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Dear Church Family,

In reviewing my notes and materials in preparation for our Sanctuary Course Learning Circle this week, I was reminded that the prayer with which Session 6 concludes is the words to one of my favourite hymns—"The Servant Song" by Richard Gillard (also located at Voices United #595!). The opening verse (in VU) goes like this:

We are pilgrims on a journey,
fellow travellers on the road;
we are here to help each other
walk the mile and bear the load.

Gillard's hymn resonates with me, in part, I think, because it is deeply rooted in a biblical understanding of community that shapes much of my theology of the Church: As followers of Jesus in a local congregation, we are here, together, intended to be with and for one another in all that we say, do, create, plan, and experience.

Over the next few months, you're going to have an opportunity to put this journeying-together into practice in some new and fresh ways.

Back in 2018, when I was beginning the interview process that eventually led to you calling me as your new Senior Minister, I created a document for the search committee that outlined several areas of priority that I felt God had placed on my heart for the beginning months/years of the pastoral relationship, should I be called to the role. Since I had a pre-existing familiarity with Southwood and many of the ins and outs of community life in this place, it felt appropriate to share "what I'd do first" with those who were interviewing me.

Most of those priorities have been accomplished or initiated! We've continued to lean into the common language of our Church Practices. We've streamlined our staff structure and brought employee positions in line with United Church policy/procedure. We've begun developing a robust vision of unity in worship, music, liturgy, and intergenerational connection (even as these things have been interrupted and altered by COVID). And we've begun conversations about what hands-on local outreach, justice initiatives, and truth and reconciliation efforts could look like. There is so much to celebrate about what God is doing in and through this community of faith!

As I've been praying about the road ahead, "re-launching" in a post-pandemic world, and how I can give the best guidance to the Church Council as they lead, there are two of these "first priorities" from that document that have yet to be brought into focus. The first is around learning, growth, and faith formation (something you'll hear more about as we launch formal Confirmation and Membership classes in February!) And the other is around lay leadership, governance, and participation in the life and work of the church.

2022 is the year we're going to tackle this priority, together.

Over the past few months, I have been speaking to the Church Council about the need for a Strategic Internal Review of our ministries, programs, committees, governance structures, and systems of integration and participation here at Southwood. They recently approved my proposal (and a timeline for this Strategic Internal Review to take place) at our December meeting. It is my feeling—and the Council's—that our congregation needs to look seriously at how we can re-engage in our life together in an intentional way, especially as we head into what is going to be a very different world of doing ministry together in a post-pandemic context. 

From January 31st through April 3rd, I will be leading this Strategic Internal Review, which I'm calling "Sharing the Journey" (thanks to Gavin, our Music Minister, for the suggested title). During this time, I will be taking a step back from my regular day-to-day duties as your Lead Pastor in order to focus on facilitating a major governance review, writing and/or re-writing policies, procedures, terms of reference/vision proposals, and having conversations with as many of you as possible to discern together how it is that God is calling you serve within the ministries, structures, committees, and tasks of this congregation.

We have been given the gift of a capable and equipped Student Minister during this season (JJ Soriano), who will be taking the lead on most of my regular responsibilities during the month of March (for February, our HAM and other staff will assist and I'll "jump back in" for a couple of weeks while JJ is on vacation). Alongside Pastor Corinne and the rest of our incredible staff team, the Council and I are fully confident in JJ's abilities, calling, and giftedness to lead. I'll still be around to support and encourage as needed, of course—and present on Sunday mornings—but during February and March, I will be focusing as much as possible on the work of the Review. 

From my pastoral vantage point, I believe that Southwood is at a fork in the road as a congregation—one path could lead towards healthy, sustainable ministry for many years to come, and the other could lead towards fewer and fewer members of the church taking on too many responsibilities and eventually burning out or giving up. I pray every day for the former to be the path you all choose to take, and you have my word that I will continue to pray, encourage, inspire, invite, equip, and exhort you unto that end.

The work of the Strategic Internal Review in February will be primarily about writing documents, making plans, and collating information. In March, I will begin making daily phone calls to as much of the church membership as I'm able to—to initiate pastoral conversations about what the needs of the church are and how you can serve.

Let's share this journey together! 

Rev. Sam

Please feel free to reach out to Jan McLean (Council Chair), or Will Arnold (M&P Chair) if you have any questions or concerns about the announcement above.