“Seeing God’s Grace – Through Leaders” by Margreta Silverstone

March 7, 2021

photo by Sheri Bergen

The Third Sunday in Lent

In Lent, we have been invited to reflect on Grace.  As a child growing up within a conservative Calvinistic church, I memorized Grace as the acronym – God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense. It was a nice acronym, not really sure what is meant then and still not clear now.

Yet, at times, I think I know what grace is about, a little. I am invited to look for grace in these 40 days of Lent. In the natural world, this time is a time of darkness rescinding and coldness giving way to warm.  Yes, I love the delicacy of raspberries – not a fruit that occurs in this season – so while the definition of grace as a simple elegance applies to that – I find the cold clear quality of moonlight or the silence of a soft winter snow gives me grace. 

Grace can be hard to recognize. Today’s scriptures share how three communities experienced grace – the Israelites, the church in Corinth, the early disciples. It is also how a servant leader can be instrumental in that experience.

I am not a particular fan of the 3 year lectionary cycle when you end up missing so much of the story line in between. Moses here is a relatively “young” leader. The back story about Moses is that he was adopted into a position of wealth and esteem, he was well educated, he could have had a relatively easy future had he stayed there, but he didn’t. God selected Moses to lead. It wasn’t an easy task. Prior to our reading today, Jethro, Moses’ father in law, had to do an intervention and recommend a support structure to keep Moses from burning out (read Exodus 18).

Today, we have the start of God giving Moses insight and instructions on how to be a community of faith together – everything from the 10 commandments to the way the worship space should be built and furnished. Moses had to take 40 days (a Lenten period of time) in isolation with God to learn what was needed. That wasn’t the end of God’s giving Moses insight to help lead, just an intensive crash course. With 40 years ahead of being a nomadic people, having a sense of order to life and how to interact with each other may seem mundane, but it helps to establish ways to be grace-filled with each other.

Paul, a self supporting itinerant leader (making tents and preaching), was able to speak his own truth freely. In Corinth, Paul found some Jews willing to listen and follow, but the more receptive ears were with the Gentiles. His servant leadership style, as a strong writer and wisdom sharer, identified that grace, God’s wisdom, was counter to their long held opinions – it was foolish. For some, this grace was hard because a person, Jesus, was not just a noble abstract principle to be meditated upon until gaining understanding. For others, this grace was hard because Jesus was killed like a criminal, being crucified, and criminal behavior was certainly not within the law of things to do. Paul’s letters attempt to clarify grace for both sets of misunderstandings.

Then, in John, the model servant leader, Jesus, acts out violently, creating a whip and getting the coin changers and animal sellers out of the temple. He demands change to the alignment of the market economy with the church. For the church establishment that benefited from the commerce, being embedded together was just fine. For Jesus, as one who cared for the least of these, for those who were outside and on the margin of that market economy, it had to stop. His acts were not grace for the rich and socially powerful, but they were for the marginalized.

So what does all this have to do with Seekers?

In the early years of Seekers, our structure of leadership – Fred Taylor and Sonya Dyer  – helped shape the way Seekers functioned and the sense of call to service. Prior – Gordon Cosby and then Fred Taylor, acted as our own version of Moses in directing and shaping us as a people of faith. Over time, the mission group Celebration Circle provided more of the direction on how worship should be structured and what “furnishings” were needed to support it. With our own roughly 40 year journey from 2025 Mass Ave to 276 Carroll and property ownership, the Time & Space mission group and the service of building coordinator became part of what supports our faith community.  What type of leadership do we need now? Should we be commissioning or sending one of us to have a 40 day intensive time with God to gain and bring back a new vision? Do we need to be like Jethro with our current Servant Leadership structure and point out where they may be burning out and recommend a new process?

More currently, we have benefited from a model of servant leadership that depends more on external income and effort, like Paul. The pay that the current servant leadership gets for their time has them relying on their other sources of income and support while providing service. This may allow our leadership to speak more freely to the current challenges and need. But it may also limit the pool of applicants when we look for new leadership. 

Similar to Corinth, Seekers is comprised of a mixture of cultural, racial, social and economic backgrounds. We, too, have divisions to overcome, not just brush under the table, under the rug or under the Zoom screen. While our age diversity may have decreased from previous history, our racial diversity has, I believe, increased. Yet, when we look at the composition of overall society and a 3 mile radius of the church building, we do not reflect that full diversity. Do our structures model and enforce elitism? Does having a structure with shared leadership also reflect shared biases that are harder to change but should? Does the lack of racial diversity in our leadership structure negate our church call, particularly the statement, “We recognize the value of each individual and seek to heal any wounds of discrimination inflicted by our society and church.”?

In the gospel, Jesus found the faith community was doing the wrong thing. He physically upset the current effort. Yesterday, Erica’s reflection in the daily readings from Inward / Outward Journey provided more thoughts on this passage and I recommend reading it. When Jesus’ core tenet and leadership was about recognizing the marginalized, where have we missed the mark? It’s great to recommend mission groups for belonging, but when most mission groups don’t seem to really need new members and no new mission groups are being formed, how do newer members belong? If mission group membership is a prerequisite to Stewardship, haven’t we blocked access to that too? Do these structures need to change? Do we need a servant leader capable of generating / incubating / supporting new service and new mission groups?

A while ago, the Servant Leadership Team asked for participants to be involved in a process of re-imagining servant leadership and possible new structures that both allowed for a longer term holding of institutional memory as well as welcoming new energy into servant leadership of the whole. A handful of Stewards volunteered to work on this task. We were joined by other members of Seekers. The group is made up of myself, Anita, Elizabeth, Erica, Glenn (Clark), Mary, Michele, Sandra and Will. We have been meeting periodically and are just about ready to gather input. We hope your  input will include reflections on the past as well as openness to visioning our future. Where have you seen leadership help you experience God’s grace? Where has it blocked it?

Over the spring months, our plan is to engage mission groups, small sharing groups, individuals and the current and past SLT via a series of questions. We hope mission groups can take the time to answer these questions as part of one of your meetings. We are pretty close to finalizing these questions and will be sending them to mission group moderators. We hope small sharing groups might answer a similar set of questions.

There is a longer set of questions and reflections for the current Servant Leadership team. We will also be asking for input from past SLT members and other support people. For people who have exercised leadership for the whole of Seekers, we hope to hear from you about the joys and challenges of the leadership model used as well as your own sense of what newness God has in store for the journey ahead.

After we have started to see these responses, we anticipate using an online survey tool to ask all members of Seekers, individually, to provide input. There is a bit more work for the team to do to finalize that tool.

We expect that the responses we receive will lead us into further conversation, both internally as a workgroup and with various individuals / groups as we see the thoughts that emerge. Our goal is to document what has been working in our current structures (or not) and what changes and newness may be needed for the future.

History can repeat itself or it can inform us as we listen to the Holy One.  Together the two energy forms (memory and newness) can create and support a grace-filled community. We need a place, a church, where we can practice and experience relating to others, deepening our connection and faith.  Perhaps we can visualize a servant leadership team that creates and nurtures a safe loving container for all of us.  We may need to be challenged, with love, to change our behaviors. We may need a different type of leadership to help us do that.

In the journey that is the season of Lent, may we be manna and water, raspberries and cream, light and healing and rest; in other words, Grace; to each other.

"The Eyes to See, Ears to Hear Peace Prayer Mission Group" by Billy Amoss, Trish Nemore, and Ron Kraybill
"Reaching for Grace Through Mission Groups" by David Lloyd