Sunday, February 1, 2009

A New(ish) Adventure

I live in a very small town with TWO United Church of Christ (UCC) churches. Both are small churches (my church has about 90 "official" members, with average attendance around 40) and the other congregation is about the same. My church was actually "planted" by the original Congregational church (called what else, First Church) back around 1850. At the time, one end of town was mushrooming with mill workers. Some very mission-oriented members of First Church recognized that the distance from the "East Village" to the First Church was too great for many of the millworkers and their families to travel, so they petitioned the church to separate and plant a new church down in "East Village". And so they did. For about 125 years the two congregations, less than 2 miles apart, flourished. Both churches developed separate identities and focused on different ministries. At some point in the history of the 2 churches some "snobbishness" evolved and for some years there was little to no contact between the two churches. When I arrived in town, about 30 years ago, the 2 churches worshiped together on Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday services and also worshiped together as part of the community's Interfaith Thanksgiving service. And then as has happened with many main line churches, both congregations have fallen upon hard times --- aging congregations, diminished membership rosters, financial woes, and right now, both congregations are pastorless. Three years ago a group of lay leaders appointed from both churches started meeting together to brainstorm ways that the 2 congregations could help each other. Not by merging, but by collaborating where possible on mutual ministries, and even on more regular joint worship. This has been an extremely enriching experience (I'm one of the "ambassadors" as we're called). So for the past several years we've intentionally held regular joint worship services --- 7 or 8 a year. And now we embark on our newest adventure. For the months of February and March we will hold joint services every Sunday. Starting today my church will journey "up the road" to our parent church for all our February services. In March we will host all the services in our sanctuary "down the street." We are excited because each church is tired -- in my church we have had no pastor since September so our worship planners are exhausted from either finding guest ministers or planning and leading worship themselves. We also have no music leadership at this time -- there just aren't many organists available, or other musicians who are called to lead musically in a worship setting in our neck of the woods. So another benefit is that for two months we will have the benefit of the superb music leadership of First Church. We don't know where these experiments in mutually supporting each other will grow. While there are a few of us who are interested in the potential of merger, there are many more who fear that. Perhaps we will evolve into a yoked parish. We are all praying that we stay open to God's voice and willing to go where the Spirit leads. It's exciting!!