Planting Seeds for New Beginnings


Barbara Schenk

4/16/2014

By The Rev. Barbara Schenk
Pastor at Foster Memorial, UCC, Springfield

One of the wonderful stories from the Lenten season is the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus.   Jesus’ words about the need to be born of the Spirit and born anew resonate with the current happenings at our church

We have a strong history and, although our numbers are not what they were decades ago, we’re forging ways to deepen our faith while striving to define our identity and place in our community. We’re an ONA church that displays a prominent rainbow on our church sign. We are interested in global ministries, sponsoring a Tibetan child and recently dedicating a Peace Pole on our church lawn. We have a newly formed Visual Arts Team whose ministry adds beauty and meaning for our worship services. We have brand new partnerships with an elementary school and local Habitat for Humanity that symbolize our love for children and outreach. We’re exploring small group opportunities to include the community, starting with a monthly Poetry Exploration group.
 
These and many more changes and additions have come about both organically and with intention.  In the fall of 2012, I served on the Hampden Association’s Annual Meeting planning committee. When Paul Nixon was invited to be our keynote speaker, I invited anyone interested in our church to read and discuss Paul’s book, We Refuse to Lead a Dying Church.  Ten people accepted the invitation and 12 went to hear Paul speak. Six people from the team stayed together, meeting monthly. Some of the team, along with other church members participated in workshops on church growth and vitality at our Conference’s Super Saturday the following spring.
 
We were also getting to know the resources from the Center for Progressive Renewal (CPR) through webinars on various topics. During Lent in 2013, I took CPR’s online course, Church Renewal 101, taught by Mike Piazza and Jim Latimer.  Part of my homework was sharing the webinars for the class with the team. We also read and discussed the course’s text Liberating Hope. We gave ourselves a new name “Seeds” and, with several others from the church, went to hear Mike Piazza speak at our Association’s Annual Meeting in the fall of 2013.
 
At the same time, we hired Mike’s co-teacher, Jim Latimer, as our church’s coach for one year. He and I have a monthly coaching phone conversation, and the team, Jim and I talk together by phone once a month. We set goals for our time together and each month, talk about what was accomplished, what got in the way of accomplishment and our next steps.
 
At our church’s Annual Meeting in February, two of the Seeds team members stepped forward to help with new teams: one to look at our present By Laws and one called the Events team – their goal to help with our church finances,  bring us together in a spirit of camaraderie and fun, and involve our neighborhood with community events. People eagerly volunteered to serve on these teams and they are both moving forward with great momentum.
 
The Seeds group has twelve members at present, including long time members, newer members and folks in between. One of our major goals is to help facilitate communication with the entire congregation about new happenings and our learnings about church renewal and vitality. We are grateful to the Hampden Association for providing scholarships for the cost of my participation in two CPR courses (most recently Experiential Worship that Transforms by Cathy Townley) and for providing such inspirational speakers for our Annual Meetings. We’re grateful to our conference for the great workshops at Super Saturday. We are grateful to our coach, Jim, and recommend him highly to any church looking for guidance in the area of church renewal.
 
And we are so very grateful for the guidance and discernment gifted to us by the Holy Spirit, as we move forward, with the hope of being born anew in this time and place, working in partnership to bear God’s hope and peace and love to our wider community and world.
 
See Foster Memorial’s Spotlight article on their small group and community events.

 



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