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In, perhaps, a microcosm of the country which God's called our church to serve in, renewed hope seems to have arrived simultaneously with pressing worries.
My fall report to the association speaks of delicate, new promises of resurrection in our churches. Rather than just holding on, hiding in our sanctuaries, waiting on God to send back a crowd, we're coming to understand that God's waiting on us. Some have even begun to venture into their communities carrying church out to neighbors more likely than not to be secular.
To serve effectively in our changed social circumstances, congregations need to think and act differently, and our congregations are beginning to understand this. For example, one increasingly reads in UCC employment opportunities of local churches seeking pastors to help them with transformation. Rather than held captive by tradition, some congregations are striving for adaptive change, or even aiming to re-invent themselves.
But this is happening when resources in many of our congregations are dangerously low. Our constituency is shrinking; leaders are harder and harder to find; and the volunteers we do locate are over-extended. Energy and building maintenance costs are rising. We may be at a dawning clarity about what we need to do, but we have less to work with.
Your congregation isn't the only one pinched by the opposing forces of possibility and scarcity. But I recommend to you the resources available to us through what is known as our covenant. Hard as it is for UCC ears to believe, the wider church has much to offer and can strengthen your ministry. If we work together, we can do what God expects of us.
One of our pastors made it a spiritual discipline to find a use for everything the wider church offered. Every piece of mail from the UCC he shared with someone, and new ideas took root. He made sure his congregation was represented at association, conference and national meetings; he encouraged people to serve beyond his local church…and the relationships, worship and education his leaders experienced extramurally prepared them for the ministry in their community. He presented his church with mission opportunities and justice commitments available through the UCC, and their life locally took on greater focused relevance. His youth attended the state and national youth events, and they became his most committed UCC members. He convinced his leaders to try a revitalization initiative, and it provided them insight, motivation and support for changes that turned his congregation around.
In this season of stewardship campaigns, I would add, your efforts at encouraging gratitude and generosity in your members will be strengthened by your local church's giving graciously and fulfilling its membership dues and OCWM commitments. Let me thank you now for your support of United Church of Christ ministries beyond your local church.
We've got real work cut out for us. Some consider ours the worst of times for the church. But I choose to think of these days as the best of times as I am honored that God's called us to work together to reform the church for the transformation of the world.
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