Month: May 2015

Growing A Person: A Devotional for the Final Days of School


I planted an herb garden from seed.  I chose a good spot with plenty of sun and found fresh soil and fertilizer. I dug holes and placed seeds deep into the earth and covered them with care.  I water a patch of dirt every day, knowing something is under there and I assume beginning to take root.  I hope I did everything right, so that pretty soon I will have cilantro, rosemary, parsley, and sunflowers.  It’s possible, however, that by the end of the summer, I will still be watering a big patch of dirt.

When I was pregnant with each of my children, I read the book, “What to Expect When You are Expecting,” and kept a pregnancy journal.  Every day, or at least once a week, I would turn the page and learn that the bump in my belly was growing toenails and eye lashes and a brain. I ate lots of protein and vegetables, took prenatal vitamins, tried to eliminate stress, and drank tons of water.  I tried to do everything right.

Little did I know that once that seed was born, that that was just the beginning.

It was time to grow a person.

Growing a person is a lot like growing a garden.  It can’t be neglected, or it will grow wild and be overcome with weeds. It can’t be overly manicured, or it won’t be able to show its full beauty. It needs to be rooted in good earth. It needs room to grow. It needs time and patience, and the belief that there is something there that will bloom, even though you can’t see it.

I think we parent/gardeners  put a lot of pressure on ourselves to do everything right; to provide everything our children need so they won’t struggle and will only succeed.

The only way to grow a person is to step back and let them struggle. You are right there, watching them work through whatever challenge they are facing and there is nothing you can do, because the only way to grow, is to struggle.  That is dark side of parenting nobody warns you about.

You will not do everything right, because dear one, you are still growing too. It would be behoove us to remember that there is a Master Gardner at work on all of us.

Let the seeds take root. Let the sun do its work. Let the rain come. Pay attention. Stand back, be patient, and watch them grow.



The Holy Spirit Alive!

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Photograph by Linda Rinker

The Holy Spirit Alive!

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.  (Acts 2:1-2).

Orchard Park Presbyterian Church 

Indianapolis, Indiana

 Summer, 2015


In the winter of 2015, church officers determined that there were three major areas that needed the greatest attention at Orchard Park Presbyterian Church.  First, there was a deep need for the congregation to establish a shared identity and vision. It was crucial that that common identity be born out of the congregation. The congregation needed to learn who they were, who was their neighbor and how they were called to serve.  They needed to discern these questions as a congregation. Second in a similar vein, there was a great desire to improve communication strategies and overall presentation of the congregation.  New branding and website was imperative, along with an overall communication strategy that reflected Orchard Park’s identity and purpose. The third greatest need was to eliminate the church’s mortgage.

The following proposal suggests three projects that will address each of these priorities.

Identity                                               Communication                                 Mortgage

(Purpose)                                             (Outreach)                                           (Future)


Condition:             To create a common narrative of who we are and who we serve

Intervention:         Appreciative inquiry process: Discovery, Dreaming, Design, Doing

Result:                  3-5 new action plans that unify and testify to our common purpose


Condition:             To establish a communication strategy that shows our identity to the congregation, community and world.

Intervention:        Communication Assessment, Branding, Website

Result:                  Church Identity/ Feeling of Revitalization


Condition:             To pay off mortgage.

Intervention:         Summer campaign

Result:                  Debt is extinguished


The Theory:

All organizations go through life cycles, through times of birth, growth and death.  In order for organizations not to die and go full circle they must be revitalized.  The sooner organizations can change, shift, adapt and recreate, the more they continue to thrive.  If congregations do not revitalize, they decrease in number and energy to the point that they are in need of greater change, or redevelopment.  Redevelopment takes longer than revitalization to push to rebirth, but it is possible to prevent death and move into new life.

In considering where the congregation is in its life cycle, Church officers have identified the congregation of Orchard Park to be in the Redevelopment Phase.

“Redevelopment is what the journey is called when the congregation has fundamentally congealed. The church now has become primarily focused on preserving the status quo. The congregation’s God-given energy flows almost totally towards its own survival. When the faith community walls itself off from its community rather than living to serve, death is inevitable” (Sellon 2002, xii).

A redevelopment effort returns the congregation to the earlier stage of “formation.” This starting over again necessitates letting go of pride, guilt, shame, deception, illusion, and fears about the congregation and about change. There is a certain logic to the process of beginning formation over again. The probable steps are as follows:

  1. Identity: “Why are we in business? What are our assets and strengths?” Members rediscover who they are and why they exist as a congregation in this place and time.
  2. Vision: “Where do we want to go?” Members reaffirm their obligation to become more faithful to their congregation as it could be in the future.
  3. Strategy: “How will we get the job done?”  Leaders re-equip members and themselves with whatever it will take to reach for their new future. They plot and prepare for the step-by-step progress that will make the dream come true.
  4. Experimental Action: “What are we ready to try?” Members choose the highest priority and closest possibility in their plan and commit themselves to a metamorphosis, one small step at a time until the dream turns into a revised vision or a full reality.
  5. Reflection: Finally, “How is it going, and what’s next? Where do we adjust our course?” The congregation should always pause for thanksgiving, absolution, offertory, and celebration. The insights and prayers of the membership guide the evaluation of how they are doing.


The Purpose: The Urgency:

This means that younger families coming into OPPC from our neighboring communities do not necessarily see their family dynamics, ages, tastes, values, social needs, or aspirations reflected on the faces of current OPPC members; this must change over time if this congregation is to continue to grow and thrive. This change must happen in concert with discerning the will of the Holy Spirit for OPPC, and is embodied in the themes that form the vision of the future for OPPC. People exploring OPPC as a possible church home must feel embraced and not shunned, welcomed as they are and not for what we want them to become, comfortable, and encouraged to question and express doubt, knowing that God’s love and grace are bigger than any question we can ask or doubt we can harbor (Mission Study Report 2012, 23)

This paragraph was written in the 2012 Mission Study Report, and succinctly addresses the sense of urgency: The ultimate goal of this project is to lead the congregation through the process of redevelopment into new life, so that they are able to articulate who they are and why they exist, and live into a unified, shared vision.

The purpose of this project is to bring the congregation to a time of personal and spiritual renewal so that they can gain and establish a unified vision, of who they are, and who they serve.

  • 41% of the membership is estimated to be 65 or older, as compared to roughly 11-15% of the population in our surrounding communities;
  • 13% of the membership is estimated to be 35 or younger, versus 30-38% for the surrounding communities
  • the average age of our members is 58

The Project:

To shepherd the congregation through a season of appreciative inquiry in which they discover who they are, dream who they want to be, design how they will accomplish those dreams and do the work for the glory of God. Over the spring and summer we will do the work of discovery and dreaming, with a congregational event in the late summer.  We will then move quickly into the design and doing stages with another large event in early fall.

While the core planning team does the work of collecting data from the congregation and the community, a communication and website consulting firm will be working alongside us to assist with a communication assessment, branding and eventually a new website.

A third major project will be a campaign to pay off the mortgage.  With the mortgage paid in full, the congregation will be free to dream, design and implement new ministries without the weight and obligation of debt.


The Outcome:

The ultimate goal of this project is to lead the congregation through the process of redevelopment into new life, so that they are able to articulate who they are and why they exist, and live into a new story.  The purpose of this project is to bring the congregation to a time of personal and spiritual renewal so that they can find their voice and use it for God’s will.

By the end of this season, we will determine if there is a more unified vision and common narrative.  We will make this determination through interview and outcome and an overall feeling of renewed energy and outward focus. We will have a concise communication plan, brand, and website.  The mortgage will be paid in full.



The Timeline:

Month Objective Activity ExpectedCompletion Date Person ResponsibleShelly Wood is Project Manager * Budget
May Discovery Phase Communications Assessment – Secret Worship attendee, on-site group interviews & Communications eSurvey July 2015 Shelly and Session select 25-30 individuals for eSurvey & 10 individuals forCommunications Panel $5, 750
May – July2015 Discovery Phase Core Planning Team:·       Interviews the congregation·       Creates Wall of History·       Interviews organizations who use the church·       Interviews the neighborhood July 2015 Core Planning Team
May Introduce Campaign to pay off mortgage  
June Congregational Meeting Bylaw amendments and vote to sell property July 2015
August2015 DreamingPhase Branding/Identity ScopeAugust 15 – OPPC meets to brainstorm visions of what they’d like OPPC to be. Repeat process to discern OPPC’s identity and new branding as necessary. New Logo September 2015 Open to all church members to sign-up to participate. After first meeting, present vision to church to see if they own the direction the church is going. If yes, move on if not, repeat brainstorming session. $14,500.
August2015 DreamingPhase August 15,   Discovery/Dream SummitEstablish five provocative statements – based on what we have learned, this who we are, who we want to serve and how we want to do it. September 2015 Open to all church members, all whose use the building, the learning center, and the neighborhood. Nominal cost for food and material
September2015 Congregation wide event – mortgage is paid off September 2015 – Early Possible cost for food
August-September Designing Get consensus from the congregation. – Do you agree that these five statements best define who we are and who should serve? September 2015 Core planning team
September Designing and Doing Second SummitCreate five year plan for the five provocative statementsCreate teams for short wins Mid September Nominal cost for food and material
November Implement-ation Phase Subscription & Hosting – Launch of new website! End of November 2015 Fishhook and Web Team $732/yr

The Evaluation:

During the entire process, we will be considering both process evaluation and outcome evaluation.  The focus will be less on how we are doing and more on how the congregation is changing, learning and growing.  Evaluation will be built in to the structure.

We will measure outputs- (what happened and how many people showed up) and indicators (what changed  in the congregation and the community, based on the project).

Identity and Vision Evaluation

Quantitative Results

  • Innovation teams up and running
  • More improvisational initiatives
  • Recognize people working in new ways
  • Five strong action plans with defined purpose and implementation

Qualitative Results

  • Level 1—Participant reactions
  • What worked, what didn’t from participants’ perspectives, (surveys after each summit)
  • Level 2—Participant changes at end of intervention
  • Do we see the congregation more outwardly focused?  Do they know their neighbors? Is there an increase in energy, desire to serve, and openness to new ideas?
  • Level 3—Is change maintained within leadership?
  • Do we see that the congregation as a whole has bought into the desired changes and is living them out in small and large ways?
  • Level 4—Impact on organizational outcomes
  • What has improved as a result of intervention?          
  • Was it worth the investment

Communication Evaluation

Month Objective Activity Expected Completion Date Person (s) Responsible
July 2015 Discovery Phase Communications Assessment- we will have a communications report that identifies the churches strengths and weaknesses and shows opportunities for improvement presented to selected church leaders. July 2015 Shelly WoodCore planning team, membership and growth committee
September 2015 Dreaming Phase OPPC will have electronic files of all new logos, a customized Visual Identity Guide of new branding, stationery package of all templates for correspondence, a Branding/Identity Unveil Plan for strategies & tactics to unveil to the congregation. October 2015 Shelly Wood, Core planning team
October 2015 Development Phase New websiteincludes-

  • Home page
  • Sub pages
  • Resources
  • Event pages
  • Staff
  • Responsive design layouts
November 2015 Shelly Wood/ Norma Schehl
November 2015 Implementation Phase New and updated online website November 2015 Shelly Wood/Norma Schehl
OPPC will evaluate its effectiveness by –

  • An increased number of website visits- keeping a record of visits and comparing it to a baseline prior to new website
  • An increased number of visitors,         initiated by website visits – filling out the Connection Cards during the Sunday Service and checking the box which states that they visited the website first
  • An overall feeling of revitalization, updated branding and overall positive attitude – at the end of the Discovery Phase, Dreaming Phase and at the end of the Implementation Phase, OPPC will provide Formative Assessment Exit Slips to a cross section of the demographic of the congregation to determine what worked and what didn’t work in that phase of the project.

Example of an Exit Slip:

                                                                Discovery Phase

1.      Does the Communication Assessment reveal the top three areas that need the most time and attention for improvement?           5 strongly agree – 1 Strongly disagree

5       4       3       2       1

If not, what area(s) do you think needs the most attention and why?


2.      Does the Communication Assessment suggest concrete ways to strengthen/build our communication?

5       4       3       2       1

If not, what would you like to see? Would you be willing to be part of this?


                                                               Dreaming Phase

3.      Did the brainstorm/discovery session reveal OPPC’s vision and refine its identity?

5 strongly agree – 1 Strongly disagree

5       4       3       2       1

If not, what would you say should be its vision and identity and why?


4.      Was the brainstorm/discovery session communicated well to the congregation so that the members could own the vision and identity discerned at the session?

5       4       3       2       1

If not, what could have been done differently?


                                                              Implementation Phase

5.      Does the new website help us communicate a unified vision of who we are?

5 strongly agree – 1 Strongly disagree

5       4       3       2       1

If not, why?


6.      Is the new website easy to use and is key information easily accessible?

5       4       3       2       1

If not, what could have been done differently?


  • The Exit Slips will be gathered after each phase listed above and then Shelly Wood, the Core Planning Team and the Membership and Growth Committee will track the responses and adjust accordingly.
  • The overall goal is for the congregation to discern who God is calling them to be and to serve. By the end of this project, the congregation, will be able to put words around who they are and why they exist.
  • The evidence that the congregation is changing, learning and growing will be evaluated as we see new ideas, increased engagement of the congregation and a feeling of ownership.

Mortgage Evaluation

  • Quantitative Results
  • Debt is paid in full
  • Qualitative Results
  • Overall feeling of financial health and stability
  • Does the congregation have a sense of unified accomplishment in being debt free?
  • Does the congregation feel empowered to use resources out of abundance instead of scarcity?
  • Is the congregation better off being debt free?

The Appreciative Inquiry Process

Renewed Identity

Discovery, Dream,  Destiny and Design


“The discovery phase involves a data collection and narrative exploration. It begins the process of revealing the positive, the successful, and the prideful experiences of the individual and collective. Through carefully developed interview questions based in the affirmative topic selection, the focus is to explore and enliven the stories that are shared through interviewing the defined group within the organization. Generally, the more reflective of the entire organization, the more effective the outcome” (Ludeman 2003, 125).

What is our enduring faith task, and what fresh form could we take it today?

What do we wish to be known for in our community?

What guiding story or image crystallizes our vocation?

Steps in Discovery

  • Interviews the congregation
  • Creates Wall of History
  • Interviews organizations who use the church
  • Interviews the neighborhood

Chart a Course: Three Essential Questions:

Who are we?

  • Who are we historically as a church in this place?
  • What were our best days like?  When were they? What years? What was going on the church?
  • Search for common elements.

Who is our Neighbor?

  • The core team will look for creative ways to learn about our neighbors. (knocking on doors, Going to coffee houses, identifying new people in the neighborhood)

Why are we here?

  • Resist the temptation of jumping into action. Pray. Discern. Listen.

Listen for Common Themes


The dream phase of appreciative inquiry begins the process of what could be. Whether we call it dreaming, envisioning, or imagining, the focus is to think about possibilities beyond the realm of present day thinking (Ludema 2003, 145).


Hold an Evening event for Discovery and Dream

  • Set a wide table. Include members of the community, the entire congregation, those who use the building on a regular basis
        • Share Research.
        • Come up with provocative statements: use previous statements that have been used before.
        • Do not reinvent the wheel – use and honor the work of the past. Then ask the question, “Where is there passion and where is there not passion in these past dreams?” What new dreams are there?
        • We want our congregation to look like this, feel like this, be known for this. – Do you agree?
        • Decide “what’s hot and what’s not”
        • Collect the dreams and begin provocative statements.
        • Establish emerging Design
        • Write provocative statements, get consensus on the directions you want to go in worship, nurture, care, and/or service; design strategies that take you from where you are to where you want to go, assign leaders/participants for each strategic direction, and begin doing/experimenting.


Design is more than a Vision. It enhances the organization by leveraging its own past experiences to create a Strategic Intent. Strategic Intent signals what the organization wants more of and recognizes that the future is built on what can be based on what is.

After the discovery and dreaming phase, the core planning team re-engages the congregation again and gains consensus on Provocative Statements, asking the questions: Do you agree with these provocative statements?  Do you want the congregation to look and feel this way?



Offer Second Evening Event, Focusing on Design and Doing

Agree upon top 5 provocative statements

Design Interventions based on interests – make five-year plan and back it out.   Take the top design interventions and find leaders that have a passion in them.  Break into five small groups that will work on implementing the interventions.

  • Build Support
  • Share the Vision.
  • Testify to ways the vision is being lived out
  • Celebrate small successes
  • Start gathering stories.
  • The core team monitors redevelopment
  • Communicate outcomes
  • Support innovation teams
  • Support improvisational initiatives
  • Recognize people working in new ways
  • Furthering the use of appreciative inquiry

Come With Us


The Loneliness Epidemic


There is an epidemic occurring in our society, that few are naming and most our experiencing.  It’s an aching, hungry feeling, that is searching. It’s a painful presence that is wanting, but never satisfied.

It’s the loneliness epidemic.

We are more connected with more people,more than ever before and yet as a society  studies show, we are the most alone and isolated than ever before.

Sherry Turkel is a professor on society and technology at MIT.  She has written a book entitled Alone Together.  She says in her Ted Talk:

These days, those phones in our pockets are changing our minds and hearts because they offer us three gratifying fantasies. One, that we can put our attention wherever we want it to be; two, that we will always be heard; and three, that we will never have to be alone. And that third idea, that we will never have to be alone, is central to changing our psyches. Because the moment that people are alone, even for a few seconds, they become anxious, they panic, they fidget, they reach for a device. Just think of people at a checkout line or at a red light. Being alone feels like a problem that needs to be solved. And so people try to solve it by connecting. But here, connection is more like a symptom than a cure. It expresses, but it doesn’t solve, an underlying problem. But more than a symptom, constant connection is changing the way people think of themselves. It’s shaping a new way of being.

The best way to describe it is, I share therefore I am. We use technology to define ourselves by sharing our thoughts and feelings even as we’re having them. So before it was: I have a feeling, I want to make a call. Now it’s: I want to have a feeling, I need to send a text. The problem with this new regime of “I share therefore I am” is that, if we don’t have connection, we don’t feel like ourselves. We almost don’t feel ourselves. So what do we do? We connect more and more. But in the process, we set ourselves up to be isolated.

…We slip into thinking that always being connected is going to make us feel less alone. But we’re at risk, because actually it’s the opposite that’s true. If we’re not able to be alone, we’re going to be more lonely. And if we don’t teach our children to be alone, they’re only going to know how to be lonely.


It seems to me that the church is the antidote for the loneliness epidemic. It seems to me the church should be the counter-cultural place that offers real connection, real relationships and real conversations. It seems to me the church can be a place that can teach that solitude and community go hand in hand.

If you ask any congregation to describe themselves they will usually say they are friendly. No congregation says, “well, we have great music, but we aren’t very friendly.” I would imagine that most congregations are friendly, but few fully live into the charge that Jesus leaves to his disciples.  The charge to love one another to the point that one would lay down their life for another.  The charge to abide in Christ, to belong to Christ,  to see Christ as a friend, a companion in the journey.

What if every time we checked our phone to make sure we weren’t forgotten, we went to prayer to remember that we are called?

What if our loneliness and our neediness to be liked by others was changed to liking and affirming ourselves?

What if instead of hoping someone seeks us out, we seek others out?

And perhaps most difficult of all, what if we fought the need to connect, by surrendering into a time of solitude.

We need to relearn how to be alone.  We need to relearn that being alone does not result in loneliness.

What a difficult and counter-cultural experiment it would be, to be the church that was the antidote for loneliness. To be the church that said, “in this place we are going to have real relationships, not cyber ones. We are going to have gulps of conversations not sips.”

There is risk to this.  Vulnerability and openness and acceptance are required.  But I wonder if we cannot be a place where conversations happen, where real friendships are developed and where we strive to love others as Jesus love us.  It would require being inclusive, inviting new people into small groups,  creating new small groups, making sure every person is part of the conversation in coffee hour, reaching out to someone we don’t know well, striking up a conversation with a familiar face, but an unfamiliar life.

The great theologian Dietrech Bonhoeffer wrote in his book Life Together:

“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community… Let him who is not in community beware of being alone… Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.”

I believe we are a lonely culture in need of real relationships, not cyber ones. I believe we are teaching our children that they can never be alone and they are losing the ability to connect, converse and be real.

I believe that the church can be the cure for the loneliness epidemic. It can be the place where the beloved community unfolds.  Where people learn how to have real conversations and real relationships. A place where solitude and life giving community come together.


Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian in Community Paperback – May 26, 2009

Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other Paperback – October 2, 2012

The Worst Mother

creating sacred communities

There are two gifts every new mother receives that she was not expecting: guilt and worry. In fact, if she is a “good” mother she will have guilt and worry by the bucket loads. Why? Because guilt and worry are indications of concern for another person, and “bad” mothers are uncaring and selfish, right? Or is because we are control freaks, and we think if we worry or feel guilty enough, our kids will be “O.K.” And no one will ever know how clueless we really are.

When I was in junior high, everyone was obsessed with the movie “Mommie Dearest.” It was just scary enough. As blooming adolescents, I think we all thought our mothers were almost as crazy and neurotic as Joan Crawford. We all swore we would never be like her: career driven, critical, wanting things hung up in closets, needing our children to look beautiful and…

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Did you know?

creating sacred communities


If you knew what you know, would you have become a mother?

Would you have signed up for the crusty noses, the vomit and the poop?
Would you have applied for the drama, the losses and the back talk?
Would you have agreed to the driving, the scheduling, and the planning?
Would you have understood the worry, the guilt, and the anxiety?

If you knew what you know, would you have become a mother?

I have seen mothers lose their babies at birth and hold them until they could hold them no longer.

I have seen mothers serve as advocates for their child with special needs. Driving vans for wheelchairs, their trunks full of medication. They blog, argue and work for the rights of their child.

I have seen mothers sit for hours at recitals and at meets and on bleachers, losing entire days to watch their child run, or…

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