Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Grant us a wise and discerning mind

In this morning's Daily Office reading 1 Kings 3:1-15, a young King Solomon has a dream wherein God says to him, "Ask what I should give you." Solomon does not ask for riches or power, or a long life, or the destruction of his enemies. Rather, Solomon asks for wisdom and discernment.

God is very pleased with Solomon's request, and so grants him a "wise and discerning mind" to govern his people. And he assures Solomon that much abidance will follow.

This past weekend, our Vestry (the governing board of our parish) went on retreat with me and our consultant, Caroline McCall. We did not talk about church business, but instead shared our stories and talked a great deal about discernment and respectful communication. It was my first opportunity as the new priest at Incarnation to hear the stories of our Vestry members and their perspective about Incarnation.

St. Andrew's Mission, Monte Rio
We met at St. Andrew's Mission, in the stunningly beautiful Russian River valley in Monte Rio about 45 minutes from our parish. St. Andrew's is a mission of Incarnation, and I will write more about this on this blog at a later date. It was good for us to see the mission and be in its space.

Over the years, I've worked with several Vestries and talked a great deal about discernment. What does it look and feel like? I've wrestled with the question, prayed about it, listened to others talk about it and read a few books.

What I've learned is discernment begins with a recognition that the head of the Church is the Risen Christ of Easter who dwells within each of us – and a recognition that Christ is able nudge us and guide us. That means that the church governing board is not just any non-profit governing board, but is a circle of spiritual leaders using all of their gifts to discern Christ's direction for the parish.

Discernment must be practical or it isn't really discernment. Let me share with you a few guidelines I've developed over the years about discernment. I shared this with our Vestry. I believe these guidelines are useful not just for a governing board, but for our own personal discernment as we walk through life. Please let me know what you think...

+ + +

Discernment decisions

Signs of discernment can include (but are not limited to):

·      Sense of peace about the decision. “All shall be well.”
·      Sense of joy – an interior sense that this is right.
·      Disorientation or perplexity followed by calm and serenity.
·      Sense of clarity.
·      Strands of experiences that seem unrelated now converge and fit together.
·      Persistence – the message keeps recurring.
·      Follows God’s timetable, not our own.
·      Fruits: “You will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16); It furthers the mission of the parish and the test of our baptismal covenant.

Discernment in community:

·      God is capable of reaching us individually, and we are capable of experiencing God. But Scripture makes a major point that God reaches us especially when we are gathered as the Covenantal community of Abraham/Jacob/Moses, or the “Body of Christ.”

·      God is capable of giving us more than one right answer. We might hear more than one.

·      When we consult with each other, something happens that is larger than the sum of our parts. We can see/hear more widely by listening to each other, and speaking from our own perspective.

·      In diversity is strength: discernment is the opposite of group-think. We need all of our perspectives to have a chance at discernment. Sometimes the “ah-ha” moment will come from an unexpected corner.

·      Requires trust: None of us has a monopoly on truth, but all of us possess some of the truth; we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to each other so that we can hear that truth each of us has. We behave in ways that build trust with each other individually and as a community.

·      Mutually supportive: When I don’t see it, you will. When I falter, you will be there for me. When I cannot pray, you will pray for me. I will support you in your ministry and you will support me.

·      The group tests our discernment together, helping to protect us from our individual bias (and arrogance) and any false sense of knowing God’s mind. “Mutual listening” might slow us down, but might bring a more profound and lasting change.

·      Not consensus: Not everyone needs to agree, but no one feels obligated to resist. There are no protest votes; everything that needs to be said is said before we make a decision. Consensus takes us to the lowest common denominator where we can agree; discernment holds the possibility risk and taking us to the edges.


Discernment requires we support each other in the decisions we make and the tasks we undertake. We cannot carry this load alone. Undercutting our decisions inside or outside the Vestry damages discernment and is toxic to trust. We bring our ideas and concerns to the Vestry; we don’t have side caucuses. We support each other by:

·      Being there with each other in worship and immersing ourselves in the life of the parish.

·      Making it a personal priority to attend meetings and Vestry retreats.

·      Praying for the parish, the Vestry, and the life of the wider Church.

·      Tending to our own spiritual, mental, and physical health.

·      Being honest with ourselves and with the group.

·      Speaking supportively inside and outside the Vestry about the decisions we make and the work we do. We don’t gossip or undercut each other with snide or negative comments.

·      We support with our time, talent and our money the ministries and mission of the parish. We have skin in the game. We don’t use it as leverage to get our way.

We might still get it wrong. We are unafraid to try again. When it is clear we have missed the mark, we analyze, understand, discern once again, and move on without blame or handwringing. We move forward in faith.

1 comment: