The brave, faithful members and leaders of Sanctuary United Church of Christ revealed what it means to be church this weekend in an article beautifully written for the Boston Globe by Lisa Wangsness (with photographs by Dina Rudick). It is all there – the tenderness, the angst, the compassion, the passive aggressive behavior, the asking good questions, the looking for quick fixes, the trial, the error, the mistakes, the forgiveness, the death, the hope. You know what I am talking about right? Our churches have humans in them!
And yet, God still chooses to work through us – miracle of miracles! While the story, In search of sanctuary, is very congregational, the covenantal layer beneath it is hidden. The congregation formerly known as the Congregational Church of West Medford became Sanctuary United Church of Christ with great intention. As part of the second group of churches to engage the Massachusetts Conference’s Crossroads (New Beginnings) process they chose to claim God’s future for them rather than recreate the past. (Four groups of churches have gone through this discernment process and a fifth will begin soon.) Before they stepped into the Crossroads process they had made another intentional decision – to bring in a Pastor, Rev. Wendy Miller Olapade, who would lead them through that process and see them to the other side – whatever that was.
In support of the bold decision to sell the building and restart their ministry, the church and its pastor received coaching through the Center for Progressive Renewal, the national United Church of Christ and the ministries of the Massachusetts Conference. They also contributed to those settings of the church by sharing their experimentation, inviting ministry partners to mission trips to Pine Ridge, South Dakota, and creating formingfaith.net.
In other words, they were not alone! Not every church who engages this deep discernment of the Crossroads program will make this radical a decision, yet many of our churches need to! And they too would not be alone! For some the radical decision will be to claim a purpose, a “why” for their existence and channel all of their energy to fulfilling that mission. And they too would not be alone!
The power of the United Church of Christ is not our congregationalism - it is our collective. We can take some bold steps because we are held in a net of covenant that will not let us falter. Our churches can connect with what Sanctuary UCC member Kathy Williams proclaims in the story – we have the bravery of our ancestors in our heritage. Even though our churches have humans in them, when we let God point the way and follow, we can change the world.
MORE: Read more about the Conference's Crossroads (New Beginnings) program here. A "come and see" event for churches that might be interested in the program will be held in August - watch this website for details.
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