called to listen

called to listen

“I’ve known everyone here my whole life, but we haven’t seen each other for a long time. It’s kind of like, are we still friends?” —Zion confirmation student, at our first class this past fall

“I miss my friends in Sunday school, but I’m worried because I don’t remember their names!” —Zion young person, on returning after the Omicron wave pause

At every age, we can use a little help connecting and reconnecting with each other. We hunger for it, and we can be shy about it. When life seems to move so fast, and everyone seems so busy, it can be tempting to just “get down to business” and skip the “fluff” of building relationships. Or we’re tempted to create empty connections without root, based on solely complaining about the same people or liking the same TV. Gaps in our skills for such things can trip us up, whether we’re aware of those gaps or not. When we’re exhausted, hurting, or scared, it can be even harder to venture out into the deeper waters where the most nourishing connections grow. The culture around us pulls hard too; it takes strength and courage to swim upstream.

But maybe first, it takes an awakening—being discovered by a person, or a community of people who give abundantly of their time and attention, go out of their way to create space for others to be who they really are, and so draw us into their generous orbit.

Zion people do that, have done it. This is what made and makes Zion Zion, because in the presence of each other, we discover the presence of God.

For the Lord has chosen Zion [saying,] ...“This is my resting-place for ever; here I will reside, for I have desired it.” —Psalm 132

Since May, I’ve seen you energized by reconnecting and regathering. Returning to in-person worship. The Fall Festival in the parking lot. Immerse groups. ZLCW Circles. Alleluia. Even the outdoor clean up day. And the renewal of the companionship relationship with Kirangare Lutheran Church in Tanzania.

Here is God at work: knitting the body of Christ back together, rekindling trust and affection, giving us a taste of the great feast with no end.

And even now, Zion people gather a team of listeners, to follow in this regathering way.

Our “Season of Sacred Listening” started with Immerse groups and reading the New Testament. The next phase continues after Easter with a “listening campaign.” In the six weeks, from the second Sunday of Easter (April 24) until Pentecost Sunday (June 5), a team of specially-trained and publicly-commissioned Zion people will listen to other Zion people, one-on-one. If the team is large enough, they will seek to listen to every Zion person. If smaller, they will listen to a strategic segment of the congregation.

What will the goal of this listening be? There are three goals:

  1. reconnect with each other after disconnecting pandemic days and create a deeper sense of belonging
  2. seek new direction/vision for Zion’s future
  3. grow Zion people’s listening and leadership muscles

As you can see, these goals are as much about taking action together as being together, as well gaining new skills. A listening campaign is itself action, and it creates possibility for future action, to solve problems and seize opportunities. Some listening team members want to become better listeners. Still others want to get to know people in their congregation better. Some of the best listeners are drawn to listening because they want to get something done. A listening campaign gathers the people-power required to take meaningful action. As it’s said: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”

So it’s likely that someone will call or approach you, saying, “I go to your church. I’m part of the listening team. I’d love to get to know you better. Do you have 30 or 45 minutes in the next week or so to visit?” I encourage you to say yes!

And you may reasonably wonder, What will the listeners do with what they hear? Well, they will respect your confidentiality, and they will share with the rest of the listening team a key theme or two from your conversation. This sharing of common themes and common interests makes it possible to act together on what was heard. What we’re looking for is overlap in the Zenn diagram. Past listening campaigns uncovered:

  • eight people, some who had children with special needs and others with a passion and/or professional skills for supporting families with special needs
  • a dozen people who wanted to do more in the community than the church’s charity feeding ministries were currently doing

Those churches then looked into doing something in these directions, and even launched new ministry, with many of these very people as key leaders.

Jesus listened to the Samaritan woman at the well, and she became a leader as the church grew in her town through her testimony. I don’t know what God will do in Zion and in our neighborhoods as we listen. But I know from experience the listeners will gain the most.

If you feel called to be a listener, or are simply curious, come to the One-to-One Listening training at Zion on Saturday, March 12—11am to 3pm. (Bring your own sack lunch!)

If not, pray for those who gather to be trained, and pray for the listening team and those they will listen to. Spread the word (”Did you hear about this listening campaign?”), and encourage people to say yes when invited to a conversation.

At every stage, we can use a little help connecting and reconnecting with each other and imagining where God is leading us next.

Thanks be to God.

Pastor Clark

Good News from Kirangare, Tanzania

You may remember the Christmas greeting from Pastor Simon Fue of Kirangare Lutheran Church in Tanzania. In the 2000s several Zion people traveled to visit our brothers and sisters in Kirangare. Gifts from Kirangare are in the entryway and banners in the sanctuary, as signs of our companionship and those warm memories.

Since that Christmas greeting, Pastor Fue and I have been in regular contact. Kirangare established a Companionship Committee and invited Zion to visit this year. After consulting with Todd Bylerly, a former missionary in that region of Tanzania and now the director of Empower Tanzania, I’m persuaded to travel twice—once this year with a small Zion group, and again in a couple years with a larger Zion group.

If you’re interested in the flourishing of this companionship relationship and/or in traveling to Tanzania yourself, please be in touch with Pastor Clark. With Council’s blessing, he is gathering Zion’s own Companionship Team, as well as planning for a trip, likely late summer or early fall of 2022.

And please pray for Kirangare and their Daycare ministry and the renovation of their Day Care room.

Finally, when Pastor Fue asked for Zion’s prayer requests for this month, Council shared a few and then wondered, What has COVID been like in Kirangare? This is Pastor Fue’s response:

Kirangare is a rural region and we never experienced COVID 19 cases. Two years ago there were some few cases in big cities. Currently people in Tanzania fear the Omicron waves as they hear from the international news. They are therefore taking vaccines. I hope the vaccines program is helping. God will hear our prayer and will have mercy on His people.

We use different technologies for communication and travel, but like the Apostle Paul, we get to give witness to the wideness of Christ’s church. Thanks be to God for Pastor Fue and Kirangare Lutheran Church, and our unity in the gospel!