We are a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Take a look at the ELCA’s mission and vision.
God’s Work, Our Hands for us means,
transforming human life into Christlikeness through practicing Christian community.
Locally for us means the Lodi Area School District and the South-Central Synod of WI. Our denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, is a member church of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and an ecumenical partner with many other denominations, faith traditions, and ministries nationally and worldwide. (“The LWF is a global communion of 145 churches in the Lutheran tradition, representing over 74 million Christians in 98 countries.” Source: https://www.lutheranworld.org/content/about-lwf).
The Common Ground Church’s parent congregation, First Lutheran Church, Lodi, WI, was forged in 1878 through the dissolution of two founding congregations with Norwegian immigrant roots extending back to 1845. Likewise, First Lutheran Church prayerfully voted to dissolve and dispose of its assets (property) on August 16, 2020, in order to found a new missional faith community, the Common Ground Church.
“Until 1879, all worship services were held in homes or school houses; afterward, the congregation began to worship in the basement of the Universalist Church on Portage Street (now Three Bats in the Belfry). The first church building was built in 1878 where the current County Line Cemetery is located. It was originally built sans steeple until adequate funding could be raised. (excerpt from the First Lutheran Church 2013 Past-Forward Campaign and 2021Service of Remembrance and Hope.)
Former Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, describes the relationship of God’s mission with the church this way:
“It’s not the Church of God that has a mission but the God of mission who has a Church.”
The triune-God is in the business of transforming human life into Christlikness and redeeming the whole Creation (locally, the zip codes around Lodi, Dane, and the Lake WI area). The mission of God in the world includes, but is not limited to, the church. God’s redemptive reign is more expansive than the church in the world.
We participate in the redemptive mission of God as we practice Christian life together in communion with the triune-God and the Creation. We root our Christian practice in the Lutheran theological tradition.
Grounding our energy and imaginations in God’s mission first versus being overly preoccupied with the local church’s institutional elements (programs, local history, budgets, etc.) can be understood as the missional turn. Institutional elements matter but only in relationship to how well they serve God’s mission and the faith community’s call within God’s mission. The faith community’s institutional elements and structure find legitimacy in the contextualization of the mission of God locally. Meaning, forms of ministry are not the end nor the point of the church’s life together. Form can adapt and change with the Triune-God of mission.
We confess the missional turn is the work of the Holy Spirit in our congregation and runs counter to human nature in anxious times. The missional framework helps not only guide our work but checks our motivations and presuppositions inducing our habits and routines.
Specifically, the turn means we start with the mission of the triune-God to discern the vocation (calling) of the local church. The local church’s vocation is never not about God’s mission. Missionally-inspired questions that we wrestled with for years have been, What does God hope for us? What does the church do that no other organization does in our community? What is the church’s unique contribution to the common good? These questions really point back to who God is in the world and how the church fits within God’s mission.
This discernment process is an ongoing, prayerful dialogue we engage in with God and with others (neighbors) in our local community. The role of leadership in the local church, i.e., council leadership, is to encourage its mission partners to engage in “triadic” dialogue of self (collective) with God and with neighbor/Earth. (Mission partners are members.)
Father Stephen Bevans, a Catholic missiologist and contextual theologian, sums up well the missional vision in the following lectures:
Be the Church: Love God, Love Neighbors, Make Disciples.
This work remains crucial to congregational vitality in a world of continuous flux and growing complexity. Gil Rendle, a church consultant states it this way, “Mission statements are static. Conversations about mission are not.” (Source: Clarity in Ministry Workshop, May 2006, UW-Madison). The mission statement developed in 2005, Be the Church: Love God, Love Neighbor, Make Disciples, helped generate crucial meaning-making conversations that became ministry in action and a way to then reflect on our practice. And so the iterative cycle goes, ideas, action, reflection, further action, etc., and the reason our congregation always remains in process through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Our ongoing mission conversations start by asking, What does God hope for our local community and our part in it? What is God already doing in our community based on our active, ongoing listening to actual members of our local community? How do we form partnerships for the common good with an awareness of our particular, theological perspective and how it can contribute something unique and life-giving to the effort? How have we become more mindful to include marginalized voices in our society? We discern how we might join what God is already up to locally versus creating programs that attract more potential members to our church.
The other shift that the missional turn helped the church remember is that the locus of God’s redemptive activity is in the world, not just when we gather in our places of worship. Influenced by this missional, Lutheran perspective, the Be the Church vision, and subsequently, the Big Idea formed in 2005 and 2009 respectively. Both efforts engaged mission partners in prayerful conversations and led to many ministries and approaches that have become core to our identity:
- Ecumenical Day Camp with Sugar Creek was established and has hosted hundreds of kids locally in an amazing week with God and loving adults since 2006;
- Established the 10:00 a.m. Contemporary Worship Service in 2007;
- Yearly Family and Intergenerational Mission Opportunities during the summers and throughout the school year and the Wednesday night LOGOS ministry that included New Jersey hurricane relief, service trip in Wyoming, and Thunder Bay, Ontario;
- Discipleship and Leadership Development Opportunities that included three, 2-year Crossways Courses; four Alpha courses that engaged over 100 adults and youth in one year; Via de Cristo weekends that 55 adults experienced; several Financial Peace courses were led, including a teen version for the whole community at the local bank; One Year to Live for Men retreats and yearlong followup course; MAD Teens Encounter Christ was cofounded by First Lutheran and engaged hundreds of teens and adults in spiritual encounters around the Madison-metro; over a hundred people participated Willowcreek Leadership Summits, and several more leadership opportunities that included young adults in national level training with the ELCA;
- 2007: Renovation of Space in our facility that opened up hospitality to guests and a new nursery in an opportune location, and a refinished parking area for members and families dropping and picking up children at the local primary school;
- Financial generosity nearly doubled within the first two years, including a development of year-round, more holistic stewardship approaches; the Christmas Offering raised over 37,000 in three years;
- 2007: Distributed spiritual care was implemented that included adding a parish nurse, spiritual care chaplains, and the BeFriender’s Ministry with over 18 BeFrienders; and weekly Prayer Care letters in worship;
- Several strategic, support teams were developed: the finance team, the mutual ministry team, and the prayer tree ministry; best practices continue to be developed in the areas of stewardship, finance, leadership, spiritual care, community discipleship;
- The addition of part-time and full-time staff for our strategic goal of intergenerational discipleship and ministry, missional outreach and partnerships, and creative worship;
- Faith milestones were emphasized from birth through death, and how we as a congregation can accompany families on their journey of faith, e.g., baptismal/birth care baskets, interactive Holy Communion workshops, Seder Meals, etc.
- Parents were challenged to live into their baptismal identity and primary faith forming role in their children’s lives rather that dropping kids off for “kids’ programming; LOGOS was developed out of this idea of all-ages, cross-generational ministry on Wednesday nights.
- The church budget became a missional spending guide and council agenda was weighted toward grounding conversation in actual prayer with God and more attention to our out-group neighbor;
- 2012: A community-wide food packing event at the local middle school that engaged 300+ people packing thousands of meals for the hungry around our world;
- Engaged the Missional Discovery Journey on a congregational and synodical level with over 30 congregations participating from 2009 – 2014;
- The Summer Lunch Program (2011-present) that grew out of a local mission project effort called Reach Out Lodi from 2011 – 2013;
- 2013-14: Reach Out Lodi, Inc. (name lent from our local summer outreach initiatives) was formed as a nonprofit, serving cooperative that includes all sectors of the community; First Lutheran had integral role in its conception and development, and continues to be a key partner in its work;
- Greater attention given to our work with refugees, sister Synod in Northern India, missionaries in Cairo and Japan;
- 2015: A Food Cart new mission start called, Table of Joy. Food Cart gifted to Good Shepherd Lutheran, Madison, who developed into Holy COW (church on wheels)!
The Development of Be the Church Vision and a Big Idea eventually led to the vision of transforming human life into Christlikeness through practicing Christian community in 2015. More detail about these developments can found at the webpage archive of Be the Church and the Big Idea (the vision and calling of First Lutheran). Hint: It has a lot to do with discipleship, i.e., whole, lifelong spiritual formation and apprenticeship in the image, manner and mission of Jesus the Christ.
RE-DEVELOPMENT OF VOCATIONAL IDENTITY
Between 2015 – 2016, we arrived at another critical juncture in our congregation’s journey. In an effort to afford greater accessibility to people with disabilities and those disconnected from inherited church, a task force of lay leadership discerned the need to prepare for relocation (see pages 17-18 2020 proposal and action plan for Common Ground Church.)
The work of the Future Facility Task Force unearthed deep, painful tension that existed between two energies: preservation of familiar historic identity and the desire to serve those who lacked accessibility. This tension exists in many congregations experiencing numeric decline because the environment that they once thrived has changed.
The people of First Lutheran Church persisted in their call through familiar forms of ministry, spiritual care and weekly gatherings around Word and Sacrament following this period of transitional anxiety. The time between the end of 2016 through the fall of 2018 consisted of prayerful muddling and discernment around our missional vocation. Was God calling us to change place (relocation) or change in place (transformation)? YES!
During this time, the congregational website’s home page included this invitation from 2018 through September 2020:
God’s working in us a new thing and we are again engaging in basic questions about our church’s vocation, including God’s vision for the next season of ministry. We hope you can join us in this rich, prayerful dialogue with God for the sake of a just and loving world for all.
Eventually, it was discerned that God was calling our congregation to change place and change in place through death and resurrection. Practically, this has entailed dissolving the historic, parent congregation and launching a new missional community, The Common Ground Church.
Nov 2018 – Jan 2019: conception of new church as “a common ground” proposed to mission partners through stewardship campaign. A working missional understanding of First Lutheran Church was the norm since 2005. Dissolving First Lutheran Church as a necessary step to start a new congregation was novel.
Feb 2019: Council Retreat to discern possibility of new church start or continue improving existing congregation and making its building more accessible.
Mar 2019 – Feb 2020: Multiple mission partner cottage gatherings for dialogue, prayer and discernment.
May 2019/Oct 2019/Nov 2019: Input and advice invited from synod clergy, staff and lay church leadership at Synod Gathering and Bishop’s Convocation. Conversations with key external partners continue to present. Pastor Lee attends spiritual discernment retreat and confirms personal call.
Jan 2020: First draft of the Common Ground Church proposal completed, first of several mission partner meetings initiated.
Feb 2020: First edition of draft proposal shared widely with internal and external input invited. Mar 2020: Congregational vote to dissolve, dispose and establish was postponed indefinitely due to
pandemic shelter in home recommendations.
Feb – June 2020: Behind the scenes working through emotional sense of loss, misdirected grief, and excitement around future possibilities of a new start. Additionally, coalition-building with synodical staff and council for their partnership including endorsement and support.
July – early Aug 2020: Revision to proposal because of amended timeline and new information about the process. Scheduled congregational vote for proposed amendments, coordinated with Synod Council for August 29 synod assembly agenda and legal counsel. Synod council approved the amendments on August 15 contingent on the Aug 16-17 congregational meeting vote results.
Aug 16-17, 2020: Congregational Meeting with positive vote to dissolve parent congregation, First Lutheran Church, dispose its assets, and establish the Common Ground Church as a new mission start.
Aug 29, 2020: South-Central Synod Assembly voted to accept the Common Ground Church as a new congregation of the South-Central Synod of WI.
Sep – Dec 2020: Federal Tax ID issued (late Sep), weekly worship and mission partner briefings online, continued spiritual care for members including nine funerals since April 2020, listed church building for sale, November Digital Ministry campaign 155% of goal (included mission partner donations, an ELCA grant, and an outside angel investor donation), assigned congregational id from ELCA late December, and building tech equipment and services for digital ministry space.
Currently: Developing a coalition for short and long-term sustainability.
Our Historic, Theological Roots.
2017 marked the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting The 95 Theses in Wittenberg, Germany. (Brief scholarly articles covering Lutheran theology, events and persons are available from Oxford Research Encyclopedias.)
Lutheran means we take our confessional cues from the key theological insights highlighted by Luther and his colleagues like Phillip Melanchthon. Luther prioritized God’s initiative in grace through Jesus Christ for human beings. Faith as reconciled relational trust between human beings and God is initiated and sustained by the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Human beings are beloved of God and are freed for lives of love for God and for neighbor/Creation as self. Every descriptor that follows flows from this prioritization of God’s grace and love for the whole Creation.
We are a missional faith community rooted in the Lutheran tradition. We are committed to loving God and our neighbor: fellow church member, our out-group neighbor, and the nonhuman members of Creation. We conceive our work as collaborative partnership with God and neighbor for the flourishing of all within our “common home,” to borrow a phrase from Pope Francis. We are broken, too, and in need of continual renewal. Who we are equally means we who we are becoming. We are a local church always undergoing God’s transformation.
“GOD DOES NOT LOVE SOME IDEAL PERSON, BUT RATHER HUMAN BEINGS JUST AS WE ARE, NOT SOME IDEAL WORLD, BUT RATHER THE REAL WORLD.”
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, MEDITATIONS ON THE CROSS
We are followers of Jesus. We are imperfect, sometimes conflicted, but never without passion for the big things in life. We envision our life together beginning and finding fulfillment in communion with the triune God. God’s gracious love sustains and challenges us.
For us, a local church means a practicing Christian community…
- receiving God’s liberating grace daily,
- following Jesus (i.e., lifelong, intergenerational community discipleship),
- attuning our community rhythm with the movement of the Holy Spirit in us and creation,
- gathering around Word and Sacrament every week,
- proclaiming Gospel for all,
- putting faith in action socially, locally, economically, ecologically and politically,
- forming strategic partnerships for new life and hope,
- opposing evil,
- enacting restorative justice for the oppressed, marginalized and poor,
- welcoming the guest and the refugee,
- caring for those who suffer,
- valuing the body, work and sabbath rest, and the inseparability of the three,
- practicing peace and reconciliation,
- listening and living contemplatively,
- sharing stories and laughs around tables with good food and drink,
- encouraging the lonely,
- celebrating beauty,
- embodying creativity,
- accompanying the young and old,
- befriending the stranger,
- engaging theological imagination and dialogue with friends and others,
- living joy,
- tending grief,
- risking reputation for the greater good,
- and making sense of what it means to live deeply, abundantly generous and loving lives for the sake of the whole Earth locally and globally.
I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me. Jesus, Matthew 25:40, The Message
Let’s be unequivocal about who have been historically marginalized in society and around the world: the immigrant, the refugee, people who identify as LGBTQ+, women, the elderly, the unemployed, the homeless and hungry, the poor, the prisoner, people of color, religious and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and mental illness….made in the image of God and the neighbor we are called to love. Quite a number of us can personally identify with the list above. We know firsthand the trauma and challenges caused by society and even the very church called to love, not hate.
Our local church mirrors the above concern shared by the larger church we belong. We are a member church in a geographically-bound cooperative of congregations called the South-Central Synod of WI (SCSW), a Reconciled in Christ Synod. Check out what that means here: https://www.reconcilingworks.org/about/. What is another implication of our biblically grounded, Christlike values? We do not believe in building walls, but welcoming our refugee, immigrant neighbor in life together. (I was a stranger and you welcomed me…Jesus, Matthew 25:35-36, NRSV). The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, our denomination, articulates our shared value well:
Inclusion and diversity – As Christ’s church, we value the richness of God’s creation and offer a radical welcome to all people, appreciating our common humanity and our differences. We are a church that does not view diversity as a barrier to unity. We recognize and will challenge dynamics of power and privilege that create barriers to participation and equity in this church and society – for women, people of color, minority ethnic groups, people with disabilities, people who are marginalized or living in poverty, and the LGBTQ community.
Equally, we are an “all hands on deck” and “many hands make light work” kind of church against a consumeristic, individualistic distortion of Christianity endemic in the U.S. We are the body of Christ, a mutually-interdependent contrast-community where social status is grounded in our baptismal, missional identity not privilege or power. The journey you join may include filling your perceived need, but it is so much more than that. Your presence means we will love you right where you are at, somewhere between broken and whole. God is not yet finished with you (or anyone of us!). When you participate, you join a radical, local mission intended for hope, justice and transformation in this local community. Maybe most important to a curious prospective partner, i.e., YOU, we welcome you to this journey.
The behavioral values that ground our communal life together have consistently included the following:
- Collaborative Partnerships for Restorative Justice (shalom) and the Common Good.
- Lifelong Community-based Discipleship.
- Creative, Adaptive Approaches to Mission and Ministry.
- Enacting Compassion Locally and Globally .
- Distributed Responsibility for Spiritual Care and Ministry.
- Hospitality and Inclusion for the Marginalized.
- Courageous Stewardship.
- Struggle in Making Sense of being the Body of Christ in a World of Flux.
Disclaimer: We are in process. The vision above imagines who we have been and hope to be at our best. We are not monolithic in all of our beliefs nor at the same place theologically and spiritually. May our journey be marked by humility, healthy laughter, hope, compassion and joy.
WHO IS THE COMMON GROUND CHURCH TODAY? It is the church distributed in the world, locally and globally.
…so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another (Romans 12:5). And, the Spirit of God is conforming us to the image of Christ in our life together for the sake of the world (Romans 8:29a).
We are formed as a people in community with Christ at its center by God’s covenant with us. (Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20) The basic rule of life in this covenant community above all else is to love each other as Christ has loved us. (John 13:34, 15:12) This Christ-like love extends beyond us as God gives us opportunity to actively love our neighbor, especially our enemy, in the world. (Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:27)
Many of us, maybe like you, are acutely aware that the world in which we live is confronted with complex problems and vexing questions that do not lend themselves to easy fixes or solutions. Gratefully, people who constitute the membership of local congregations throughout the world are addressing and working on many of the challenges and questions confronting us today. Meaning, the Church via its members’ vocations in the world is engaged in serving the good of the world.
Common Ground Church has folks in various callings attending to the good of the world and our city. However, as a congregation whose essence is formed by the work of God through Christ, we prayerfully imagine the specific and particular contribution God is making through us – collectively as a community. That leads us to grapple with the following question,
What does it mean to be a local practicing Christian community today?
We take the discipline of discernment seriously but not without some humility and prayerful playfulness. We are far from the ideal community we project ourselves to be or are becoming. Thankfully, Christ is at the center of our life together, and discernment begins with God, as well as understanding the particularity and meaning of the Gospel of Jesus the Messiah for the world. Because of this, we often ask God, What do you hope for us and your creation? Our prayer is similar, “Dear Jesus, make us the church you wish to see in the world. Amen.”
You are invited to prayerfully consider this community journey with Christ at the center.
WHAT IF I AM NOT A LUTHERAN?
For starters, Martin Luther was not a Lutheran. While our denomination may have particular core theological convictions that help us understand the meaning of Jesus and the Gospel (good news) for today, and therefore, cast an image of Jesus in a manner reflecting our commitments, we are a diverse group of folks.
So, whether your faith in Christ has a Lutheran slant or a blend of several influences, or you are just exploring the Christian tradition for the first time, or maybe have serious questions and doubts about God – you are in good company with members and friends of First Lutheran. Literally, First Lutheran is made up of:
- dyed-in-the-wool Lutherans (Scandinavian and German ancestry), some of whom listen to Garrison Keillor’s yarns of Lake Wobegon as regularly as they worship on Sunday,
- those whose faith was formed in a different Christian denomination or had no formal connection to the church until adulthood through marriage,
- people who love traditional liturgy and organ music, or jazz, or bluegrass and others who’d rather listen to Florence and the Machine or Adele, or all of the above,
- enthusiastic newcomers and newly converted Christians,
- people who are needing a rest from over-functioning and are close to burnout,
- others who are earnestly exploring God and spiritual matters,
- folks who are wrestling with serious doubts about God,
- spiritual muddlers and skeptics,
- those visibly broken and those working hard to maintain a certain image in public,
- the politically right-leaning and left-leaning sitting in the same pew,
- the open-minded and genuinely engaged learners of the Jesus way,
- those who are positively nostalgic about their early Church experience and those who are trying to escape it, maybe even because they were seriously hurt by it,
- and, of course, everyone else in between.
Even with such varied experience and faith expression, our collective focus is following Jesus as Lord of our lives and the world. Our vision is to be the church not only in a building for weekly worship but everyday, everywhere and with everyone – loving God, loving and serving our neighbor and growing apprentices of Jesus.
Blessings on your journey!