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Students at commencement


St. Paul Lutheran Church

Location: Davenport, Iowa
Denomination: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
Size: 1,200 average weekly attendance

Download St. Paul's VCP report or see report contents below:

Ministry context
St. Paul is a congregation of 3,300 women, men, and children, drawing from the entire Quad-City region of eastern Iowa and western Illinois. Our character is shaped by core values for hospitality, worship, lifelong learning, adventurous mission, and generosity.
Pre-existing practices

1. Congregational Bookstore

The St. Paul Book Corner is a not-for-profit ministry supporting our 24/7 faith and our commitment to global justice. Now in its 10th year, located in a second larger custom-designed space, the bookstore was born out of the desire to provide books, gifts, and greeting cards undergirding the life of faith for all ages.

2. Newsletter Features

The name of our newsletter, The Journey, carries our conviction that faith is a lifelong sojourn of growth. Newsletters feature a diverse sampling of faithful people who lead interesting lives, with interview questions shaped around faith-life connections. Storytelling has increasingly been part of congregational life, with video interviews screened during Lenten worship and occasional testimonies offered in worship.

3. Discipleship Sunday & Joy Sunday

The rhythm of St. Paul’s worship year includes a spring focus on discipleship (also interpreted as vocation, calling, serving, living our faith in daily life) and an autumn emphasis on financial stewardship (including the dedication of pledges). Both festive services, planned and led by the Stewardship Team, stir congregational spirit and offer tangible images for a Gospel-centered life: Daffodil bulbs; a giant saltshaker; even the baking of bread during worship. All engage the senses and expand the imagination for faith.

Discoveries from listening process

1. Stories are Powerful

Stories are powerful, relational, eagerly told and received. They grow our voice in making faith/life connections. Most of us reference and are shaped by stories from sources competing for our attention (such as TV, movies, or favorite authors) as we try to make sense of our daily lives. Biblical stories appear to be less relevant as references for daily life. We wonder about expanding trustworthy spaces for storytelling, growing our character as a storied community with a Great Story that calls us together. Sharing our life narratives, alongside the biblical narrative in accessible language, can grow our God-awareness and God-gratitude.

2. Relationships Give Meaning and Purpose

Relationships give meaning and purpose to our lives. We give voice to encountering God in others (and hopefully in ourselves)–whether or not we have (or need or want) language with big words like “incarnational” faith to express it. The value we place on relationships can complement our explorations in vocation.

3. Serving is Valued in Church Life

We value the opportunities presented by the congregation; we are grateful to be part of a mission-driven place (even if we can’t serve personally). We are less likely to consider daily life as an arena for serving (vocation, calling, faith connections). We know that mission and ministry will always be primary engagements in a large congregation. There’s also the matter of serving in the ordinary moments of daily life. This gives rise to a fresh path: Expanding our understanding of faith-filled mission identity, as both congregational serving and daily personal encounters.

4. Theology is Up to the Staff

The theological “heavy lifting” in this large, thriving congregation focuses on pastors and staff. They are valued, trusted, and loved. Recent research questions whether a thriving church necessarily produces depth in its people, and whether people who focus intently on growing their own spiritual depth necessarily produce a vital congregation. This is a two-sided coin for us. One does not necessarily produce the other.

Opportunities for growth

1. Share Christ’s Light

Grow personal confidence in recognizing and sharing God’s activity, and how we bear Christ’s light into the world. (We may feel confident and competent in our daily work, but we’re less confident in making or expressing faith connections with that daily work.)

2. Deepen Language for Calling

Deepen our language for God’s activity and our call to serve, growing mission/ministry as both church serving opportunities and as a dimension to every aspect of our daily lives.

3. Equip the People

Reframe the nature of congregational leadership, acknowledging the value of a strong staff core while better equipping and empowering the people of God for creative leadership, faith expressiveness, and wholehearted serving.

Experiments undertaken

1. Grow Deeper

Grow deeper as a storied community where we might share our awareness of God’s power and grace in our lives, practice giving voice to our own journeys, and listen to one another. A St. Paul adaptation of StoryCorps could be a trustworthy way to share our faith and consider what matters. Digital media could be a vehicle. (Addressing opportunity for growth #1, listed above)

2. Share Daily Devotions

Create a daily email devotion that would support and stretch our skills with accessible theological language and ideas, grow a daily awareness of faith narratives, and connect us one to another in common themes. This could be a creative, faith-forming partnership of St. Paul people and staff. One idea is a daily word along the lines of Frederick Buechner’s Wishful Thinking. Mass emails and social media could be vehicles. (Addressing opportunity for growth #2, above)

3. Create a Mission-Centered Structure

Expand St. Paul’s strong mission identity, taking a both/and approach to the congregation’s mission outreach and individuals’ personal awareness of vocation. Constitutional and bylaw changes underway would create a more mission-centered structure. New efforts would connect the dots between faith and our daily life as part of this twofold approach. Ideas include expansive mission/vocation language in church communications, activities, and images of people engaged in “mission” settings in their daily lives. (Addressing opportunities for growth #2 & 3, above)
Discoveries from experiments (July 2014)

Update filed in July 2014 by Kris Atwell and Joel Moore

Here is a brief overview of our Paths of Engagement after two years:

Experiment #1: Grow Deeper

  • My Life, Our Faith Sunday morning learning option for adults; interview/Q&A forum in which SP members shared how their faith intersects with and influences their daily life.
  • Stories of how SP members are living out their faith in the monthly Journey magazine.
  • Reflections of Grace: Summer project asking members to take a photo of themselves and the places they explore, including a few thoughts on how the photo(s) reflect the grace of God in what they found, saw, heard, and experienced.
  • Going Deeper book study group.
  • Early morning book talk groups.
  • Emphasis in Confirmation on family meetings and striving to cultivate intentional faith conversations within families in their homes.
  • Field trips during the summer to Kalona, IA (an Amish community) and Springfield, IL (the Lincoln Museum) exploring how others live (or have lived) out their faith.
  • Multi-day retreats to New Melleray Abbey and Our Lady of the Prairie Retreat Center.
  • Formation of a co-ed summer softball team.

Experiment #2: Share Daily Devotions

  • Online Advent devotionals written by both members and staff.

Experiment #3: Create a Mission-Centered Structure

  • St. Paul now has a Mission Board which functions on a level with and independently from the Council, exploring opportunities for engagement locally, regionally and beyond; opportunities range from half-day projects to longer trips and are designed to include multiple age groups.
  • Partnership with Mission Appalachia, sponsoring two mission trips per year.
  • 24/7 Faith tab on the congregation website.
  • My Life, Our Faith and Journey stories might also fall under this category.

Video: Vocation after Retirement