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An Update from the Structure Group:

In recent years, like churches all over the nation, First Parish of Westwood has experienced a shift from a larger to a smaller congregation, resulting in a change to how members carry out the church’s mission in practice. Because of this, and having a new pastor, needing a long overdue review of the ministry structure, and the changing priorities of families and churches after COVID - we decided that it was time to revisit our structure and determine what might suit us better now and going forward. A committee was created including Dave Ball, Margery Eramo, Rev. JT Hills, Sharon Hobbs, and Darlene Wong.

Our group has used an iterative approach to this work. We gathered in September and began by reviewing how our church currently functions. In October we surveyed the church, reporting the results back in November. In the winter we began to try some new things in response to the survey. In January and April, we used Big Sunday Brunch presentations with conversation, and then time in worship, to also clarify what we were thinking about and how it would work in the day to day. Our goal has been to streamline the work of our church so that we are able to be more flexible in how we operate to meet the needs of the congregation as it, and the needs of those in it change.  To guide our thinking, we thought about why we do what we do, how we live out that core, and what specific actions we take.

In our thinking about streamlining and aligning our work together, we thought about the scripture that begins our Open and Affirming statement as the heart of our why. “Jesus, through his teachings and deeds, emphasized God’s two greatest commandments:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The members of First Parish of Westwood, covenant to continue to live out the inclusive love of Jesus, faithfully discerning what that looks like in both the present and the future.”

It is this scripture that binds us as a faith community and guides us in our worship and our mission.  How we do that is named in our mission as a church: Growing Faith, Sharing Love, and Grounding Lives.

Our what is the specific work of three pillars of Growing Faith, Sharing Love, and Grounding Lives. We have worked as a group and as a congregation to discern what of our current work would fit under each of the three pillars. This has seemed to be the trickiest part of our work as there is a good deal of overlap between the ministries that we currently have and the three pillars. The worship service that we had where we used post-its to collect people’s thoughts in the moment about the pillars was very helpful in moving us forward, particularly with Grounding Lives.

Here is our initial thought about what goes in each of the pillars, beginning with Growing Faith. These are reported in the order of our mission statement, not their importance to our community of faith.

Under Growing Faith - we envision the following functions of our church - Faith Formation (adult and children’s education), Stewardship and Budgeting, providing meaning in our lives, and communicating that meaning out to the larger community.

Under Sharing Love- we include caring for each other (through providing meals and rides) and the larger community; keeping connected through technology and relationships; fellowship gatherings, and mission and service opportunities. We also included things like participating in Westwood Day and the Music in the Meeting House concerts.

Under Grounding Lives - is the piece that centers us as a faith community. It includes spiritual practices, worship (including sacraments and music), and the physical space that we inhabit as a community. This is the pillar that is foundational to our identity as a church.

The pillars will have teams within them that carry out the work of the pillar. As an example, the Grounding Lives pillar could have a worship team that works on ushering, lay readers, and music in worship. It could also have a separate team that works on buildings and grounds. These are all important aspects of our faith community, but also that are pieces that could shift and change over time.

There are six components to the leadership and the keeping of the mission and vision of our church. First is the congregation - which is the largest group of us who participate in the life of the church. Second is the Pastor, who leads us in our worship and our work together. Supporting the Pastor is the Pastoral relations committee, who function as soundboard and guides for the Pastor. In other support roles for the work of our church are the Clerk, the Treasurer, and the Staff (who include a Music director and an Office Administrator, a sexton and a Nursery person, and a volunteer Health Minister). All of our staff, other than the Pastor - are part-time.

Our thinking about council is that this group will be the keepers of mission and vision - and also will communicate with each other to ensure that pillars are not working at cross purposes. The pillar point people (3) will carry the information from their teams and ideas from the congregation to the council to ensure that we are all working in sync with each other. There will be 2-3 at large members to also gather ideas from the congregation. The pillar people are not expected to do the work of the pillar - but to be a communicator and bridge builder for the work of the teams. Our idea is that the pillar point people will find resources or will communicate with those who can give resources to further the work of the church. The Moderator will be a voting member of the council. We are looking at two structures for the other two roles (Clerk and Treasurer) - one where they are voting members and another where they are non-voting members.

We created a visual representation of this structure that is a building with 3 pillars. The roof is God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit who shelter us and enable us to carry out our work as a congregation. The pillars are as described above. The foundation is the congregation and the leadership of the church. The by-laws of the church will not change until we have spent some time living into the new structure and determining if it meets our needs now and moving forward.

We look forward to presenting this further on June 16. We are grateful for all of the input, guidance, questions, disagreements (we have not all been in agreement in our committee - which has made our work much more fruitful and interesting), and the grace to try this on!

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