness to the Gospel and to serve those in need, we need to take some risk with new and creative methods. Investing in the skill and passion of a creative specialist in the area of outreach to the community seems to me like good stewardship. As Al Williams instructed the congregation during your long period of discernment, if you want to focus on growth you will need to hire someone specifically to lead that effort.
Any effort toward outreach and growth must take into consideration the changing demographics of Palo Alto. The undeniable truth is that we are becoming an ever more multicultural community. This is a good thing. It affords us the opportunity to learn to live together in the richness of our diversity. If we are to minister in this multi‐cultural environment, we need to be intentional about addressing those concerns, including the make‐up of our staff.
The Proposal takes very seriously the life and needs of the existing congregation. One of the chief reasons we are proposing two pastors is that there is still a full time job and another half‐time one in ministering with the current congregation. We may be slipping through attrition but our current pastoral staff configuration still allows for and uses a full time Pastor and half time Minister of Faith Formation and Family Life. Even with 20 hours a week, it has been a challenge for Pastor Tripp to meet all our needs for education and family life. (As we know, school and the commute play a role in this.) In reality, the Proposal only adds a half time position to our existing pastoral staff. We need that if we are to have any chance of reaching out to those in our community we don’t currently reach.
The reality is that we are in a window of opportunity right now. We have the financial resources to move forward with this Proposal. What we do not have is enough people power to maintain the church’s infrastructure and realize all the great ideas for outreach and community life that were shared on March 23. I agree with those who say we can’t go on hiring staff to keep the congregation alive. We are at a crossroads. We have a wonderful congregation of committed people but for reasons of age and the exigencies of life, we do not currently have the critical mass of volunteers necessary to sustain us very far into the future. More than anything, the Proposal promises to put focused effort into building up the base of those who will be able to carry the congregation forward into God’s future.
We may not end up looking anything like we look now. We may have to give a little to get a little – or even a lot. For myself, I remain committed to serving the wonderful people who make up the congregation of FBCPA today. This is not an either/or proposition. I believe we have, right now, the resources to sustain and enhance who we are AND explore the future that God has planned. I look forward to continuing this journey with you. As always in the best Baptist tradition, your input and participation in this process is vital. I welcome your thoughts, feelings, ideas and prayers.