By Pastor Richard Hill
After a year of conversations between pastors and leaders of the 10 congregations in the Western Nassau Conference, over 65 people came together for their first "Vision Day" at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in New Hyde Park on Saturday, November 15. The event was the culmination of several months of discussions among the conference pastors and lay leaders who are taking part in a pilot project initiated by the Gathered Committee of our synod’s strategic plan.
Under the leadership of the dean, Pastor Kim Wilson of Our Savior’s, Glen Head, and with the assistance of consultant Pastor Richard Hill, leaders spent the time together identifying their needs and opportunities so they can plan for the future. After several preliminary discussions, this event marked the first formal effort to bring leaders together around the topic "Creating Our Shared Future Together."
Each of the congregations in Western Nassau has a rich history and maintains a substantial church facility. Demographic changes in recent years, plus a decline in worship attendance and giving levels, present most of them with specific challenges as they plan for the future. At the present time, only three congregations have full-time called pastors, three are being served by interim pastors, three have part-time called pastors, and one is not able to call any pastor.
After a time of reflection and prayer, participants joined groups organized into three clusters: the "Our Saviors’ Cluster" (with three churches named Our Savior), the "Central Cluster" (with four congregations located very close to each other), and the "Southern State Cluster" (with the three southernmost congregations of the conference). Using the cluster model as an example, Pr. Hill presented them with several scenarios for creating shared ministries with one another.
Although the challenges faced by each cluster are quite different, each group gave participants a chance to introduce their congregations to each other, describe what they saw as some of the valuable strengths of their churches, and then discuss insights about how ministry could be shared among them. Then the entire group met to summarize the discussions and map steps toward developing shared ministry.
"In a way, the conference has just begun a long journey they will share together," said Pr. Hill. "There is no ‘they’ out there who will come in to tell them the best course to take. The leaders will create their future together." In coming months, the conference will continue to expand these conversations by forming small teams in each of the three clusters to bring leaders together for more extended planning discussions.
"We’re on the way to a better future," said Pr. Wilson after the event. "We face some great challenges, but we also have some wonderful opportunities for sharing in ministry together. Now we can start exploring those opportunities in a significant way."