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Outcome of Small Groups 2013

Advent-St. Nicholas Church

Summary Report of Small Group Discussions 2013

This year we again scheduled small group discussions, as we have around this time for the past two years, as a means of developing goals for the congregation.  The theme was the future of our church in light of challenging trends affecting our congregation in particular and all IELE in general. Five meetings were scheduled from May 5 to May 12, two of which were canceled because too few signed up for them. Two groups met on Sunday, May 5, one conducted in English and the other in Spanish; and one English-speaking group met on Sunday, May 12. A total of thirty members participated. Members of the other IELE congregations were invited and several signed up, but only one actually took part. The discussion considered a series of four issues (see Appendix).

Issue 1: The increasingly multicultural constituency of our congregation

While the vast majority felt that we should be firmly committed to remaining an English-speaking congregation, we also felt that we can also cultivate the multicultural character of our community without compromising our English-speaking identity.

We have to some extent already indicated our willingness to include people from a variety of backgrounds—that’s why we’re seeing more and more of them in our midst. We need to affirm this more definitely, both in the way we express our self-conception to ourselves and in the way we present ourselves to others.

On the other hand we could also do more to demonstrate our multicultural inclusivity while keeping the liturgy mostly if not entirely in English, such as: using liturgical resources from a variety of other cultures (e.g., our service based on African hymns and dance rhythms); developing a small repertoire of hymns in both English and Spanish, which could be sung bilingually; planning social events in accord with Ecuadorian customs (e.g., having guaguas and colada morada on All Saints’; having a procession with a banda del pueblo  on some festival). It was suggested that we use more youth-oriented music.

One group singled out a specific sector of the bicultural population that we could serve better, namely, persons in “mixed marriages,” i.e., Ecuadorians married to English-speakers. There was uncertainty, however, about how to reach this particular constituency. One suggestion was to offer seminars on bicultural relationships.

Issue 2: The implications of diminishing financial resources

The consensus of the two English-speaking groups was that sharing a pastor with another congregation was not a desirable means of adjusting to smaller budgets. This view was based largely on the memory of similar arrangements not working very well in the past. If we find ourselves forced to take this step, we should look for a person who is not just English-speaking but also culturally at home in an English-speaking context. The possibility of finding an English-speaking Ecuadorian was also mentioned—a bicultural pastor that we would not have to “import,” with all the financial obligations that go along with doing so.

The Spanish-speaking group rejected the premises of a diminishing English-speaking constituency and inevitably diminishing budgets. They were more open to the possibility of a shared pastor or even a single Spanish-speaking congregation with members from different cultural and language backgrounds. They felt that a church from the Lutheran (or other classical  Protestant) traditions has the potential for growth in the Ecuadorian context. Becoming more inculturated in the Ecuadorian context and adopting a more mission-oriented strategy would help us tap this potential growth.

Issue 3: The prospect of an all-IELE ministry for social action

The idea of all-IELE social ministry and a pastor responsible for it was generally affirmed. A well-developed social ministry might attract new members to all three congregations, and also become a precedent for cooperation of other sorts among the IELE congregations.  If IELE were to call a pastor for social ministry to work on behalf of all three congregations, it would be essential for that person and the other three pastors to work together as a team to coordinate the activities in this area. Several folks felt that IELE should be prepared to fund at least part of such a social ministry in the long run, after getting it started with “seed money” from outside sources.

In addition to the projects already undertaken by individual congregations additional ministries could be undertaken in three areas in which the three congregations have a demonstrated common interest: food sovereignty, human rights/sexual orientation, and jail visitation. Part of the all-IELE social ministry might also include reaching out to the already mentioned “mixed marriage” constituency.

One person strongly felt that a necessary concomitant of greater cooperation would be making it possible for persons from any of the three congregations to be president of IELE. This would entail changing the by-laws to separate the role of the president from the role of legal representative who must be Ecuadorian. This view was received sympathetically in one of the English-speaking groups but there was not time to explore it further.

Issue 4: The need to engage contemporary issues in light of our faith

In all three groups there was a general openness to the idea of our doing more to engage contemporary issues. It was suggested that such engagement include ecumenical and interfaith as well as social issues. In one group the proposed format for such engagement was a process with three steps: 1) the IELE CD would make a decision about the issues on which we could most fruitfully focus for the coming year; 2) the individual congregations discuss these issues in their own ways—for us this would include addressing them in sermons and in the Adult Forum; and 3) we then schedule some all-IELE special events in which members of all three congregations join in sharing the insights gained from the previous discussions in their own congregations.

Miscellaneous

Several ideas surfaced in the discussions that are not particularly related to any of the foregoing issues, but a perhaps worth exploring.

(1) The Board periodically (once a quarter?) scheduling participatory meetings somewhat like these small group discussions

(2) Better coordinating communication among the three IELE congregations, so that each knows what the others are doing and we all know more about matters that affect us all

(3) Periodically devoting some of our Moments for Mission presentations to aspects of “the Ecuadorian reality”

(4)  Exploring the possibility of all-IELE groups/activities for youth and women

 

Appendix: The Issues Put to the Groups

Issue 1

Over the past four to five years we have seen several definite trends with regard to the composition of our congregation.

There are fewer of the expatriate-types that used to make up the vast majority of our members. This is because fewer foreigners are being sent to Ecuador by governments, businesses, NGOs, and missionary groups. Of those that still come, fewer are church-goers. Of the few that are church-goers, fewer still are from the “mainline” denominations from which our membership has traditionally come.

On the other hand, more English-speaking Ecuadorians are attending and joining our congregation. In addition there are more people from other countries, such as Nigeria and Indonesia. Despite the decreasing number of expatriate members, our average attendance has slightly increased because of more people from other constituencies.

Question: Does this trend signal a need for us to be more intentional in acknowledging the multi-cultural nature of our congregation? (For example, one measure that came up in last year’s discussions was to provide copies of sermons to aid the listening of people whose first language is other than English.) Does the increasing number of Ecuadorians signal a need for us to be at least somewhat bilingual in our worship and other activities? (For example, we are holding these discussions in both English and Spanish.) To what extent can we move in these directions without losing our identity as an English-speaking congregation?

Issue 2

Over the past few years we have seen several definite trends with regard to finances, both within our own congregation and in IELE as a whole.

Despite the increased attendance our congregation has fewer financial resources. We have struggled with deficit budgets, and have managed to approach a balanced budget this year because we have increased giving somewhat while also gradually reducing the total amount of the budget. Thus for the foreseeable future we can aspire to have a balanced but smaller budget.

The experience of the German congregation is similar, and in addition they are anticipating less of the financial support from abroad on which they have traditionally depended. The will have a smaller budget too.

The Spanish congregation has gradually increased its financial base and is the only congregation that can realistically anticipate a growing budget—but this would be gradual and in the long run.

Largely because of the legal requirement to register all of IELE’s part-time staff in social security, our personnel expenses are increasing—significantly this year and more gradually in the years to come.

Question:  Can we cope with diminished finances and increasing personnel expenses by greater cooperation among the congregations, particularly with regard to the main expense which is the pastor’s salary? The German and Spanish congregations are considering the possibility of sharing a pastor in the future. Can we see ourselves doing the same with one or both of the other congregations?

Issue 3

In the near future there will be significant changes in the leadership of IELE congregations.

The English and Spanish congregations will soon have new pastors.

In community work related to her teaching at FLACSO Monica Maher, a candidate for ordination in the United Church of Christ, discovered opportunities for the church to form constructive relationships with various marginalized constituencies, particularly women’s and GLBT groups. This led to a proposal for IELE to call her as an associate pastor for social ministries. Her denomination has approved the idea of her being ordained for this work, and we are now in the process of formulating a job description and seeing if we can raise the necessary funds. If this dream comes to pass IELE congregations will need to collaborate as never before in the area of social ministries.

Question:  What form will this collaboration take? Can we envision the pastors, together with the new associate pastor for social ministries, working together as a pastoral team, rather than as independent leaders of each congregation? Can we envision social ministry projects carried out by groups composed of members of all three congregations?

Issue 4

In the Conjunto Directivo the representatives of the three IELE congregations frequently complain that they are so preoccupied with administrative matters that they have little time to reflect on the implications of our faith for the issues confronting the world today.

In ASN’s small group discussions two years ago, participants similarly felt the need for us to wrestle with the issues posed for the church by contemporary changes, with respect to beliefs as well as policies. It was proposed that we form a group to lead us in such reflection. This was the only mission goal coming out of those discussions that we were unfortunately unable to realize.

The Latin American Council of Churches (Spanish acronym CLAI), to which we belong, sees one of its roles as helping member churches to frame contemporary issues so that they can be fruitfully discussed in light of the Christian faith. CLAI provides materials on such controversial issues as sexuality and reproductive rights, not with the aim of taking a particular position, but in order to guide churches in their own reflection.

In our Adult Forum we have had rich discussions on the implications of our faith for the ecological crisis.

Question:Would we be enriched by finding ways to have discussions of Christian faith in relation to contemporary issues, not in order to enforce conformity of views but in order to give greater substance to our beliefs and help us to act more responsibly? If so, what form might such discussions take?