“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus….” Philippians 2:5
The idea of a “mindful church” comes from my doctoral thesis at the School of Theology at the University of the South, Sewanee. The original “idea” for this focus came from conversations with the Rev. Dr. Tilden Edwards, the founder of the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, during one of the week-long intensive retreats in Shalem’s Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership sessions. A deep bow to Tilden…
My work for the Doctor of Ministry program is titled “The Practice of Christian Mindfulness as an Imaginative Challenge in Parish Ministry.” Working under the guidance of the Rev. Dr. Julia Gatta and the Rev. Martin Smith, I explored how a 1,000 member parish community could reorient its life along the lines of discernment and what the patristics called “watchfulness” rather than the all-too-typical program-maintenance model. This work has fostered a depth and intentionality that, I hope, will help nurture deep roots in prayer and compassion for the future. It must be said that the image of “mindfulness” does not point to one’s cognitive or rational mind, but more to–as Tilden and The Philokalia describe–the mind-in-spiritual-heart. Indeed, all contemplative practitioners agree that the image of “mind” never dwells solely on one’s rational capability; rather, it is the integrated, holistic posture that grounds one in a deeper awareness.
Some of the thoughts we have shared as a community are as follows:
- What if a community of people, a gathering of seekers and learners–of Christian disciples–sought to cultivate a practice of such mindfulness or watchfulness within their experiences of spiritual formation and compassion?
- What if we sought to step away from a ‘program-maintenance model’ of ministry–one that focuses on ‘coming up with ideas for programs and opportunities and ways for people to just ‘get involved’–in order to create a discernment-grounded community that listens to the Spirit’s promptings, our deepest yearnings, and our neighbor’s longings?
- What if we embodied contemplative practices within all aspects of the community’s life–recognizing that ‘contemplation’ means that practice of intentionally seeking to be aware of the Spirit’s promptings and guidance as we seek to share in Christ’s life in our world today. As has been said, silence is not just the absence of noise, but rather a posture, a practice, a space of attentiveness…of mindfulness…that nurtures an awareness of what the Spirit of Christ is saying to the community.
- When we pray to have the mind of Christ, we are praying to live into the wisdom of Christ…to partake in Christ’s nature. As our Baptismal Covenant describes, we are called to support one another as we ‘grow into the fullness of Christ,’ (c.f. The Book of Common Prayer, 300 ff). We are praying to open ourselves–to be opened–to the presence of the Spirit. We are praying to be mindful…
We are gathering in circles and meetings, in retreats and classes, as we explore ways to integrate the aspects of our common ministry. What does the Spiritual Formation Committee have to offer the Outreach Committee? How can the deep compassionate awareness of the Pastoral Care Committee inform the planning of the Stewardship Committee? How can the gifts of the Finance Committee support the entire community’s common life–and how are we aware of the Finance Committee gifts? How can needed clarifications of the Endowment process be guided by a collaborative spirit that is rooted in prayer and discernment? These encounters…and so much more…shape our conversations.
I encourage you to explore our community, and come worship and pray with us!
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