Maybe you’ve noticed that just about every other Sunday, Scott Walls has a group of people in the conference room hard at work during coffee hour. He has been convening the Homelessness Focus Group.
At first we didn’t know what to call it and we called it the Homelessness Task Force but at this point, this is not primarily an “action based” group. This is a discernment group, coming together every couple of weeks with an ear to the world around us and an ear to God and an ear to the heart and life of this congregation and we are asking if God has any work for us to do with our unsheltered or homeless neighbors?
So often we Christians are very familiar with the worldly endeavor of decision making but we have little experience with the work of discernment. Discernment begins from the premise that there is a God who needs to be consulted in our decision making processes. Maybe we want to go so far as to say that discernment begins with the premise that there is a God to which we must surrender our decision making processes!
This group has been using the framework for group discernment laid out by Susan Beaumont, a pastor, spiritual director and church consultant. So this is what we’ve been doing:
- Start with a Framing Question.
Ours is this: How does St. Peter’s enter into the reality of our homeless and unsheltered neighbors through friendship and compassion in order to bring about a healthier, more loving community for all in our neighborhood?
2. Ground yourselves in guiding principals that are dear and true to our community. These act as guard rails of consideration as you move forward. Any choices that we ultimately make will consider the following:
-We are people with boundaries and saying no can be a perfectly faithful response
-We are always seeking to create and maintain spaces that are safe
-We do not know everything
-We strive to be trauma-informed in any and all care we might be a part of towards the homeless or anyone else we serve
-We seek to be non-judgmental
-We believe that all are welcome
-We believe that all people are made in the image of God
-We value the discomfort that comes from learning
-We believe that God is leading us and God’s love is supporting us and that it’s OK if we don’t always know where we’re going
-We are committed to the care of our preschool and our staff and will consider them in all of our decisions
3. Shedding - Let go of your agenda, ego, and assumptions
4. Deep Listening. Here, the group engages conversation partners inside the church, the community, and anyone else who may be able to speak wisely into the question we began with.
We have compiled a list of service providers, faith leaders, social workers, police, homeless individuals themselves, and community leaders in and outside of Ocean Beach who can shed some light on our exploration. We also commit ourselves to prayer and the reading of scripture as we listen for God’s leading.
This is the most critical part of discernment and it takes the most time! This is where we are right now. We had an interview with Caryn Blanton, the director of Shoreline Community Services in Pacific Beach and on Nov. 6th will meet with Susan Flemming, executive director of TACO.
5. Exploring - this is like group brainstorming, listing all possible directions we could go.
6. Weighing - Here you whittle your possibilities down to 2-3 directions.
7. Choosing - The group chooses which of these directions is called for.
8. Testing - You test your decision by resting in in it. Does it feel right, holy and good a week after the choice was made? If yes, then the group begins to take action.
This kind of work has no set timeline but it feels exactly in line with our mission statement: we are actively seeking and sharing the love of God. Maybe you’re not a part of our Homelessness Focus Group and you’re not going to be. Either way, the next time you are at a cross roads, consider the lens of discernment instead of decision making. We have a living God who is eager to be a part of the choices you make!