Engage at All Levels (VIDEO and TEXT)


John White

7/7/2015

Sacred stories, sacred places, within ourselves, within physical locations, even on the internet:  I believe these are important themes for us all to remember when we are trying to reach out and grow the church.

Throughout the journey of our lives we find ourselves on many different roads, traveling with a diverse group of people.  We learn much through the joys and pains of daily living.  Each of these experiences forms and molds us a bit more as children of God.  At The First Congregational Church of Dudley we celebrate the journey one is on towards becoming the highest expression of him/herself whom God created.  As an Open and Affirming congregation we want people to know that no matter who they are or where they are on life's journey, they are welcome, and that happens when all are connected and engaged. 

When I arrived at the First Congregational Church of Dudley almost 18 years ago, there were about 35 in attendance at worship with a mean age of 65+.  We now have an email subscribership of 550 people, which is double our membership, of all ages.  I believe the key to that growth is that we have tried to engage, locally and at the conference and national levels.

One way we have tried to connect is through a weekly email communication called PJ’s Place. This communication is more than an email or a newsletter or a blog; it’s a way to keep connected to the church and the community.  [See Spotlight Article: It’s More Than Just a Newsletter.] It’s a rather lengthy communication and contains sermon highlights, weekly reflections, prayers, joys and concerns, events, board and committee reports, birthday celebrations, photos, videos, and more and highlights both church and community happenings. Subscribers include members and non-members, leaders in town government, schools, police, fire, the Tri-Town Ecumenical Clergy Association and other members of the local community.  People read all or parts of the communication, but hopefully everyone takes away a sense of who the church is along with a sense of connection and place, as they grow in relationship with one another and God.

More and more young people are yearning for something, yet losing the language to be able to describe what it is they are yearning for.  Many who don’t consider themselves church people are attracted to our church because they heard good things in the community, but are hesitant to come into the building and attend a service.  PJ’s Place is a great way for them to quietly look at our community from the outside.  They can see there’s a lot going on besides worship on Sunday.  It’s become a safe way to explore and grow with us. Many newcomers expressed appreciation that they could get a feel for the church and what we represent before stepping into the building.  All they had to do is subscribe online and read the weekly communication.

We also take welcome very seriously.  Any week may bring in a newcomer (possibly attracted by the newsletter or other community outreach) so explaining things concretely during the service is important.  We want to make sure that all feel included and engaged at every stage of the service.

Outside of worship, we have some rather unique offerings.  Besides the more common programs like Youth Fellowship, Sunday school, Adult study, a music program, AA, and our Ladies Benevolent Society we also offer chair yoga and an all-volunteer amateur theater organization to reach the wider community.

In 2002 I founded the Dudley Hill Players as an extension of our ministry. We strive to produce at least one production every two years, seeking scripts which are mind- and hear-opening and socially relevant.  Reaching out to the needs and issues of the local church community, the wider community and the world, the Dudley Hill Players, in its selection both of actors and those working behind the scenes, works to create a balance between church members and friends of the church's overall mission and values. We work to create larger conversations beyond the entertainment of the performances.
 

The Rev.John White talks about his church's efforts to read every word of the Bible (filmed at the Massachusetts Conference Annual Meeting, June 13, 2015.)
I also believe adult study is very important.  Although we have used many study programs through the years, especially material from Living the Questions, we began by having many of our members read every word of the Bible, together, twice, over two three-year periods. (Hear him speak about this in video at right.)

Miraculously, this work coupled with much other work, over time, led our church to not only become Open and Affirming, but also have a significant impact on Equal Marriage rights in Massachusetts, a story told in Marc Solomon’s new book Winning Marriage: The Inside Story of How Same-Sex Couples Took on the Politicians and Pundits and Won [Note:  White shared portions of this story with attendees during the clay jar testimonials session at the Conference Annual Meeting.]

As I share before speaking, on almost every occasion, I am the extraordinarily blessed pastor of The First Congregational Church of Dudley.  We are also extraordinarily blessed to be part of The United Church of Christ.  I continually believe we have only begun to fully realize what is possible for us here.  
 



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