Siladi Talks To Clergy About Their Ministry Challenges
By Tiffany Vail
SOUTHBURY (9/25/2016) - Addressing the oldest annual gathering of clergy in the United States on Sunday night, Connecticut Conference Minister The Rev. Kent Siladi told the 50 clergy gathered what they already knew: that they are doing ministry in a climate for which they were not trained.
"One of the challenges that is before us is that our training in ministry is really training for a church that doesn't exist," he said, adding: "I was trained to be a really good institutional church pastor. I was trained ... to look for those markers of success in church life. If there were people in the pews and dollars in the plates, life was good. And that is what the marker was for measuring what vitality looked like in churches."
"So how's that working out, right now? Most of us are not serving congregations where people are flooding in to check us out these days," said Siladi, speaking to the first night of the 307th General Association.
"We can sit here and buy that narrative. We can get all hunkered down about what the church is not. Or we can say the mission of God is changing right before our eyes ... how are we attentive to the way the spirit of God is moving in news ways, and how are we going to bring wood to that fire?"
"The impact of what we do is a new metric," he said. "It's not only about number and dollars, its about making an impact, making a difference."
Siladi went on to encourage pastors and church leaders to walk around their neighborhoods, to look for unlikely partners in ministry, to find out what people are doing on Sunday mornings.
"Find out where there is life and ministry and where God's mission is being carried out," he said. "How can we learn from others? Where is our inquisitiveness about innovation? How are we learning from each other in the midst of this time?"
"I think it's an exciting time to do ministry," he said, "and I think we need to learn from each other."
Siladi said another big challenge for the churches in Connecticut is their buildings, and their history, and the fact that they were formed hundreds of years ago in response to the needs of parishioners walking or riding horses to worship.
"If we were starting over today, would we have five UCC congregations in a 3-mile radius of each other?" he asked.
"I don't believe God wants our church to be centered on buildings and services. Instead, God wants our churches - whatever specific forms our gatherings take - to be focused on active discipleship, mission and the pursuit of unity."
"So we've got this building question. We love our buildings. Really important things happen in our buildings. And - there are times when our buildings are impediment to the ministry to which God calls us," he said.
"It's hard to be honest and authentic and real about that. After all, the last thing your Board of Trustees wants you doing is talking about how maybe we ought to shed this building to be equipped for the ministry to which God calls us.
"But where are we going to have that conversation? When are we going to have that conversation? You all are rewarded for keeping the institutions running smoothly. But leadership is more than that. Its a call for us to begin to ask questions - some hard questions - about what would ministry look like if we were to share with others in our community in new ways. Maybe we don't need this building any longer. Maybe we could shed this building, invest that asset in news ministries to which God is calling us."
Siladi said we need to figure out, together, how we can recognize when our churches reach the tipping point, where people are living just to maintain the building, and figure out how we can talk to each other about that.
"I didn't take a course on that in seminary. But it's part of what we face as we try to do faithful ministry in our time," he said.