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we’ve done and what’s been done to us is essential for us to be the church. There’s no magic formula or tidy list for becoming a vulnerable, authentic community. Ambience is too deep and fluid for that. Yet we can all do some practical things to move us forward toward greater authenticity and vulnerability.

We can be honest

As ordained and lay leaders, we can speak openly of the church as a community of struggle. We can be honest about our own lives and emotions. We can tell the truth about our struggles with the biblical texts we read each week. Preaching becomes not a flat passing-on of truth con- tained in the Bible but an honest confrontation with a living word that can be a challenge to understand and trust. We can each take seriously the humanity of the Bible and make it clear that the center of our life together is a real God in relationship with real people.

We can pay attention

Leaders who desire to create communities of authenticity and vulnerability will also pay attention to how the public gathering of God’s people can be an opportunity for deal- ing with the real concerns of real people. Too often in the church we avoid public processing of events that have shaken the community or nation. The feelings that accom- pany the reaction to the events should be included in our worship gatherings.

When five members of one family from our city were murdered by a relative, it could not be church as usual. Our worship gathering needed to include an honest confronta- tion with our anger and deep grief. Prayer that weekend needed to be more pointed and honest. The music needed to allow our hearts to feel deeply. The proclaimed word needed to embrace tough questions, not easy answers.

We can use testimony Testimonies—faith stories shared with the entire commu- nity—are a great way to help foster a sense of authenticity and vulnerability.

During our congregation’s evening Lenten services, we ask people to share their testimonies. The journey with Jesus to the cross and the experience of evening darkness make the stories of the faithful even more poignant and powerful. We’ve asked for and received testimonies from people whose lives have been phenomenally difficult, reflecting intense brokenness, and from those whose lives have been quite orderly, reflecting faithful home environments and wise personal choices. Surrounding all of these stories is

the story of God’s graciousness as experienced in a com- munity of faith.

We can give our time

Giving the gift of time to our community’s business in wor- ship has helped us. In many congregations, announcements can feel like an intrusion into the flow of the liturgy. To avoid this, we share our news and information just before the prayers of the people. This suggests that our announce- ments are integral to our worship gathering and very much related to how we present ourselves before God. What we pray about is, in many ways, what we have just announced. It is an ideal time to allow people to articu- late their concerns, hurts and joys. It’s also a time when the community’s playfulness surfaces, as laity and clergy are free to have fun sharing information about upcoming programs and events. Lightheartedness can also be nurtur- ing, as people who laugh together are also people who cry together. Then, as the laughers and the criers, we lay down our lives before God in prayer.

Consequences will arise when you begin to nurture your congregation toward greater vulnerability and authentic- ity. People will be drawn to your community. And you, the faithful, must realize and accept that those you reach will bring their stories, their brokenness and their own ways of doing things. Life in your community of faith will get a little messier. But this reality will be a source of joy for you who follow the crucified one. 

This Lent, try:

• Having two or three very different people offer testi- mony in worship. • Placing the announcements (including time for peo- ple to share concerns) before the prayers. • Finding ways for the public expression of grief dur- ing worship or another gathering. For example, lead- ers can give people time to say goodbyes to leaders, interns and congregational members. When a vision- impaired member of our community shared during worship that he would no longer be driving, a reality that impacts his future work and saddens him, we made sure not to rush that. The congregation shared his pain and responded to him.

Bill Uetricht

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March 2011 19

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