Church Restart vs. Relocation

What’s Up w Pastor Todd 10/16/18

This past weekend over 20 FCC members attended a retreat led by Rev. Jim Griffith of Griffith Coaching and Rev. Paul Nickerson of Nickerson Coaching. Energy was great. We learned a lot. Over the next several weeks, leadership will be summarizing and sharing our learnings and sketching out a plan for an FCC church restart. For me, one important learning was the distinction between restart and relocation.

The definition of church restart is “An effort by a long-declining church in which the church chooses a strategic death so that a new church can be launched in its place, using its existing members and assets.  A restart is characterized by a rapid shift in vision, culture and ministry approach with the purpose of reaching a new target group in its community. A restart combines the approach of church planting with the pastoral work of leading change.”

Restart is a strategic effort to leap as a congregation for the death side of the bell curve (see diagram below) to the birth side of the bell curve. It’s not primarily about changing location, although it can involve that. It’s primarily about changing who we are as a congregation. This is very different from relocation, which is simply changing venues with no accompanying effort to change vision, culture, and ministry approach. Relocation will simply keep us on the same death trajectory, just in a different place, which, to me, seems pointless. That’s why church leadership is engaged in a process of restart.

Church Restart

Worship Resources for Proper 25B/Ordinary 30B/Pentecost 23 Mark 10:46-52

*Call to Worship       

Like Blind Bartimaeus, Jesus’ call puts a spring in our step and brings a jolt to our awareness. Even if we can’t see Jesus, we can confidently follow the sound of his voice. Worship is our calling out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Scripture tells us that when we call, Jesus responds. Let us worship our Savior.

Prayer of Confession                                                                              

We confess, Jesus, that we often assume we know what others need. We offer help that’s unasked for and sometimes unwelcome. In our zeal to do good, we fail to honestly examine our intentions. Is this truly about serving Christ’s mission or is this more about serving my ego? These are tricky questions, God. Give us the courage to open our hearts to the light of your love trusting that you accept even our imperfect offerings. Amen.

*Prayer of Dedication

Holy God, we offer our hearts for healing and our resources for genuine service. Amen.

 

Prayers for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 23B

Text: Mark 10:17-31

*Call to Worship

We get attached to a lot of things. Our possessions, certainly. Also our time, our status. Relationships–whether they’re healthy or not. Dreams of the future, regrets of the past. Afraid of losing what we have, we refuse to open up to what might be. Worship is a time of letting go of everything that is temporary, no matter how deep our attachment, and opening ourselves to the eternal. Let’s worship God.

Prayer of Confession

Holy God, when Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James, and John, they immediately dropped everything and followed him. Too often, we’re more like the rich young ruler, who came to Jesus hoping to inherit the Kingdom of God only to turn away because we can’t let go. Teach us the wisdom of giving. Teach us the freedom of letting go. Give us the courage to entrust our lives and all we possess to you. Amen.

*Prayer of Dedication

All that we have and all that we are we dedicate to you, Holy God. Amen.

 

Prayers for 17th Sunday after Pentecost Year B. “Who Do You Say that I am?”

Text: Mk 8:27-38

*Call to Worship

Who is Jesus? For two thousand years folks have been asking this question. We might ask ourselves Who is Jesus for me? Or Who is Jesus for my neighbor? Or Who is the Jesus we meet in the Bible? Who is Jesus for the gospel writers Matthew or Mark or Luke or John? Who is Jesus for the Apostle Paul? Who is Jesus? Faith is not just seeking an answer. It’s living the question.

Prayer of Confession   

O God, we confess we don’t know who Jesus is in any final way. He’s always out ahead of us inviting us to follow him. Give us the courage to follow despite our fear. Give us the strength to press on past the limits of what we think we’re capable of. Forgive us when we turn away. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

*Prayer of Dedication

We give, God, because Jesus taught us to give. We serve because Jesus taught us to service. We sacrifice because Jesus gave his life as a ransom for many. Just as you raised Jesus from the grave, we know that we, too, shall be lifted up. Amen.

 

Gender Trouble/No Separation

Rev. Dr. Todd Grant Yonkman, Transitional Senior Minister

First Congregational Church of Stamford

Sermon Series: Starting Again

7 October 2018

Text: Mark 10:2-16

Gender Trouble/No Separation

Our theme for this fall is “Starting Again.” Our text for today is Jesus’ teaching on divorce. Divorce is certainly a time of starting again for many people. Half of all marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. It’s become a common experience. Something that a number of folks here have been through. It’s also common that as people go through divorce they seek out a community of support. Church can be that supportive community. So as we think about our theme of starting again in terms of reimagining who we are as a church, we can think about how we connect to people going through divorce. How do we offer healing and hope in a time that can be very painful and disorienting for so many?

My experience of divorce is as a child of divorce. No fault divorce became legal in California in the early 1970s and spread to the rest of the country so that by the time I was coming of age in the 1980s, there was a whole generation of kids growing up in blended families, splitting holiday time between mom and dad, and all of those other complicated things that families that have experienced divorce do.

My parents’ case was a little different. First of all, my parents didn’t get divorced until 1993. They had been married 25 years. I was 23-years-old and out of the house. So my parents divorce didn’t have the same effect on me as it did on my younger siblings. But it did affect me. The second thing was that my dad was gay. Dad knew that he was gay when he married mom, but he kept that important piece of information hidden from her. It was a different time and a different place. West Michigan in the late 60s/early 70s was–and still is, in fact–a very conservative place. It wasn’t OK to be gay. And it wasn’t OK to get a divorce.

So mom and dad stayed together. Even after he came out to her 10 years into their marriage, they stayed together. Even after he cheated on her again and again, they stayed together. Even after he became an alcoholic, they stayed together. Even after he exposed her to HIV, they stayed together. (Fortunately mom never contracted AIDS.) It wasn’t until she found out that he had put her name on a shell company that he was using to launder money for some of his corrupt business dealings did she decide that she had had enough. She was willing to put up with a lot. But go to jail for him? No. The risk of staying with dad finally outweighed the risk of leaving him. Which tells you that 25-years-ago in conservative West Michigan, the risks that divorce posed for a woman were very high. Or at least my mom thought so. Women at that time risked impoverishment, social stigma, and loneliness. Even decades after the counterculture, divorce was a risk, especially for women.

But it wasn’t just the financial and social risks of divorce that caused mom to stay with her marriage so long. It was to protect dad from having to come out. It was to protect us kids from the stigma of having a gay dad. And it was because her church and the wider culture taught her from the time she was a child that women should submit to men. She was taught that a man is the rightful head of the household. He is to be respected and obeyed. Her church taught used the teaching of the Apostle Paul that a woman should not teach or hold authority over a man to keep women out of leadership and in the home where it was thought they belonged. In other words, the church she grew up in supported patriarchy, the idea that men should have power over women. So they missed how Jesus is critiquing patriarchy in his teaching on divorce. And if you think we don’t teach patriarchy here, just look at the wall of senior ministers by the church offices. There you’ll find the names of 26 senior ministers. 25 men. 1 woman.

Jesus’ basic teaching on divorce is that marriage is a solemn spiritual union that cannot be dissolved without spiritual consequences. And I think that pretty much anyone who has experienced divorce would agree with that. People who study life stressors put divorce at the top of the list along with the death of a spouse. Divorce is a very difficult and painful thing. My guess is that most people don’t enter into it lightly. We don’t get married intending to divorce even if it’s out there as a possibility. Even though some people may say that marriage is just a piece of paper, my guess is most people don’t experience it that way. So when Jesus says, “What God has joined together, let no one separate,” he is articulating an ideal that we can aspire to.

But what we’re missing is the radical nature of what Jesus is expressing here. In order to see that, we have to understand the patriarchal context in which Jesus is speaking. In Jesus’ time women were considered the property of men. There was nothing spiritual about it. It was a legal and financial contract between families to create heirs for the families wealth. Wives were the property of their husbands. Fidelity was expected on the part of women, but not of men. Men could have as many affairs as they wanted as long as it wasn’t with another man’s wife because that would be violating his property. Husbands could divorce their wives for almost any reason. Wives, however, could not divorce their husbands. So to suggest that marriage is a spiritual matter with moral obligations on the parts of both men and women is to call the entire patriarchal system into question.

Also notice this seemingly puzzling verse. “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” Huh? What does remarriage have to do with adultery? What Jesus is saying to both men and women is that you can’t just set aside your spouse and marry someone else because you’ve found someone whom you like better. That’s not a reason for divorce. But notice also that it applies to both men and women. In other words, for Jesus, women are not the property of men. If fidelity is expected of women, it must be expected of men, too. If a man can get a divorce, a woman can, too, and the same rules apply to each. I know this doesn’t sound like much, but in the context of Biblical culture, the fact that Jesus is granting women any rights at all in relation to their husbands is a critique of patriarchy that we as Christians need to take seriously. In the words of one of my wife’s parishioners, “Before there was a #metoo movement, Jesus cared for women.” How did Jesus reach where he could offer a vision of healing and hope for men and women? By listening to the women. By believing the women. By recognizing how the default setting of patriarchy is to discredit and disregard women’s voices and perspectives.

On this World Communion Sunday when we celebrate unity in Christ, we need to remember how Jesus sought to bring men and women together on equal ground. In order move closer toward Jesus’ vision, we need to hire women. We need to elect women. We need to support women. As men, we need to notice our own patriarchy-shaped biases. This will help us be a true place of healing for all people: married, single, widowed, divorced. This will be a step toward true communion. This will be starting again.

 

Regular People Doing Scary Things

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 10-4-18

“Activism is about regular people doing scary things.” That’s what Ana Maria Archila told a reporter who interviewed her about her confrontation with Senator Jeff Flake in an elevator on capitol hill last week. That confrontation led to a shift in the confirmation process for Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Instead of having a Senate vote last week as planned, there has been a delay so that allegations of sexual assault against Judge Kavanaugh can be investigated by the FBI. This shift was seen as a crisis of conscience on the part of Senator Flake when directly confronted by assault survivors.

Ms. Archila is an activist. She is the co-executive director for the Center for Popular Democracy. The other woman who confronted Senator Flake, Maria Gallagher, had never engaged in any kind of activism before, but was motivated by the Kavanaugh hearings to travel to Washington to see if she could make her voice heard. Many people, including the women themselves, were surprised when their voices actually were heard, and that their voices made a difference whether Judge Kavanaugh is confirmed or not.

Ms. Archila told the story of how she and Ms. Gallagher happened to meet in the Senate offices. They were both looking for Senator Flake in hopes of sharing their stories of sexual assault with him. She talked about how both of them were scared and that neither had shared their stories publicly before. Even more than Ms. Archila, Ms. Gallagher was just a “regular person” doing something she had never done before. She was making herself vulnerable before a very powerful person. And that scary vulnerability changed him. Activism is about regular people doing scary things.

It occurred to me that church restart is also about regular people doing scary things–not nearly as scary as confronting a senator in the capitol building–but scary nevertheless. Introducing yourself to strangers can be scary. Sharing your faith can be scary. Inviting neighbors to a party can be scary. Putting yourself out there can be scary. But it’s something we all need to learn to do. We can’t just leave it to the professionals–clergy and staff. Regular people, lay people, doing scary things can have a big impact.

 

Stewardship and Restart

Pastor’s Page October 2018

October brings us deeper into fall. It’s a season of turning, falling, and raking leaves. It’s the season of Halloween, pumpkins, costumes, and trick-or-treat. It’s also Season of Stewardship at FCC. As we think about church restart, it’s important for us to consider once again our stewardship practices as individuals and as a church.

Ministry requires resources. There are no two ways about it. As a church we count on gifts of time, gifts of service, and gifts of financial resources to make our organization go. In the context of church restart, those gifts become even more critical.

It takes a lot of time, talent, and treasure for the things we are considering: relocating, rebranding, reaching new people, building relationships, clarifying vision, growing, and developing ministries that truly reflect the needs of Stamford rather than the sorts of things we would prefer to do. Restart is demanding, so not only do we need to continue to grow in our giving, we need to focus the resources we have for the greatest impact for growth. This means letting go of everything that isn’t essential to the heart of our mission.

The saying is that money follows mission. The good news is that restart offers us the opportunity to refocus the bulk of our resources on mission. We are anticipating shifting a large piece of the time, talent, and treasure we have spent on our building to focusing on people: building up people, loving people, reaching people, helping people connect to God. A church is first of all people, and restart creates the opportunity to invest in people in new and significant ways. So I’m hopeful that even as our financial picture continues to evolve, every one of us will deepen our stewardship practice. Now is the time to invest in our future.

 

Pet Blessing at Bark in the Park

What a fun event this past Sunday! I’m grateful to Sandy Goldstein and Lynn Colatrella from the Stamford Downtown Special Services District for working with us on a last minute community partnership with the Bark in the Park event. We teamed up to offer a pet blessing to the folks gathered for a celebration of our canine family members.

The point of these kinds of events is for us as a congregation to get beyond our walls and make contact with people in the community who are not yet members of our church. As Mr. Rogers sang, “There are many ways to say I love you.” Offer to bless people’s pets is saying “I love you” to our neighbors. It’s fun. It’s easy. And, as you saw, people will line up to make that connection with us if we are willing to put ourselves out there to meet them.

Making these kinds of connections cannot be only the work of the pastor and staff. We had several congregation members who took advantage of this opportunity to offer blessings. Some folks handed out the treat bags we had prepared. But my intention in this was to give you, dear congregation member, the easiest, most convenient opportunity for you personally to reach out and make your own connections. This is how we share our faith. This is how we grow. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “I have said these things that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). Complete joy is complete giving, complete offering of your heart to your neighbor. There’s no other way that I know of to do this than just to throw yourself into the experience, to step into the crowd, to say “Hello,” to smile. “Would your dog like a treat bag?” “What’s your dog’s name?” “Tell me about your pet.” “Does your pet have any needs I can pray for?” Every one of us can do this. Every one of us needs to learn to get comfortable with this sort of personal engagement because this is a big part of the work of church restart. As I’ve said before, our future is in the people who are not yet members of our church.

 

How Is It with Your Soul?

In a 2016 article for Ministry Matters, United Methodist pastor Joseph Yoo writes, “John Wesley would open up all small group meetings with the question “How is it with your soul?” That’s a far deeper question than, “How are you?”

I mean, how is your soul doing? How is your spirit faring? Really, how are you?

It’s a jarring question because we often ask, “How are you?” out of habit and usually get impatient when someone has the nerve to actually tell us how they are doing.

Perhaps it’s a question we like to avoid because answering it forces us to really take stock on the health of our souls — which often leads to admitting that we may not be doing as well as we want others to think.”

We find ourselves beginning the program year at First Congregational Church of Stamford with many familiar things: worship, Sunday school, Bible study, Thrift Shop, ministry team meetings, and Prudential Council meetings. Other things seem less familiar and more uncertain: talk about selling our building, meetings of a “restart” team, a budget process that’s more complicated than usual because these big questions of space, location, and identity that have seemed settled for so long are now much less so, which makes it harder to plan income and expenses.

In times like these it’s important we ask ourselves and each other, “How is it with your soul?”

Rev. Yoo continues, “This question steers me to analyze my life and my habits. What are the things that I’m engaging in that bring my soul closer God? What are the things that I’m doing that are putting a wedge between God and myself? What are the things that I’m doing in my life that really make my soul shine brightly and flourish? What are things I’m engaged in that are draining the life out of my soul?”

How is it with your soul? In these unsettling times it’s important that each one of us prioritizes those things that bring spiritual health and wellness.