Discerning Our Heart for Justice

  Discerning Our Heart for Justice  
An Invitation to Deeper Discernment

The recent presentation of a proposal to open a café on our campus as a social enterprise meant to provide employment and training for a vulnerable population, and the feedback that has been shared in response to that presentation, have led us as a community to a place of deeper discernment.   On this page, I want to share briefly how we came to this place, and then talk about how we move through it to a place of greater clarity.  I also want to provide some guidelines about how we connect this process of discernment to our prayer life.   You may read through this entire page by scrolling down, or you may click on the sections that you are most interested in reading.


The Rev. Matthew Dutton-Gillett, Rector

Our Heart for Justice Vision

A few years ago, I invited the people of Trinity to begin thinking of ourselves in this way:  We are Trinity Church in Menlo Park, An Episcopal Community, with a Seeking Soul, a Heart for Justice, and an Open Spirit.    After some discussion and discernment, Trinity embraced this vision, and since doing so, we have been doing our best to live into it as fully as possible.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of this vision is that phrase, “Heart for Justice”.    It has been the phrase that has been hardest to get our minds and hearts around.  And the reason for that has to do with the need to conceive a justice ministry that respects the diversity of our congregation.  When justice ministry is shaped as advocacy, that often creates an intersection with political life that can create discomfort and tension.   But justice ministry can also focus on providing greater opportunity and support for vulnerable populations that lead to transformed lives for people in those populations.  It is this second shape of justice ministry that perhaps holds the greatest potential in terms of how we, as a community, live out the “Heart for Justice” aspect of our vision.


Our First Hearts for Justice Conference and the Café Proposal

After Rev. Elizabeth joined Trinity as our Associate Rector, the idea for an annual Hearts for Justice Conference was conceived as a tangible way to help us live more fully into this aspect of our vision.  The first of those conferences, held in 2014, was focused on human trafficking.  It was a topic that intersected well with our newly emerging relationship with Catherine’s Center, whose clients have often been victims of human trafficking.   That conference included nationally known figures working in this area, and at least two of those presenters talked about the models they have used to help restore victims of human trafficking to lives of promise and hope.   Those models included cafés as social enterprises that provided employment, training, and a new start.   In the days immediately following that conference, several people both within Trinity and in the larger community began to wonder aloud if we could create a similar opportunity in Menlo Park.   As this small collection of people began to discuss that idea, including some connected with Catherine’s Center, an idea crystallized that perhaps this could happen on the Trinity campus.  
I have always believed in paying attention to new energy when it arises, and in encouraging people to follow the flow of that energy.   I do so because it is always possible that this energy is connected to the movement of the Spirit within and among us.   And so, with that in mind, I asked Rev. Elizabeth to put together this small group and explore whether and how the development of a café might be possible.   We kept the Vestry informed regarding this on-going exploration, and with their consent, finally felt that there was enough information and substance to present the proposal to the congregation.


Important Concerns

In the days since the presentation of the café proposal, we have seen some enthusiasm for the proposal.  And, we have heard a number of very important concerns with respect to the wisdom of moving forward.  These concerns include many questions about financial viability and sustainability, questions around the modifications of our physical space that would be required, concern about the impact a café would have on other users of our campus, concern about the appropriateness of such an enterprise in a place that hosts a pre-school, and questions about availability of time and expertise.   These are exactly the kinds of concerns that we were looking for by presenting the proposal. 

Stepping Back and Considering the Big Picture

Just as the people who worked on the café proposal were responding to a particular energy that had been let loose by that first Hearts for Justice Conference, so the feedback we have received about that proposal has also embodied a certain energy  -- an energy that is also excited about the possibilities that may emerge as we seek to better embody a Heart for Justice, while at the same time very much wanting to make sure that any commitment made in the name of that vision truly makes sense for our congregation.   All of this energy, I believe, is the movement of the Spirit within and among us.   And, we must pay attention to it.
Therefore, it has seemed appropriate for us to step back from the specifics of the café proposal in order to think deeply about the goals the proposal was meant to serve.  How do we engage in a ministry that can be deeply transformational for a vulnerable population?  What are some other models for doing so?  What makes the most sense for Trinity?   And so, we are forming a new task force with broader representation that will look at these questions and see where they lead. 


Congregational Involvement in Discernment

As this next phase of deeper discernment unfolds, the task force will provide interested members of the congregation opportunities for input and feedback.  Before and between those opportunities, however, there is an on-going piece of work that we all can and should do:  the work of prayer. 
Discernment happens at a couple of levels.  There is the practical, nuts and bolts sort of level, which often captures our attention most quickly.   This is where the hard questions of how something might be done, or whether something should be done, get asked and answered.   And then there is what I like to call the heart level of discernment, where we talk about hopes and dreams, bigger goals, and where we try to sense the movement of the Spirit.   It is at this level that we ask the question, “What might God be calling us to do?”
When we speak about these two levels of discernment in the context of a faith community, we begin with individual members of the community engaging these levels of discernment.  Then, as those individuals talk with one another and are brought together for larger conversations, we look to see what patterns emerge,  trusting that those patterns reveal something about how the movement of the Spirit is happening among us, not just within us.  Over time, this process leads to a sense of conviction about something, and ultimately to a commitment to move in a particular direction.
And so, I invite us to a season of intentional prayer about the Heart for Justice aspect of our vision.  The café proposal itself suggests that we are aiming for something different and perhaps bigger than we have done before.  Perhaps we are being called to step a bit outside our normal comfort zone.   Only time will tell.   Time spent holding our Heart for Justice intention in prayer.   At the end of this page, you will find a brief guide suggesting how you might hold this in your prayer life.


Discernment Task Force

As we move more deeply into this process of discernment, I will be appointing a Discernment Task Force made up of about 9 people who represent a variety of points of view within our community.  This task force will consider the goals that the café proposal was meant to serve, and develop some additional ideas about how those goals might be fulfilled.   The members of the task force will be announced to the congregation, and the task force will engage the congregation in appropriate ways as it does its work.  I am not placing a deadline on that work at this time -- that would be premature.  As the task force begins its work, an appropriate time frame will emerge.  I intend to have that task force appointed by the end of August, so that it will be able to begin working this fall.  


Post Script:  Our Planning Process

In conclusion, I want to say a brief word about the connection between this moment of discernment and our planning process.    As you will learn in September, the planning process that began with the Planning Extravaganza this past April will result in a number of things that we would like to do in several areas of the church’s life.  This process of discernment was not a subject of discussion this past April, but it will be included in the church’s three-year plan.  It relates to the outreach part of that plan.    The café proposal and the planning process came to birth separately and unfolded separately, simply because that’s the way things happened.   But this deeper discernment around our Heart for Justice vision will be harmonized with that process in the end.


Praying Through Discernment 
The following is offered as a suggested guide to keeping our on-going discernment around our Heart for Justice vision in your prayers.  This is only a guideline -- feel free to use it, discard it, or modify it in whatever way meets your needs.

Beginning a Time of Prayer
In a space of relative quiet, settle yourself into a comfortable position.   Set a timer for about 15 minutes -- try to set a timer with a gentle sound when it goes off.   Begin by saying this prayer:

An Opening Prayer
Gracious God, I have set aside this time to make myself present to you, and I pray that you will offer your presence to me.  I come into your presence with all that I am:  a physical being, a spiritual being, with many different thoughts and feelings.  I offer them all to you.  I trust in your acceptance of me just as I am.  And I trust in the leading of your Spirit, as I seek to become more like Christ.  I also come into your presence as a member of Trinity, a community that also seeks to trust in the leading of your Spirit and to become more like Christ.  As we discern together how best to follow you, and how best to embody your peace and your justice, offering others the possibility of renewed lives, be with us and guide us.   And inspire me and all of us with your Spirit, that we may discover how best to be Christ's hands and heart in this world.  Through Jesus I pray, and in the power of your promised Spirit.  Amen.

A Time of Silent Meditation
Close your eyes.  Begin by putting your attention on your breath.  Notice where you feel the breath in your body most powerfully.    Notice your body -- where your are comfortable, where you are uncomfortable.  Don't dwell on any particular feeling, just notice how your body is.  And notice your emotions, your feelings.  Notice how you are generally feeling.  Don't dwell on it, just notice it.   Then, when you are ready, take about three or four deep breaths in and out, in and out.  Then, return to your normal pattern of breathing.

After returning to your normal pattern of breathing, on each in breath, say the word "Jesus" in your mind.   On each out breath, say the word "mercy" in your mind.  Or, if there are a pair of words that speak more powerfully of your connection to God, or your intention to be present to God, substitute those words, instead.   

As you do this, different thoughts will enter your mind.  Don't try to push them away.  Simply acknowledge their presence, and return to focusing on your prayer words.  If some discomfort develops within your body, simply acknowledge it, and then return your focus to your prayer words.  

Continue this practice until the timer goes off.   After the turning off the timer, move to the Closing Prayer.

Closing Prayer
The Lord's Prayer

After the Lord's Prayer, you may add this:

Thank you, gracious God, for this time of encounter.  As I move into the remainder of the day, let this time of prayer leave its imprint upon me.  Help me to carry your presence in my heart and soul, and to be the face of Christ to all whom I encounter.  Amen.

As you continue this prayer practice regularly, ideas and thoughts may arise in you about our discernment process.  You may wish to write these down, and to see if and how they change over time.  You may be moved to offer an idea or suggestion to the task force or one of the clergy.  Or, you may simply continue to hold them in prayer and see what develops, both for you and for Trinity.   That is entirely up to you.  But trust that a prayer practice such as this has the power, over time, to move you into a space in which you are more deeply connected with God, and more prepared to be part of this larger conversation.