[Diocese of Massachusetts] Two congregations of the Diocese of Massachusetts recently participated in Episcopal Church “Genesis II: Re-Vision and Renew,” an initiative to rebuild the ministry that strengthens parishes for what can be a challenging, but exciting, job of launching new services in their neighborhoods.
“We focus especially on the practice of building relationships with compatriots and with our wider community,” says the Genesis II website. “We believe that through these relationships we will discover the ways in which God is active in and around our congregations.”
Through the coordination of the Reverend Canon Martha Hubbard, Regional Canon for the Northern and Western Regions of the Diocese, Trinity Parish in Melrose and Trinity Church in Topsfield found their way into the “Coaching Cohorts for Redevelopment” program in which small teams from each congregation gathered at Zoom -in 90-minute sessions led by a trainer trained in group training and church leadership experience.
“It is a way of transitioning from our former paradigm of waiting for people to come through the doors of the church on Sunday morning to join us, to a paradigm of transitioning from our worship to the world to join God and our neighbors in service. it benefits everyone, ”Hubbard said in an email.
Miles Hapgood and Kathleen Gapp, leaders from Trinity Church, Melrose, spoke in a recent conversation via Zoom about how this process was for them and what it was all about. One of the first activities assigned to them was reading a book To have nothing, to possess everything author Michael Mather, about the need to look out for gifts available in the community.
“I turned my head to really see what we were doing,” Hapgood said. “Reconstruction will come from looking outwards and from insight into what is out there that we can use, instead of trying to lure people into the church with programs and what we have designed. That was a big conclusion for me: how do we work with people in the community? ”
As prompted by the program, these leaders completed tasks such as inviting someone in the assembly out of the blue to hear their story, meeting five new people a week, inviting three people to do something, and then accepting three invitations.
“[The program] it definitely became more enjoyable to meet people, invite people, be kind to the outside world and hopefully build cooperation – but it was certainly also learning a new way of thinking, ”Gapp explained. “For us, [the activities assigned through the program] it did not come naturally; they were a little awkward. ”
A major part of the program is the development of what Genesis II calls 90-day micro-strategies. They aim to be a way of thinking about a ministry that considers how current church property can be offered so that new ways of connecting and meeting the needs of the wider community can emerge. One of the projects that resulted for Trinity, Melrose, was the installation of a “Small Free Library” on church grounds for community use.
“Our goal was to set up one of those little libraries to somehow attract people to the parish, and while they’re looking at books, there’s a Trinity sign and a Trinity pamphlet – we don’t come and promise, but here’s who they are,” he said. is Hapgood.
On Sunday, Sept. 19, the community also hosted a ranch blessing that was open to the entire community, not just parish members.
“I think we’ve certainly gained at least the will to be more outward-looking,” Gapp said. “We are interacting more with our community and we would like this to continue and expand if at all possible. We hope that we are still, only more and better. ”
Rev. Rebecca Blair and lay leader John Wilson of Trinity Church in Topsfield explained, during a separate interview, how they realized through the program that their church’s grounds were their greatest asset, and devised ways to improve them. In addition to adding cedar benches to encourage people passing by to sit and visit, they decided to make a small pond, along with frogs, which they used as part of Bible school church activities during the summer, attracting about 20 children – half of them at all. it was not connected with the parish.
“It turns out there are a lot, a lot, a lot of people in our fields for a variety of reasons, so this is a place where we can evangelize, it’s right here in our fields,” Blair said. “It was an insight from this process that was really helpful, because it’s terrible for bishops to leave their property to try to talk to people about our church, but the reality is that people come to our property.”
Like Trinity Parish in Melroso, Trinity in Topsfield wanted to increase opportunities to interact with their community outside the congregation, so instead of doing their usual “hot dog Sunday” at church during the summer, they instead organized an outdoor event with music and opened a who in the community must come for a free hot dog. They also successfully hosted an Italian Community Harvest dinner on Saturday, November 6th.
“It’s our church and you want to share it, and we say we’re welcome so this was a way to try to shine a light, not put it under a vessel – shine a light and share it and help people come in and join us,” said Wilson. “We want to make sure Trinity is there for anyone who needs to use the church.”
It was fascinating to find out how different Trinity, Melrose and Trinity, Topsfield are, Blair said, and yet they faced the same problems, so the collaboration on this work was worthy of commitment.
“It was great to be with them, because we all know that the church has a bunch of problems that we all face, so working closely with another church in a positive way, whether we solve problems or something like that otherwise, it was really really nice,” she said. is Blair. “It’s a bit of an obligation, but it’s not a big obligation. I think if more people do that, then there could be other kinds of cooperation, because we all know where we come from. ”
Canon Martha Hubbard reiterated this view and commented on the value of such a program, especially in a pandemic season that is particularly challenging.
“I would recommend it to all parishes, and especially to those whose leaders feel it is time for some new tools and ways of thinking — to those who wonder what a renewed purpose God has for them in the communities in which they are planted,” Hubbard said. “Those who want to create a flow between the parish and the community that allows us to be more in tune with our neighbors, to share the incredible richness of our faith and tradition.
“I believe the pandemic‘ broke in ’us as Stephanie Spellers so aptly put it [in her new book and as a speaker at recent diocesan events]and Genesis II can provide tools for living in this new chapter of our lives as churches, ”Hubbard said. “The church has had to rethink itself through the centuries, to be a strong witness to Christ’s love in new places and in changing times. I believe that the tools provided by Genesis II are rediscovery tools that any parish can consider. ”