A Vision for Generous Orthodoxy

RENAE MILLER


Thank you to the Imagoans who took the time to fill out the survey about what you would like to see shape our vision. As a leadership team, we appreciate hearing your voices about where you feel the spirit of God moving in and through our part of the Body of Christ. We have tried to thoughtfully and prayerfully use your feedback in plans going forward. There were some common threads among those who answered—many find Breakfast Club and our other outreach ministries to be hugely rewarding, whether they participate personally or want to support a church who prioritizes these actions. Most are very pleased with our attempts to have a welcoming spirit to all and consider that their priority as well. The community people find here and the love of the people of Imago for the people of Imago radiated. 

As you might be able to guess, when we asked questions about how we could do things better, we got about as many types of answers as there are people who call Imago home—which leads us to the idea that came up the most in terms of what people appreciate and what people think we can improve on. It has to do with the idea of generous orthodoxy. And again, if we asked for a definition of this, we might get as many different answers as there are Imagoans! 

If you’ve perused our recently updated website you might come across a quote in regards to generous orthodoxy. A theologian named Hans Frei first used that phrase to describe being committed to your beliefs while being open to change. He said, “Orthodoxy without generosity leads to blindness, and generosity without orthodoxy is shallow and empty.” In previous years at our church, it has meant that we hold in common an inner circle of “bare bones” beliefs that identify us as Christians—for example, the Apostles' Creed or the centrality of Jesus’ teachings—and then hold much more loosely to things that could be debatable, depending on how you look at tradition or Scripture, like how to do baptism or communion or whether there is something like free-will or predestination. The goal has been to be able to articulate what you believe while also listening to and learning from different beliefs. It’s a fantastic idea! No wonder so many of us hold this ideal so firmly. But the practicality of living this out is messy, like humans.

In partnership with the pastoral staff, the Leadership Team is committed to being a church that lives in generous orthodoxy with each other. We know this is our ideal, and we are looking at trying to lean into a more embodied practical expression of it as well. Some of the messiness is revealed when the perspective of specific groups is highlighted from the front, but not all perspectives are equally represented. How can we be generous when our perspective is not highlighted? Feelings of scarcity can creep in and make us uncomfortable. Some part of our humanness looks to align ourselves with people much like ourselves. I know that you all resist this tendency, or you wouldn’t call Imago home. Maybe our challenge is to continue to resist, even when it feels like our voice isn’t getting as much air time—as if there were a limit to the number of cares and concerns that are important. 

In Matthew 6, when Jesus addresses our concerns about having enough or getting our needs met, I think it was not insignificant that he chose birds of the air and flowers of the field to compare us to—they were vast in number and type, just like us humans at Imago. Jesus, whom we all are attempting to follow together, understood the human tendency to fear scarcity and invites us to trust in a God who cares for all, even when we can’t see or feel it. 

The pastoral staff and Leadership Team are working on putting some practical skills in use with each other and with all of you to try to navigate this messy generous orthodoxy journey. This is something we want to invite others to join us in—not a mandate, but an invitation. 

Firstly, we have to hear each other—being present enough to have our ears function. Secondly, we have to listen—close enough to comprehend what another is saying, not just biding time and planning our rebuttal. The third step is often missing—we need to validate what the other is saying through some sort of expression that lets the person know that it makes sense to us how they got where they did. But the fourth step is completely optional—after hearing, listening, and validating, sometimes we’ll agree and sometimes we won’t. And in the spirit of generous orthodoxy, that’s ok.

When it comes to making choices about how to do church, we won’t always agree. As interesting as it might be to have some Sundays where we begin service earlier than we do, some where we start at the regular time, and some where we start later—that’s not quite practical. We are committed to never demand that people agree with choices that are made, but we do invite everyone to hear, listen and validate each other as we attempt to do the same.

Plan on hearing plenty more about living this out over the coming year.


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Renae is a wife to one, mother to two, and part-time psychotherapist at OSF Strive- a trauma recovery program for people in underserved areas of Peoria who have been affected by violent crime. She has attended Imago since the 2nd Sunday it has been in existence and loves the church and its people deeply. She sings in the Peoria Area Civic Chorale and kickboxes for fun. She has ridden over 220 different roller coasters and continues to love traveling to different theme parks to increase that number. She has been excited to serve on the Leadership Team at Imago to add this to her list of adventures.

Christina Hite