67 new churches and ministries welcomed at General Synod
Since the last General Synod in 2013, the United Church of Christ has welcomed 67 new congregations into the denomination. But you won’t find some of them on the street corner. One is online. Another exists in a virtual world. And at least one of them follows communion with dinner. This, believes the Rev. David Schoen, minister and team leader of congregational assessment, support and advancement (CASA), is the new era of church starts.
“New congregations are finding new ways to worship,” said Schoen. “It is not just an institutional structure anymore.”
Common Ground UCC, Northampton, Mass., calls itself a “farm-to-table dinner church.” Two Thursdays each month, members share dinner made from homegrown or locally sourced food. According to their website, “Over and around dinner we sing, play, share, pray, hear the Word, and take the time to respond.”
“The days of parachuting into a community and starting a church are over,” Schoen says. Some churches are now “rising organically” and finding their way to the United Church of Christ.
The 2015 General Synod celebrated and welcomed the new ministries during Saturday morning’s plenary session on June 27. “Our new and renewing churches are leading the way to bold ways of doing and being church today,” Schoen announced.
In Mobile Ala., the Rev. Ellen Sims found people like herself looking for a progressive church in the deep south. As the community gathered to form Open Table Church, “we discerned and came knocking on the UCC door.”
“The UCC,” Sims says, “was the most forward-looking denomination to take us into the future.”
The Rev. Kay Albright was called to form Bridges of Grace UCC, Charleston, West Va. Her advice to others forming new congregations is to “never go into a community and tell them what they want. Listen and figure out what they need.”
The UCC, Schoen says, has a “wonderful tradition” of new church starts. More recently, in addition to traditional church formations, Schoen sees many existing and new churches “reclaiming the DNA of the UCC,” sparked by the UCC’s Stillspeaking Initiative.
Many of today’s new and renewing churches, says the Rev. Ben Guess, executive minister of Local Church Ministries, have been assisted by a “Testimony,” a matching-offering fund investing in church development. Recently, “Testimony” has added a web-based crowd funding component at WoodToTheFire.org. With this online tool, local ministries invite individuals and organizations to support specific outreach programs and activities. Five congregations have already jumped into the new program, creating their own crowd funding page.
Guess encouraged the church to “help keep the fires of new churches lit and bright” by supporting this initiative.
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