Portions of my annual report:
Earlier this year, many of us read Dwight Zscheile’s The Agile Church, in which he argued that in order to thrive, in order to do the work of mission we are called by God to do in the world, we need to take bigger risks, be willing to experiment, and yes, fail, and listen carefully to our own stories as well as the stories of our neighbors as we seek to find ways of connecting with them, and helping our selves and our neighbors, connect with God.
That work has borne fruit in a number of ways: in a Welcoming Committee led by Rob Lemanske that has brought new energy and new ideas on how to connect better with newcomers and visitors. The Development Fund Trust is distributing almost $15000 to fund initiatives to build relationships within our congregation, with our neighbors, and with Diocesan ministry partners in the Diocese of Haiti.
This week, the Creating More Just Community task force gathered for a retreat to reflect on the work it has done since its inception in 2014 and to begin planning for its next steps. Their most recent effort, organizing a series of conversations based on a civil discourse curriculum published by the Episcopal Church, drew more than 20 people, including a number of attendees from the broader community, over the last four weeks. It has also hosted a number of community events, including a governors’ candidate forum focused on criminal justice reform, early in 2018.
As the group reflected on its work over the past years, the urgency of the tasks that lie ahead, and imagined what it might do in the future, it highlighted several areas that will receive special attention. First, building on the civil discourse conversations, members hope to share their experience with other congregations, both locally and statewide. Second, we will encourage discussions about racial healing across the congregation, beginning appropriately on the weekend of MLK Day. We also hope to engage more deeply in ministry with our neighbors at the Dane County Jail, both through our connections with Madison Jail Ministry, and with new opportunities that are emerging from conversations with other downtown churches. Finally, we want to continue to develop our efforts to engage elected officials and policy makers with issues of importance to people of faith. To that end, we hope to organize and host a forum for mayor candidates on issues of importance to us: homelessness, racial and economic inequality, relations between police and members of the community.
All of these are exciting developments and all are evidence of our response to God’s call to us. We should be proud of the work we have done and are doing, and grateful for those among us who are taking leadership in all of these areas.
There are significant challenges in our future. As most of you know, the proposal for a new State Historical Museum on the corner of N. Carroll and State St. has been made public and the State Historical Society is actively fundraising for that project under the bipartisan leadership of former Governors Tommy Thompson and Jim Doyle. Hovde Properties, who along with Fred Mohs own much of this block except for Grace Church are proposing redevelopment that would include all of the block except for Grace and the adjacent Hovde Building. We have been in conversations with them since 2014 about our participation in that project and the effects that redevelopment might have on us. We have also spoken with real estate consultants, architects, and developers about the value of our property and what possibilities there are for development of the West Wing. All of these discussions are ongoing and have made little progress since our last public gatherings in June and September.
At the same time, we have been speaking with community leaders, politicians and city and county staff about the future of the Men’s Drop-In Shelter that has been located at Grace since 1984. We are committed to the important role the shelter plays in our community and to the fact that addressing homelessness is at the heart of who we are as a congregation. Still, the possibility that our efforts, combined with a community-wide engagement of the public and private sector might lead to a new shelter in a new location, designed for its purpose and adequate to the scope of the needs in our community, is a dream worth pursuing. Those conversations are bearing fruit and we will share all developments with the congregation as they occur and involve all of you in the process as we move forward.
These are complex, challenging issues that are accompanied by strong feelings and opinions and elicit powerful emotions. Still, we should not fear having these conversations or ignore the possibility that change might be coming to this block of W. Wash. and N. Carroll. I would hope that our engagement in these conversations would be governed by two important and inter-related questions: 1) How can we be the best stewards of the property and location that past generations have bestowed, preserved, and enhanced? 2) What is God calling us to be and to do as the People of God in this very location where we have gathered for more than 160 years? We may not make the right decisions, but if we ask these questions honestly and answer them to the best of our ability and with the best resources and wisdom we can muster, we will be faithful both to those who have come before us, and to those who might come after us, as well as to the God who has called us together and placed us here.