In September 2013, the Rector, the Reverend Ollie Rencher announced an exciting new vision for St. Peter’s. Our vision is to become:

  • a community of bold followers of Jesus
  • a crowd that effects good change for the world
  • a place known for radical love and welcome
  • a beacon of hope in Center City Charlotte

This series aims to deepen the parish’s ownership of this vision by telling stories of how we have already begun to embody the vision and to imagine collectively how God is inviting us to realize it more fully. Information from these important sessions will be used for future strategic planning.

[toggle title=”Week One Summary”]

Vision Focus: A community of bold followers of Jesus

The Reverend Ollie Rencher provided the group with background about how the four-point vision was developed. Through intensive listening to parishioners during his first year of service and work around visioning with a consultant at a Vestry retreat in January 2013, Ollie put words to the vision that was emerging. It is his hope and belief that this vision captures both the reality and the opportunities ahead for the St. Peter’s community.

He also noted that vision has multiple layers: many of us have personal visions; we believe God has a vision or dream for the world rooted in loving God, nature and oneself; and the St. Peter’s community has a vision for how, collectively, we might be Christ’s hands and feet in this particular corner of the world. It is our prayer that these visions will align for those participating in this series.

The outcome for these sessions is to identify how we as a community are already living out St. Peter’s vision and generate new ideas and fresh energy around ways we might embody it more fully. A secondary outcome for the series is to build stronger bonds of friendship among those participating and come to recognize how God is acting in our lives.

We then read John 19:38-42:

After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

And we explored what images from this passage caught our imagination.

Then we shared stories about how St. Peter’s or a member of St. Peter’s has boldly followed Jesus. Stories included:

  • The founding of a soup kitchen in our basement, which grew into the Urban Ministry Center. This happened while the Rector was on sabbatical.
  • Providing “Ashes to Go” to the public on Ash Wednesday.
  • In the early 1900’s, St. Peter’s had raised money for a bell tower to go in front of the church; however there was no hospital for African-Americans. So the money for the bell-tower went instead toward founding Good Samaritan Hospital.
  • Our stewardship of an ancient liturgy.
  • The provision of silence in a noisy world.
  • The cultivation of diversity among us.

After this large group story-telling, we got into our table groups to respond to the following question: “What do you love about being a follower of Jesus?”

And then: “How would your response change if it were bold?”

Joslyn explained that the definition of “bold” is personal. It depends on where one’s comfort zone already is. She gave the example of Vestry member Nelda Leon feeling comfortable attending Moral Monday demonstrations (which would be bold for some of us). However, it was bold for Nelda to tell a neighbor she sees regularly about her love of St. Peter’s and to invite her to attend church.

The session ended with ten minutes of personal reflection pondering the question: “What would it be like if you were to boldly follow Jesus doing what you love to do? What would you create or accomplish?”

All were invited to leave their responses on the table, anonymously or not.

Responses included:

To boldly follow Jesus, I would: organize more specific activities and invite St. Peter’s to participate around injustice, poverty and prejudice (e.g. city and county edition); speak up more when it matters and challenge our parish to become even bolder; organize and adult mission trip that would become an ongoing ministry (hopefully).

If I could boldly follow Jesus doing what I love to do, I think I would feel more “whole” as a person. Life is often times “sectioned off” – church, work, family, friends, etc. I love to care for my family and friends, love the fulfilling aspects of my job, and pursue those things that make me feel more complete and a better person. By more boldly placing my faith into that mix, the sections could be more fused – a more complete life. In so doing, I believe I could accomplish more of what I love – caring for others and contributing more overall to the community. I want to be more involved, but hesitate at times due to the demands of life. I would hope by my boldly following Jesus, I would overcome the hesitations to do more, feel more involved.

I like to feed people. It would help the needy and fulfill one of the requests in the Lord’s Prayer when I help to feed someone.

I am waiting for a new direction, having finished the things I most felt called to do; taking care of my health problems which is BOLD for me because I tend to wear myself out tending to other people’s emotional problems. So “letting go” is BOLD for me; I am reminded that God and Jesus are in control and those things I am meant to do will “come” to me and I will “know” that is a new directions or task; Trying to stand in others’ shoes without judgment, control, or problem-solving, but just “being there”.

I love fashion and dressing up and I would love a program to gather unwanted clothing and have a “store” where people could “shop” for clothing they need to be a better them: for a dress & accessories for a job interview that might change the outcome of getting the job; for the girl who would like to go to prom, but no $ money for the dress, shoes, accessories; for any need that could be filled. “Hope Store”

Raise my daughter intentionally and explicitly in the knowledge of God’s love: build in my daughter the confidence that comes from knowing she is loved always and in all ways; give to the world a loving and giving member of her community where-ever she chooses to plant her roots; build a bond with my daughter that will support us through the challenges that we will encounter together.

To be a bold follower of Jesus is to do everything to preserve his creation on earth. We have only one chance to do this, since we have only one life until he calls us to account for our actions. We also need to pay close attention to his teachings.

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[toggle title=”Week Two Summary”]

Vision Focus: A Crowd that Effects Good Change for the World

Ollie opened the session with prayer and then reviewed responses from last week’s session on being “bold followers of Jesus.” (See last week’s summary here.)

We then read Mark 6:30 – 44, asking ourselves “What images caught our imaginations?”

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.

Next we responded to this prompt in the large group:

Stories and comments included:

  • Friendliness and welcoming nature of the congregation; an “aura” that invites people in.
  • The diversity of the parish.
  • The Blessing of the Animals liturgy.
  • A shy person noted that a personal invitation to coffee hour and then accompanying her to coffee hour and introducing her to others made her feel welcome.
  • Many years ago when there was construction going on nearby, a group of Hispanic laborers needed to use a bathroom. At first, a receptionist at St. Peter’s was reluctant to allow them to use our bathroom. But another parishioner said: “This is a church, and we are all human…we should let them use our bathroom.” And we did.
  • Being asked to volunteer as an usher at the first service he attended made a parishioner feel needed and welcomed.
  • Our participation in Room in the Inn.
  • The Rector leading “Ashes To Go” last Ash Wednesday outside the parish. When asked for instructions about how to do “Ashes To Go,” the Rector admitted he had no idea how it was to work, which was honest and gave the whole group assisting him permission to have fun even amid the solemnness of the public liturgical act. This atmosphere of openness allowed us to figure out something new together.
  • Our history with providing a soup kitchen on our property, even though some people were uncomfortable with homeless people being drawn to this part of Tryon Street. Additionally, the good feeling when $3.5 million dollars was raised for the creation of the Urban Ministry Center in its current location.

Then in small groups, around tables, individuals responded to these questions:

“Share a story about when you have been involved with or admired “good change” in your community whether that be work, family, neighborhood, or a faith community. What did you value about that experience?”

Finally, we ended the session with a time of personal reflection: “What good change would you like to be a part of at St. Peter’s?” “What are you passionate about and prepared to accept some responsibility for?”

Each person left their responses on the table. Examples of responses included:

I believe the RITI program is a particularly effective and beautiful expression of Christian love. I am proud to be a part of it. I would like to see if there are ways to expand what we offer so that we might reach more of those in need, both among the Charlotte homeless community and the members of the church. I am passionate about the power of love, and am committed to taking responsibility for expressing it within my community more often. I pledge to fight to overcome my personal shyness to make more of an effort in this regard. I am also passionate about justice, and would like to have a stronger role in this area.

Adding informative sessions about learning to see life differently. For example, not having “honey-do” lists for God to fix things but rather asking God for guidance on what He/She wants me to do regarding someone and not asking God to cure someone but thinking of visiting that sick person myself for example.

I would like to see the continuation of parent support at St. Peter’s. Back when I joined the church, the population of people with small children was somewhat small. It seems to me that this group is growing. I absolutely love the addition of “Peter’s Parents.” I would love to see an extension of this through Adult Formation seminars focusing on parenting issues and struggles.

Getting the word out to the greater community, beginning with uptown, about what a wonderful place and agent for change St. Peter’s is: Diverse in age, income, ethnicity and all types of conditions are involved; Passionate about the music program (music in liturgy, choir school, musical concerts) and I am prepared to work toward making the music program stronger and broadening it for the community while still maintaining it’s integrity and excellence.

I am so excited about Daily Offices. This is very new to St. Peter’s as you know. I’m hoping to help Doug get started with evening offices.

I would like to see St. Peter’s continue to move toward welcoming disabled members; hearing, sight, mobility. I am passionate about formation and will continue to accept responsibility for providing solid formation opportunities to all parishioners, regardless of age.

In order to work more effectively in the areas we are talking about, I would make a suggestion. I believe any programs we initiate need the following, as parishioners we need to know each other in order to work more effectively. How can we work together deeply and strongly if we do not know each other by name? I’ve long been an advocate for us wearing name tags and learning who each person is. I think it would strengthen our work together.

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[toggle title=”Week Three Summary”]

Vision Focus: A Place Known for Radical Love and Welcome

Joslyn opened the session with prayer and then reviewed responses from last week’s session on being “a crowd that effects good change for the world.”

We then read John 4:7 – 26, asking ourselves “What images caught our imaginations?”

There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?” Jesus said to her, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

Next we responded to this prompt in the large group: Tell a story of when you have been loved or welcomed or seen someone else love and welcome another at St. Peter’s. Who shared that love with you or with another person? What did they do to show that love?

Stories and comments included:

  • Remembering a former rector, The Rev. Gary Jones, approaching an apparently homeless woman who was crying after the Eucharist and giving her a big hug.
  • A story about an usher being unwelcoming to a newcomer by telling her she had the wrong service leaflet but not providing her with a new one. It was Easter Sunday and they had run out. She felt embarrassed and was ready to leave. The Rev. Gary Jones noticed this, found a correct bulletin for her, and welcomed her to the service. The person sharing the story reflected on how significant those first points of contact are for a newcomer — she could easily have left with negative feelings about St. Peter’s. Instead she has found a very special place in her life.
  • A newcomer mentioned his mother-in-law’s surgery to The Rev. Gary Jones as he greeted him after the service. The Rector sent a Deacon to visit the mother-in-law on Monday morning and invited the mother-in-law to our church. This made positive impression on this man and his wife, and they felt very welcome.
  • A woman with a three year-old shared that St. Peter’s had been very welcoming to her young daughter, getting down to her daughter’s eye-level to communicate with her.
  • A parishioner shared about the priests’ presence during a family crisis at the police station and a follow-up pastoral visit at her home.
  • Someone shared how welcoming the staff has been of veterans and homeless people, including one staff person becoming a guardian for a homeless person. She noted that she has grown in her faith as she has worked to figure out how to be genuinely welcoming to homeless neighbors while still “feeling comfortable ourselves.” She acknowledged a tension between our garden being a place of respite for our parishioners as well as a hospitable place for homeless neighbors.
  •  Remembering former Rector Hunt Williams as “keeping the lights on” when this part of Tryon Street was very run-down. This parishioner remembered the power of taking communion alongside a homeless person.
  • The welcoming that The Rev. Gary Jones showed toward people of differing sexual orientations in the 1990’s.
  • The smiles and hugs this parishioner receives when she comes to church. St. Peter’s has inspired this parishioner to house a homeless friend in her guest room for the time being.
  • Providing assistance to a parishioner as she recovered from surgery. Working together on community service projects/outreach, especially the Community Garden.
  • Offering coffee recently to a man protesting in front of St. Peter’s.

Then individually, Joslyn led us in a guided imagery exercise in which each person developed a metaphor of how they might respond to the people in their lives with the greatest need to be radically loved and welcomed.

Images included:

  •  A solitary person and then a group of people dancing together with the words “shared memories” written beneath.
  •  A young tree with supportive hoops around it already bearing fruit. This image was accompanied by the words: “I can see me going deeper in making sure that he was always included in class activities and small groups without others having a condescending attitude.
  •  Folded hands
  •  “A blanket, open and embracing.”
  •  A closed door now opening to sunshine pouring in.
  •  A diverse crowd of people dancing around a “melting pot” with a heart in its center.
  •  A circle of people dancing around a fire.
  •  A priest holding a young child or baby with the words “embrace radical love.”
  •  A round table with place settings and food in the center: “we all have a place at the table; we all get to eat.”
  •  “A warm nest protected from the rain by welcoming wings.”
  •  Mountains and an open green field.
  •  Two people seated face to face with the word “Listening” written above.
  •  “A blanket to keep you warm” with image of a person sitting with a patchwork quilt around her shoulders.
  •  A duck with ducklings under her wings in a storm.
  •  My door is open to your needs. Image of a door partially open.
  •  An extended hand and a person walking away from it: “A hand offering encouragement, welcome, support, love, and caring to those most resistant.”
  •  Diverse, smiling people holding hands with a heart between their hands. Musical notes. Sun shining. “Jesus loves.”
  •  A non-white girl extending her arm as though she is waving. “A small child with her hand reaching out.”
  •  A person lying on a gurney with an extended hand with a uniformed gentleman extending his hand toward the person on the gurney. “Tryon and Trade Streets”
  •  “My metaphor would be that of a blanket – a warm, comforting, sense of being enveloped with love and acceptance.”
  •  A heart with three crosses in it. St. Peter’s church doors open with two women holding hands walking toward it. “If you love somebody, bring them to church.”
  •  A fire in a fireplace.
  •  “A flowing waterfall.”
  •  Two girls playing ball.
  •  A red flower. “God is love.”
  •  “Giving of myself in a way that I would never have imagined.”
  •  A star radiating with rays and squiggly lines of energy.
  •  “Powerless: I can’t “make” him see the love around him. I can’t “make” him see his power. I can’t make him grow up. I can only help myself. “
  •  A person with a smiley face.
  •  “Sometimes the person you know who is in desperate need – emotionally, financially – is living in another part of the country. You do what you can from a distance – write a consoling letter at the time of her husband’s death – being able to empathize having lost my husband. You send a check hoping to relieve some of the financial worry. Beyond that – you feel rather helpless – but I can pray for her!”
  •  A red heart with the word “dove” in the middle and lines radiating out.
  •  “Big bear hugging with phone to listen anytime and offer love and support, ideas (even during hibernation).”
  •  Public library with a student and tutor. The student says, “Math is fun.”
  •  A tree with birds flying around it and nesting in the tree.
  •  “Dad Father – Law”

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[toggle title=”Week Four Summary”]

Vision Focus: A Beacon of Hope in Center City Charlotte

Ollie opened the session with prayer and then reviewed responses from last week’s session on being “a place known for radical love and welcome.” 

We then read Matthew 4:14 – 16, asking ourselves “What images caught our imaginations?”

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Next we responded to this prompt in the large group:

Tell a story about how your involvement with St. Peter’s was hopeful. What was happening? Who was involved? How did it feel?

Stories and comments included:

  • The encouragement one parishioner received to pursue her vocation as an artist.
  • Hopefulness generated by seeing people of different socio-economic and racial backgrounds come together.
  • The number of people who have become part of the 1834 Legacy Society, pledging to remember St. Peter’s in their wills.
  • The showing of Traces of the Trade and a willingness to begin talking about racism in the upcoming series about Reconciliation.
  • Our children’s and youth programs, including the choir school, being important support systems for families.

A presentation about the 1834 Legacy Society was the offered by Maria Long and Bill Williamson, both part of the six-person, Vestry-appointed endowment board. They noted how the $2.5 million endowment continues to support St. Peter’s through outreach grants to local social service agencies and capital improvements, including the 2010 organ and nave renovation. They encouraged those gathered to consider designating funds in their estates

Questions about the endowment were then answered by Maria and Bill.

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