Wellesley Village Church was founded in 1798 in Wellesley, MA, about 15 miles west of Boston. The United Church of Christ congregation was a member of the Exploring Vocation in Community program in 2011-2012.
Christina Braudaway-Bauman, Pastor at Large at Village Church, reflects on the congregation’s evolving journey through an ongoing exploration of vocation.
Growing in Faith Together
We trace our journey as a congregation regarding vocational exploration to the beginning of our GIFT program. GIFT, Growing in Faith Together, began in October 2010 as a 22-week adult education small group program. It started with sessions on faith practices, then Christian beliefs, and concluded with sessions on vocation and call.
Originally, we imagined that once the series was completed, we would simply repeat it with a new group of folks. When we got to the sessions on vocation, we realized that there was much more to explore. The conversations were so rich, we realized we needed to continue.
Gifts and Calling
The next year, from fall 2011 to spring 2012, GIFT continued with a 21-week small group program that we entitled GIFTs and cALL. It focused on exploring the common calling we share as Christians and each of our particular gifts and calling for ministry.
As part of this series and the initial GIFT series, we included a session on the Quaker practice of clearness committees. As we became more familiar with this practice, we also experienced more of its power. At the conclusion of GIFTs and cALL, a few participants gathered to explore what it might look like to offer clearness committees as an ongoing open-ended invitation to members of the church. Our Discernment Circles Ministry was born.
Since we began this ministry, eleven members of our congregation have been engaged as a “focus person” in a discernment circle as they faced a significant question or decision in their lives. In addition to the eight adult members of this ministry, six youth members have joined the leadership team, making this ministry a truly and remarkably intergenerational endeavor of our congregation.
Prayer and Discernment
By the end of GIFTs and cALL, we realized that we wanted to focus more on prayer, how prayer practices relate to living out our calling as Christians. The next 15-week series, GIFT and Prayer (fall 2012 to early spring 2013), was born.
A 15-week GIFT series on Discernment (January to April 2014) came after the series on prayer. We have just completed gathering feedback on this year’s series, and we have decided that next year’s series will focus on the practice of testimony. We want to learn how to talk more confidently and courageously about our faith in our daily lives and to share it with others in our families, neighborhoods, and workplaces.
Among the things that have become clear to us in the years of our GIFT series are the richness and multi-faceted nature of exploring vocation and calling, and the power of intentional small group learning and conversation in enabling people to grow in faith.
Below, two members of the Discernment Circles Ministry share their reflections on the experience:
A Journey led by God’s Spirit
From the first time we gathered to develop a discernment process for individuals in the Village Church community, there was excitement, enthusiasm and a sense of wonderment where this process would lead us. Looking back on this time, we knew in our hearts that we were responding to God’s call even though none of us named the experience in those words.
We agreed that we would utilize the Quaker’s Clearness Committees model as our starting point to develop a process for individual discernment. Yet, we recognized that only one of us had ever participated in a true Clearness Committee meeting. We recognized that we were on a journey in which we would be led by God’s Spirit. We acknowledged the central place of prayer in the on-going life of our church and in past congregational meetings when discerning a path though a challenge that we faced. We affirmed that we would be inviting the Holy Spirit into our midst to be our Partner as we took one step at a time to envision what this ministry would look like. We utilized Holy Listening exercises to hone our listening skills. We practiced forming open-ended questions again and again to reduce our natural tendencies to ask questions from curiosity and/or fix the person. We learned to hold the focus person (the individual seeking discernment) carefully in our attention as through we were holding a small, delicate bird in our hands. We affirmed the deep value of silence and creating the space to allow the shy soul of the focus person to come forward.
We are humbled by having been given the call by God to offer the gift of discernment to those who seek it or are led to it. We acknowledge that this process of discernment to which we have been led is truly in partnership with God’s Spirit.
The discernment process is like a prism, with each participant’s inner light touching, melding, refracting the light of others. It is God’s grace activated. In discernment ministry, God brings us together in community to a shared calling and responsibility to listen with open and respectful hearts to the tender concerns of another. It is “soul work,” calling forth from “the middle of me to the middle of you.” (Brother Blue, master storyteller)
What on the outside looks like a group of people coming together in a comfortable room with paper and pen to listen to a concern and ask open-ended questions, goes far deeper and endures much longer than the immediate time together. Confidentiality, complete acceptance and avoidance of problem solving/advice giving are key to establishing the comfort and trust of the focus person.
Prayer, silence, open-ended questions, and the freedom to answer aloud—or not—are all essential elements of this process.
Because discernment ministry is rightfully oriented around the person with a challenge or decision, a vital group consideration might be missed. As each person listens, every question resonates in each member of that community—that is where the Holy Spirit is stirring the eternal pot.
I have sung and prayed that my eyes be open to see “visions of truth thou hast for me,” and the discernment process, I feel, is an answer to my prayers.
Click here for more about the Called to Life program that has contributed to the work of Village Church on vocation.