Rekindling the fire: A plan for fostering relationships

By Mary Jean Traeger

Over the past few years, people in the Springfield area have been introduced to the Faith Coalition for the Common Good, a faith-based, community-organizing group that includes churches as well as labor unions and other groups with shared values.  Faith Coalition has become known for its advocacy for justice for people who often do not have a voice in society.

In the past year, Faith Coalition, while continuing its efforts in the broader community, has also initiated a process to enliven its own members, especially its churches. The program is “Fire of Faith: Rekindling Our Congregations.” All places of worship – churches, synagogues, mosques, temples – have as their primary purpose to draw people into a deep relationship with the Holy One. The centerpiece of the Fire of Faith campaign is the belief that each congregation, grounded in its own faith tradition, can grow in faith together when people who worship together regularly come to know one another, sharing their joys and struggles, supporting one another in faith. In other words, our relationship with God – by whatever name we use – can be strengthened by our relationships with other members of our congregation.

To that end, the National Gamaliel Foundation has developed a process that begins with training leaders and members of congregations to conduct one-on-one “sacred conversations” with each other.  The goals of these conversations are straightforward:  to build relationships among members; to hear dreams and concerns members have about their church;  to learn about talents and giftedness members bring to the church; to foster deeper participation in the life of the church, including outreach beyond themselves.

The process is ongoing as those who were first interviewed are then trained to conduct their own sacred conversations with the hope of reaching as many members as possible. Church leaders and Rekindling Our Congregations Coordinating Teams collate information gleaned from these conversations, along with data from a brief written survey of all members, to analyze the effectiveness of current ministries and to plan for the church’s future.  Information is shared with the whole congregation so that all may have ownership of the results and work together for the good of the whole body.

It is hoped that the sacred conversations will become a regular part of church life, a way to welcome new members, deepen relationships with those already in the church, reach out to those who have drifted away from the church and stay in touch with those whose age and health may eventually prevent their church attendance.

Three Springfield congregations are currently participating in this year-long process: Calvary Baptist Church, St. Katharine Drexel Catholic Parish and Union Baptist Church.  Other members of Faith Coalition for the Common Good are encouraged to consider future participation.  Though the process is specifically designed for churches, it can easily be adapted to any organization that believes in the value of fostering relationships as core to the organization’s life.

Sr. Mary Jean Traeger is the pastoral facilitator of St. Katharine Drexel Parish and the vice president of Faith Coalition for the Common Good.  For more information about the Fire of Faith: Rekindling Our Congregations process, contact Faith Coalition for the Common Good at 544-2297; www.faithcoalition-il.org.

This story originally appeared in the Springfield, IL State Journal-Register on July 20, 2013 and is available here: http://www.sj-r.com/opinions/x1806126645/Rekindling-the-fire-A-plan-for-fostering-relationships?zc_p=1