Beginning this winter, congregations in the Diocese of Indianapolis can participate in the Faithful Innovation Initiative, a new program designed to help parishes and other faith communities explore God’s call by innovating and building relationships with their neighbors.
“We’re asking new questions like, ‘How do we be the church in such changing times? What does it mean to be parishes located in specific places in today’s world? How can we increase our ability to listen and love God, each other, and our neighbors?’” says the Rev. Holly Rankin Zaher, rector of St. Paul’s, Evansville, and a member of the Faithful Innovation coordinating team.
The new program is a partnership with Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and was developed by the Rev. Dwight Zscheile, a Luther professor who gave the keynote address at diocesan convention in 2018, and several other Luther staff and faculty members. The effort is supported by a $1 million grant to the seminary from the Lilly Endowment Inc.’s Thriving in Ministry Initiative.
In addition to the Diocese of Indianapolis, the Dioceses of Ohio and Fond du Lac and six synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA) are participating in the initiative. Members of the Diocese of Indianapolis’s coordinating team, which also includes the Rev. Drew Downs of St. Stephen’s, Terre Haute, Yuri Rodriquez from the staff of Christ Church Cathedral, Canon Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale and the Rev. Canon Kristin White from the bishop’s staff, have attended two three-day training sessions at the seminary and have the opportunity to return this summer for a culminating meeting.
Each congregation that participates in the initiative will form a “guiding team” of four to six people who will work with a coach from the coordinating team. The congregation’s clergy leader will participate as the team’s spiritual director. The guiding team will conduct monthly experiments of innovative ways to “develop deeper connections with God, each other, and our neighbors.”
“We want to use these hopeful experiments to behave our way into a new way of thinking,” says Zaher.
The congregational guiding teams will meet monthly including three sessions, on February 16, May 18 and August 24, with other participating congregations across the diocese.
White says that the initiative will help congregations fulfill Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.
“In order to love our neighbors, I believe we have to know our neighbors,” White says. “We have to be vulnerable enough, as people and as church, to get to know people we don’t know. We have to ask questions that we don’t already know the answers to. We have to trust that God is already at work in our midst, and then look for examples that confirm our trust. And we have to consider what we have seen and heard, and then find ways of sharing the good news.”
Zscheile agrees. “The Holy Spirit is alive and up to something in the lives of our neighbors,” he says. “This initiative is about figuring out how to join where God is already at work.”