Intertwined: Our mission together

Intertwined: Our mission together

While attending the Art of Transitional Ministry last week, I had an opportunity to talk to Joel, a Presbyterian pastor from Colorado, who has a passion like mine: new and emerging faith communities and evangelism in our times. He has been forming a house church for six years. We shared about the challenges and struggles of this ministry – reaching out to those who have left a faith community or those who have no faith background is hard. But his voice changed and his face lit up whenever he talked about the stories of faith of some of the people he has met and built relationships with, through breaking of bread together in a simple meal. On the other hand, he shared that starting a new faith community is a lonely endeavor. He shared that it was hard to talk about his ministry with other pastor colleagues, as some do not understand this kind of mission work while they serve in a congregational setting. For him, it seems like sometimes they speak in different languages. I know this path very well. Several years ago, for support and understanding I gathered a few mission developers (or church planters) in the Bay Area from the mainline denominations and I heard the same challenges. And beyond those seeking to plant new communities, I know that existing congregations and their leaders also can struggle to reach out and grow.

Joel and I felt that we found kindred spirits in each other and we imagined how this relationship could grow in our own denominations and communities. We both laughed after we expressed what we had in our minds  – we both thought of a metaphor of a tree. For him, the relationship we need as a church engaged in church planting or mission development should be like the Colorado Aspen Tree, while I said that it is like the Californian Redwoods. Both trees are indeed impressive living organisms, deeply connected to one another through their roots. The redwoods, I learned, have shallow roots but could spread up to 100 feet from the trunk and get fused or intertwined with other roots of other redwood trees.  Joel shared about how Aspen trees through its roots “gives life” to another tree and that they “give life” to each other. I researched a little about it and became fascinated with the Aspen tree. Even though they produce seeds, there is a process that is called “cloning” where the roots sprout new trees with the same genetic make up. This cloning process is very impressive: there is an aspen clone in Utah that covers 100,000 acres and has an estimated weight 40 times that of a blue whale, it is the largest living organism on earth and possibly the oldest – estimated at 80,000 years. Of course, “cloning” isn’t a good term for mission and evangelism, especially as we intentionally lift up the gift of diversity in our communities. And yet, our identity as Christians is the “gene” we share – a gift to us in Christ.

In our changing times, we need new metaphors. These tree metaphors give me a new way of seeing what God is calling us to be and do as we are sent into the world. How would you imagine the church as a living organism like the Aspen trees, spreading and connecting throughout your neighborhood and to the world? What would a congregation look like as part of this greater organism? If you drew a picture of your community as a tree, with its roots extending to those relationships you shared with others, be it in your social ministry, advocacy, or even those businesses or organizations where your members relate, what would it look like? As I imagine, I see strength, reciprocity in giving life, resilience, care and support, and a desire to continue to sprout beyond what our eyes can see, for our roots are intertwined together in Christ. Just imagine…

Pr Tita Valeriano
Director for Evangelical Mission and Assistant to the Bishop

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