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Monday, March 07, 2011

RevGalBookPals Discussion: Reframing Hope

At the Big Event 4.0, we were blessed to have Carol Howard Merritt leading us in a program that took off from her book, "Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation." Carol spoke about her book and also shared some great ideas that pushed us to think about ways we can get a wider audience for our own voices.

Our frames, or constructs, influence the way we approach the life of the church and the way we interact with the world. Carol is a great advocate for mainline churches, believing we're not done yet. But faithfulness seems to require tilting our heads a bit to the side, trying to get another perspective on what God is calling us to do and be. In the book, Carol examines the ways cultural shifts necessitate reframing our understanding of authority, community, our mediums of communication, the ways we tell our story, avenues for activism, attention to creation, and developing new traditions for expressing our spirituality.

Did Carol's insights resonate with your experience? Were there ways she pushed you to think about things differently?

Please use the comments to share your thoughts.


  1. As was true for Tribal Church, I found this book full of hope for the ministry of mainline churches if we will be attentive to what goes on around us. Although I serve in a rural-flavored suburb of a small city instead of a major metropolitan area, the same trends affect my community of faith, even if some of the movements in religious culture have been slower to get here.
    What I get from the book is the idea that we don't need to throw out our entire history, but we also can't cling to it desperately.

  2. To start with -- I began to resonate with the book when Carol "named" how dishonest and bogus and manipulative (I think that was her word) our sudden, intense, energy for "mission" and "evangelism" looks to the world around the churches.
    And of course, to a great many people IN the churches too.
    It was a relief just to know that somebody else "saw that too."

    More later. I'm going to be tethered to the little glowing box here,quite a lot today, and I'll be checking in.
    I miss you all something fierce.
    and my word verification is "tribul" -- close, but no cigar!

  3. I too, came away with hope for our mainline traditions with the idea of transformation. She names so clearly what is happening on our culture--and the highlighting of generational attitudes around power, authority, faith communities, social issues and more is critical for all of us to give attention to. I was leading a workshop on hospitality for the Mass. UCC conference on Saturday and I felt like my presentation was so much more rich having just read and experienced this book. I also was blessed to engage in some more amazing intergenerational dialogue around church, authority, and faith.

  4. I keep hearing a wise, wise friend from my youth group leader days saying, "you don't start a youth start a basketball team."

    Example to me of how we meet community and as equals...and then share our good news with them. That was my take-away.

  5. I too appreciated the hope that reverberates through the pages of Carol's book. Our mainline congregation is struggling financially right now (the effects of the economic downturn have trickled down to the area non-profits now - at least where I live and serve.) Yet, the vibrancy of faith and spirituality, especially in our 30-40 year old members is spilling out all over the place. Much of this renewal and vitality seems to be flowing from an increased willingness to tell our stories to one another (chapter 4) and attention given to spiritual practices like contemplative prayer (chapter 7).

    I know that there is a contingent in our community of faith who are clinging to our history and to a comfortable way of life, trusting that we can ride out the storm and see things go back to the way they used to be. The old frameworks worked for some of us...and we prefer them to that which we cannot see.

    It is both exciting and scary to pastor among these people and continue to point them toward the hope that looms on the horizon, a hope focused on what God can do.

  6. One of the things that continues to resonate is her naming of the hunger for authenticity. That gives us permission to continue to be who we are in terms of honoring our traditions (liturgical, theological, et al) but also gives us the freedom to live into a new vision of what we are called as parishes and as individuals to be. It's harder of course - it requires discernment. But the beauty of honoring our traditions is that they often give us powerful tools for discernment.

    I appreciated the honest look at what sometimes feels manipulative to me in some of the emergent conversation - that battle cry to discard all that we currently do (and which is dear to many in our pews) so that we can shape a new church that is supposedly geared to unchurched or church-averse people. Yes, enlarge our concept of hospitality. No, twist ourselves into pretzels bearing no resemblance to our roots to be something someone else defines as user friendly.

    Great book, great ideas.

  7. maybe this came more out of our discussions than out of the text itself, but I was encouraged to remember that "our traditions" are a lot deeper and a lot broader and a lot richer than "what our parents did"....we need to develop a longer and more courageous community memory.
    Making it safe for the older generations to tell their stories and the stories they heard from THEIR elders, can only help that.

  8. Since the conference, I've been thinking quite a bit about the need to "find voice", not only on a personal level but on a corporate level as well. Many of us noted that the emergents are often saying the exact same things that we've all (particularly women and progressives) been saying for years. It seems to me that many of the post-evangelicals are seeking exactly what we already have but don't recognize that it is right under their noses in the mainline churches.
    Some of this crept into my sermon on Sunday as we explored the themes of "telling" and "not telling" .

  9. Thank you so much for the discussion. It's wonderful to read your thoughts. If you have any questions, I'll be around the blog now and I'd be happy to answer them!

  10. Thanks for this discussion. I found the book very hopeful for ministry, for the future. I appreciate her honesty in the book. I have brought some of the thoughts to the church I am presently serving.

  11. One of the things I loved the most in the book was the idea of the "loyal radicals". It just described me oh so well.

    Even though I sometimes despair of my own denomination, I think that in unity there is strength. The trick is to allow heterodoxy, unity in diversity

  12. Kathleen LambertMarch 7, 2011 at 5:47 PM

    What I find myself telling my church with excitement is the news of how people are still looking for community even if they aren't coming to Wednesday Night dinners. In Reframing Hope, Carol Howard Merritt does a wonderful job of respecting our traditions and those who helped to make them as well as introducing new shifts in community building and the hunger there is for it.
    I will be leading a book study on Reframing Hope very soon.
    WTG, Carol, giving a needed voice in our age!

  13. I'm still pondering the role of technology in building community, explored especially in Chapter 7. This was particularly poignant among those of us who blog. On the one hand, we have embraced techie ways of communicating and have made deep relationships online. On the other hand, even here, we have provided a way for us to meet face-to-face and it was a joy!

    It seems possible and wise to nurture "both-and" to whatever extent is possible in each venue.

    Even though I maintain hope for the church, I am more aware than ever, as I watch the news or even read things from my "liberal" UCC, that men are still way over-represented in every picture. I'm watching the news right now (MSNBC), and all of those interviewed in the past hour and a half have been men, interviewed by men. (Sigh)


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