Other than being new church starts that revolve around mission, one has to wonder what bonds a United Church of Christ congregation that started in the kitchen of a rural Iowa farm house to a Massachusetts Congregational church that meets in the conference room of a seasonal community marketplace. The pastors will tell you it’s love of God, and a newsletter article.
Pastor Steve Jewett, who accepted the call to lead New Horizons UCC in Akron, Iowa in January 2005, read an article written by the Rev. Jim Scovil, founding pastor of Mashpee Congregational Church UCC on Cape Cod. The article on new church start experiences was published in the UCC’s "New Times: New Ideas for New Churches" newsletter in 2008, not long after Mashpee got its start.
"I was so moved by Jim’s words that I felt the need to contact him," said Jewett. When he asked Scovil how New Horizons could support Mashpee in their formation, Scovil commented, "We could use a communion set." So New Horizons sent Mashpee a complete communion set for 150 people. Jewett said the set arrived after the first Sunday of the month, so Mashpee continues to celebrate communion monthly on the second Sunday. The gifts and words of encouragement back and forth still continue.
"We’ve been supporting each other from the beginning," Jewett said. "And it’s our congregations supporting each other. It’s a bond. Pastors may change. That bond doesn’t."
That almost six-year bond became more evident when Scovil retired in October and the Rev. Jennie Valentine stepped in to lead the Massachusetts congregation.
"Technology is a wonderful thing," said Valentine. "We stay in touch via Facebook, watching each other's pages for updates. We also speak on the phone. When we do joint worship activities, we use a cell phone held to a microphone. It is my intention to begin to experiment with Skype projection so that the congregations will be able to see each other."
"We at New Horizons UCC feel a close bond with Mashpee CUCC no matter the distance," said Jewett. "I believe the Holy Spirit has called us to support each other in any way possible. We often exchange cards and packages of local and handmade items. There is no schedule for these exchanges and as I believe the Holy Spirit guides each congregation to share what is needed when it is needed."
When Valentine was ordained at Mashpee in 2011, New Horizons presented her with a handmade stole from the congregation. So you can bet when Valentine is installed as Mashpee’s pastor in early 2014 the Iowa church will send her a wonderful gift, as a sign of the partnership and shared experience of the connection both churches value.
"A new church start can be a small fish swimming upstream as the venture is launched," said Valentine. "Having other churches praying for and working as we are minimizes the sense of isolation that a new church can feel. It makes the task feel less daunting. And there's strength in numbers. The UCC motto "That they may all be one" is lived out through this partnership."
"A new church start needs new church start energy. That’s what we have, energy," said Jewett. "Older churches worry about traditional things, roofs, building upkeep. We are blessed that all that is taken care of for us so we can do what we are called to do- that is mission. We are mission driven churches."
Both New Horizons and Mashpee share God’s love in their communities. New Horizons completed 28 mission projects in its first year as a church, and tries to complete one a week. Both congregations can be found serving meals, building partnerships with schools and community centers, and participating in local festivals and parades.
Neither congregation worships in a traditional sanctuary. The 70 members and friends of Mashpee meet at Popponesset Marketplace, in a conference space, that in previous incarnations was a gym, and a game arcade. The worship area is adjacent to the Raw Bar where some of the Cape’s best lobster rolls are served. Jewett started New Horizons in a friend’s farmhouse, moved to a community room in a local bank, used the chapel of a funeral home and now more than 60 members gather for worship in the Akron Opera House.
As for a joint holiday mission, Jewett believes one is inevitable "I’m certain that our mission team is well underway with a plan to include Mashpee CUCC in our Advent and Christmas events. After a share a vision of celebration, I stand back and have always been amazed at the dedication and creativity of our teams."
"I am hoping that we can celebrate Epiphany together," Valentine said. "As when we look east and beyond, our gaze eventually comes around the earth to the star shining over Akron, and when Akron looks east, their gaze eventually comes to the star shining over Mashpee."