Church vitality calls for passionate engagement
Written by Rev. José A. Malayang
It was definitely an experience in congregational vitality.
I recently spent a weekend with the folks of Ainsworth UCC in Portland, Ore., for the 20th anniversary of this truly multiracial, multicultural congregation. The occasion also marked what would have been the 40th anniversary of then-St. Andrew's UCC, an African American congregation, and the 100th anniversary of then- Second UCC, an Anglo church with Evangelical and Reformed roots, which merged in 1984 to form Ainsworth UCC.
The multiple-layered celebration included a Saturday evening banquet, a special Sunday morning worship service and a Sunday afternoon musical extravaganza. As exhausting as it must have been for planners and leaders, it was exciting for all members and guests.
Ainsworth UCC demonstrates congregational vitality in its worship and music, in its mission and vision. A huge, outside banner declares it to be a multiracial, multicultural, open and affirming church. Its current capital project is focused on enabling its plant to be more accessible.
There are other such churches within the UCC family—differing in size, setting, race or ethnicity. But these churches, like Ainsworth, exhibit in their own distinctive way what it means to be a faithful, effective, dynamic community of faith.
Many of these got there on their own; others with the assistance of mission partners—Associations, Conferences, or national or professional consultants. But in each and every circumstance, I submit, congregational vitality is attainable with dedicated lay and pastoral leadership who have blended vision with high energy and commitment. Truly vital churches own God's mission (missio dei). They have Christ at the very center of their lives—communally and personally—and they rely on the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
Congregational vitality is a critical initiative that calls the whole church to be engaged. As in the case of Ainsworth and other churches, the UCC seeks to enable and support congregations in their chosen vitality goals and development. To this end, my staff colleagues in Local Church Ministries developed a vision statement to guide our efforts in the immediate years ahead:
Mission: In response to God's initiative, being passionate in following Jesus, remaining open to the Spirit's leading and sensitive to the blessed diversity of cultures, traditions and practices within the United Church of Christ, through growing relationships with Conferences and Associations.
Strategy: The congregational vitality initiative will offer congregations a wholistic approach to evangelism, worship, biblical literacy, stewardship, education, leadership development, mission outreach.
Vision: Transformation in becoming more scripturally informed, extravagantly hospitable, spiritually enriching, justice doing, globally active.
Indeed, we're committed to such an initiative. To churches like Ainsworth UCC (a 2001 General Synod award recipient from Justice and Witness Ministries), their pastors and leaders, we give them and God thanks and praise.
The Rev. José A. Malayang is executive minister of Local Church Ministries and a member of the five-person Collegium of Officers.