I am amazed at the ways in which I can sense God’s presence among us as I look back over the past year.

Our small group program has seen amazing growth and vibrancy this past year. In any given week, more than fifty adults (plus children) meet in homes around Richmond for discipleship and fellowship. We have started two new groups in the past year, bringing our total number of small groups to five. We will probably add a couple more groups before the end of 2016. Weekly small group meetings are opportunities to talk and get to know one another in deep, meaningful ways, to dig into lively discussion of the sermon text, to wrestle with how God is at work in our lives, and to pray for one another.

Small groups also create neat opportunities for mutual care and collaborative involvement in mission. Group members care for one another and are often on the “front line” of providing meals and support for each other when a member is sick, has a new baby, or is in need for whatever reason. Groups are also finding ways to serve and minister together; my hope is that in the coming year we continue to strengthen the emphasis on mission in small groups.

This past August, we had our first small group leader training. Our small group leaders are nothing short of amazing. They open their homes and offer hospitality in abundance on a weekly basis. I find that I am constantly grateful for their leadership.

Our Sunday school offerings continue to be a vital part of spiritual formation at Tabernacle. The Welstead Class has experienced growth in the past year, and we have a relatively new intergenerational class that meets in the Community Room downstairs that is also growing. Two of our historic Sunday school classes, the Men’s and Women’s Class and the Blanton Class, continued to meet throughout the year for discipleship, carrying on the rich tradition and history of Sunday school education at Tabernacle.  We have also continued to offer various special series during the Sunday school hour.

One of my highlights of 2015 was the Wednesday evening Sexuality series during the fall season: “Let’s Talk about Sex: A Conversation about Sexuality in the Church.” Dr. Tracy Hartman and I developed and led the series, and the response was tremendous. For each of thirteen weeks, we had between thirty and forty adults in attendance—and more via the podcast—for very meaningful discussions about a wide range of topics related to sexuality and faith. This series gave us a chance to talk about things that should be talked about in churches, but often are considered taboo. Our hope was that this series would alleviate much of the shame associated with sex and sexuality, that it would equip people to think theologically about a number of issues related to the topic, and that it would prepare parents to have these sorts of conversations with their children and youth. The feedback we have received suggests we met these goals!

As I look to the coming year, I sense a number of needs. First, we must continue to be diligent in offering hospitality and in finding meaningful ways to integrate new faces into the life of our community of faith. Second, we must continue to offer creative ways for people to deepen their faith, to become spiritually formed, and to use their gifts to participate in God’s mission in our church, in the city of Richmond, and in the world. Our small groups and Sunday school classes will continue to help meet this critical need. Third, I want to continue to raise up discipleship leaders among us who have gifts for teaching and for guiding others in their journeys of faith. This will entail equipping new small group and Sunday school leaders, as well as providing opportunities for leadership on Wednesday evenings and in various Sunday morning series.

I am looking forward to 2016. We have just re-convened the marriage enrichment class that meets on Wednesday evenings. Despite not meeting in the fall of 2015, twenty-two people attended the first meeting of this group in January 2016! Kristen Koger and I are planning a Marriage Retreat for this group and other couples for April 15–17th, 2016. We expect that this will be the first of many annual retreats. Our Wednesday evening Lenten series this year is entitled “On Death and Dying.” Julie and Jeff Walton are joining me in preparations for this important series that will deal with theological and practical matters surrounding death. My hope is that it will allow us to have meaningful conversation about this most common of all human experiences, and to equip us and our loved ones to prepare in healthy, even fulfilling ways for it.

I am grateful for your trust and the support of this community as I finish up my first year of service as Minister of Spiritual Formation with you. I have learned a lot during this past year, and am thankful for the ways in which you’ve supported my growth, have been patient with me, and have encouraged me along the way. You all are a tremendous blessing in my life. I believe we will continue to find creative, meaningful ways to grow spirituality together, and to be attentive to God’s presence and work among and in us.

Grace and Peace to you all,

Art Wright

Minister of Spiritual Formation

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