As you know, we have begun an in-depth study/discussion of Mark’s story of Jesus. Starting with this blog, I will post a short reflection drawn from Mark’s text that will seek to connect to our own lives (echoing the comment made a couple generations ago by Karl Barth, to read the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other).
Mark refers to his message as “Good News” or “Gospel” (evangelion). In so doing he began a new genre of literature, but he borrowed the concept from the political world of his day. This word was a technical term for news of a victory, usually and paradigmatically, a military victory.
In the Roman empire it was associated with political news and propaganda, for example, used to announce the birthdays of emperors. Mark’s Good News is a narrative sermon (not simply a collection of historical facts and summaries), and the question it gives the reader is not only what we should know, but how we should live. The language (like much of theology) is not only informative, but also formative, and therefore performative. And this inform—form—perform —inform… relational dynamic is ongoing, a virtuous circle meant to fuel the disciple’s life.
When Jesus calls his first disciples, he does not go to the usual suspects: teachers and religious leaders, or wealthy and powerful men. He does not go to the center of cultural, political, and religious power (Judea, Jerusalem, the Temple precincts). Rather, he goes to the margins, the periphery, the “Appalachia” of his time and place, to Galilee, and there enlists four fishermen (Mark 1.16-20). Something the reader cannot help but notice is how abruptly Simon, Andrew, James, and John, drop their nets and follow him. He calls them to follow with the rationale that Jesus will make them “fishers of men” (people). And they leave their businesses and families “immediately” (a word Mark uses 41 times in his Gospel). You can see the father of James and John—Zebedee—slack-jawed and holding the net, staring at his sons as they walk off with this stranger.
Read in the ordinary way, this passage just seems like a clumsy effort to be succinct, and an example of the no frills and fast-paced way Mark presents his story. But perhaps we can see the abruptness of the calling of these first four disciples as a kind of paradigm. After all, we too are called, but are not ready for all that awaits us. How could we be? It does not matter if we grew up in the church, went to Sunday School, got baptized, and spent plenty of time in prayer, worship, and Bible study. When we receive Jesus’ call, we are far from entirely aware of what it means and where it will take us. Like the fishermen, none of us are the “right” kind of people. Jesus’ call is always urgent, and an uncompromising call to break with “business as usual”—the social order and conventions that God broke into history to overturn. Jesus was God’s answer to Isaiah’s yearning and plea to God: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” (Isa. 64.1). The Reign of God (“kingdom of God”) inaugurated in Jesus is an abrupt calling in, and upon, our lives too. In his The Cost of Discipleship (p. 61), Dietrich Bonhoeffer notes that the calling of these four men demonstrates Jesus’ authority as transcending conventions and calculations about being “worthy.” He also points out that this story is a reminder that faith (trust) does not precede obedience to Jesus so much as obedience precedes faith. For these fishermen and for us, the question is, Will you follow? It is on the following journey that our faith and trust develop.
In a world with violence and injustice swirling around us at every turn, with claimants to authority beckoning us from every angle, with false and empty enticements of “good news” that abound, it is truly good news that we can grow into a life of trust, grace, love, and power as we journey with the One who calls us each step of the way. Step by step. The song Tú Has Venido a la Orilla (Ceasár Gabaráin, 1979) places us at the Sea of Galilee,
You have come to the lakeshore,
looking neither for wise nor for wealthy,
You only wanted that I should follow.
You know that I own so little,
In my boat there’s no money or weapons,
You’ll only find there my nets and labor.
O Lord, with your eyes you have searched me,
and while smiling, have called out my name.
Now my boat’s left on the shoreline behind me.
Now with you I will seek other shores.
Do you hear your name?
Thanks for reading,
As we enter into a fresh Fall season of ministry, we are looking for some key people to step into leadership roles and for everyone who calls Riverfront home to "improve their serve" and volunteer somewhere significant.
In terms of leadership roles, we are beginning to structure our church around six Action Teams: Worship, Family/Fellowship, Spiritual Growth, Community Engagement, Justice, and Children/Youth.
This structure emerged out of the important vision/mission work we did this past Spring. Each of the teams will "steward" that area of ministry -- developing a vision, ideas, plans, and programs. We hope that every member and regular attender at RFC will serve on at lest one Action Team in some role.
Additionally, we are looking for leaders (or co-leaders) for each of these teams. These leaders will help coordinate the individual teams as well as meet monthly with the pastoral staff as an Action Coordination Team (ACTs) to make sure we are coordinating our efforts, stewarding resources well, and thinking about our vision/mission from a 30,000 foot level.
The Board will focus on areas of spiritual leadership, stewardship, policy, and accountability. Each Action Team will have a Board liaison serving on the team (but not necessarily leading the team. One of the pastors will also be a part of each of the teams.
So far, we have leaders in place for two of the teams:
JUSTICE ACTION TEAM - Miela Gruber & Chris Graesser
WORSHIP ACTION TEAM - Michael Minch & Diana Scott
We are still looking for people to take on leadership roles for the following Action Teams:
Family/Fellowship Action Team
Spiritual Growth Action Team
Children & Youth Action Team
Community Engagement Action Team
If you are interested in serving in one of these roles, or have any questions about them or want to discuss more, please email Pastor Ben and Pastor Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are interested in volunteering and serving in a particular role, you can also check out our VOLUNTEER INFO PAGE.
The process of conversation and discernment we have used this summer to take an inventory of where we are as a church, and where we want to go, who we are, and who we want to be—is not over!
We have been in a time of reflection and anticipation, waiting for Pastor Michael to join us. Now that he is one of our pastors and settling in, it is time to revisit the journey we’ve been on, as we have revisited our identity, purpose, mission, and vision.
Here, we restate the summary of our conversations, but we will also add some ideas about mission and leadership generated by our pastors and the board.
As a community, Riverfront Family Church
Values diversity and inclusivity of many kinds, from the differences of racial identity to theological and spiritual to neurodiversity.
Welcomes and embraces children and youth.
Commits to healing, wellbeing, and social justice.
Intends to be a safe haven for the LGBTQ+ community.
Encourages engagement in deconstruction, seeking, and belief in whatever swirling and fluid combination they are at, at any given time.
Aspires to be a powerful force of ministry in the Hartford area.
Commits to anti-racism and building peace and reconciliation.
Engages the problematic [sic recommend change to ‘challenges”] of climate change.
Commits to helping others encounter Jesus and become more like him, that spiritual
growth and discipleship is integral to our purpose and Mission.
We are an “experiment” of sorts, and “quirky”! We affirm that we want to be available to one another, building up our church “bearing one another’s burdens” and caring for one another with love.
For the past several weeks, the board and our pastors have discussed a new model of leadership and ministry that we believe fits well with the vision summarized above. We did not “roll out” this model and language because we waited for Pastor Michael to join us and give his input.
The idea is that there will be six “Action Teams” (in our now tentative language) in the church, each with leadership from someone not on the board, and each with a board member who is a liaison to that Action Team. They are the:
Worship Action Team
Fellowship (about ministry to and with members of RFC) Action Team
Community Engagement (about ministry beyond RFC) Action Team
Spiritual Growth Action Team
Justice Action Team
Children and Youth Action Team
Realising that stewardship is critically important to all that we do, we have discussed the merits of a Stewardship Action Team or rather, making sure we keep focused on stewardship in all the Action Teams.
You will recall that early this summer you received a message about the possible adoption of a Purpose Statement or Mission Statement (noting that our church simply does not have one). This idea is still alive. We (your pastors and board) will suggest a Statement in the weeks ahead.
We will present a campaign and process of transition from these ideas and commitments to the embodiment of them. That is, as a church, we believe we are now ready to move from conversation and discernment about our identity, purpose, and mission, toward the structures that will incarnate our vision, fellowship, and ministry. All church members will have the explicit opportunity to volunteer for ministry in a number of different ways.
Please look for, and pray for, the beginning of this transition on Sunday, September 18. Please join us in a season of anticipation.