What’s Up with Pastor Todd 9-9-19

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 9-9-19

This weekend two fun events are converging in the life of FCC Granby: Reaching New People Workshop with Rev. Paul Nickerson and Blessing of the Animals worship. 

Reaching New People workshop will be hosted at First Church in Windsor this coming Friday, September 13, 6pm-9pm and Saturday, September 14, 9am-3pm. This event is free for FCC Granby members and you are encouraged to invite friends! There is still time to RSVP and if you end up just showing up the day of, we won’t turn you away, but RSVP will help us plan for lunch.

So far we have 16 people registered, which is a great number considering our size. I’m so glad that so many at FCC Granby are interested in reaching new people. Joining us will be groups from First Church in Windsor, South Congregational Church Granby, and others. Our team is responsible for providing chips/snacks and desserts, so let me know what you plan on bringing! If anyone would like to carpool, let me know (pastor@firstchurchgranby.org).

Topics covered in the workshop include: 

  • How 1955 strategies no longer work
  • A discussion about where your church is right now
  • How to re-introduce the church to the community 
  • How to re-arrange the pastor’s work week and get him/her out into the community meeting new people
  • How to develop a culture of invitation in the congregation
  • How to deal with resistance and change

Each church team comes out of the weekend with a 6-month Plan of Action.

Blessing of the Animals will be Sunday, September 15, 10am on FCC Granby front lawn, 219, North Granby Rd., Granby, CT. Bring your pets, bring your stufties, bring photos of pets, bring your friends, bring your lawn chairs. Contact Head Deacon Chris Saunders (vbalesaunders@cox.net) to volunteer for set up, tear down, and to bring treats!

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 9-4-19

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 9-4-19

One of the hottest topics at FCC Granby has to do with the question, “How do we reach new people?” My first response “I don’t know.” Those of you know me will know that that’s a bit of a joke. The fact is that I was put on this earth to help people connect to God. It’s the one thing I seem to be able to do. But, a key to reaching new people is starting in exactly this place of “not knowing.”

Each person is unique and is in a different place on their spiritual journeys. In order to reach that person who is right in front of us, we start from a place of complete openness and not knowing. “Who are you?” “What makes you tick?” “What are your loves?” “What are your fears?” “What do you long for?” Now, you wouldn’t necessarily ask these questions to a complete stranger. They would think you’re weird or inappropriate. But in our minds and attitudes that’s where we begin. Great spiritual teacher Shunryu Suzuki calls this “beginner’s mind.” It is a mind of love, of radical compassion, and limitless possibility. An expert already knows the answer. A beginner is a friend who shares your questions and is excited to search with you for the answers.

This is very different from charity. I have found that in UCC churches, we confuse “reaching new people” with charity. We call it “outreach.” “We do tons of outreach,” people tell me. We feed homeless people at the shelter and collect food for the foodbank and donate diapers to the womens’ shelter. All of these are worthy causes. A helpful way to think of them is as “mission to.” We have a “mission to” the homeless community or a “mission to” victims of abuse or a “mission to” refugees. We offer them a service, but we don’t usually put the future of our church in their hands. 

Charity–at least as congregations practice it–tends to have a “mission to” approach. By contrast, reaching new people requires a “mission with” approach. A “mission with” approach seeks to make spiritual connections with people for the purpose of helping all of us connect to God. It is sharing your faith with your neighbors. It is inviting your friends to a church barbeque. It is starting a lunch time Bible study in your office or in your home. It is praying with a family member. It is attending community events and supporting community initiatives. It is asking town leaders, “If you were to create a church from scratch, what would it look like?” And then designing worship, program, building, staffing, everything around not what we would prefer but around what the community truly needs.

Beginner’s mind is a humble mind that admits that perhaps we are declining as a congregation because we don’t know how to do church as well as we think we do. A beginner’s mind is willing to consider that perhaps instead of trying to convince people that they should come to us, we should go to them.

Today I had a touching conversation with Robin, whose son owns the Village Cork and Keg. She’s stressed out working multiple jobs and helping out her son at his business. I offered to pray for her. We had a profound moment of spiritual connection right there in the package store. That’s where we were. That’s where we met. Reaching new people means reaching people where they are. When we reach out to others with a beginners mind and the intention of being in “mission with” them rather than doing a “mission to” them, we might find, to our surprise, a divine presence reaching back.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 8-28-19

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 8-27-19

Part of transition work is working with staff transitions. In congregational life, staff, including clergy, come and go for all kinds of reasons. What is true for us on a personal level is also true on a professional level: none of us is permanent. Everyone, no matter what their title or role, is temporary. Staff relocate. They take other jobs. They resign to attend to personal or family matters. Sometimes the congregation has to reduce its staff because of finances. Sometimes the staffing needs of the congregation have changed because the congregation has changed. Sometimes staff that were hired to “maintain” the congregation “as it is” do not have the skills to engage in a transition process. Sometimes there are performance issues. Sometimes staff retire. These transitions are almost always messy, but they create opportunities for congregations to reflect on mission, vision, and values. What do we really want? Is what we’re doing now actually going to get us there? 

At FCC Granby we are navigating two staff transitions. In December 2018, Rev. Dr. Ginny McDaniel retired after serving seven years as Senior Minister. This past Sunday, Rev. Rebecca Brown retired after serving four years as Minister for Children and Youth. Each minister has been honored by the congregation for her service. Each minister has made a lasting difference for the good of the congregation. We are grateful for who they are and what they’ve done. Ginny has gone through a process of leave-taking following the United Church of Christ “Ethical Guidelines for Ministers Departing from Congregations.” Rebecca is currently in that process. It is a multi-layered process that involves public liturgy, compiling and handing over work product (such as lists of pastoral needs, event calendars, contact information, meeting notes, etc), participating in an exit interview, dealing with the administrative details of changing employment status with the denomination. All of these are steps in a larger transition that involves a change in identity: from pastor to former pastor. This change in identity is attended by a shift in how former pastor and former congregation relate to each other. The “Ethical Guidelines” are intended to ensure that this transition happens and that it happens in a healthy way.

Here’s a refresher on transition and change: transition and change are different. Change is situational. Transition is psychological. Change is some new guy is doing the preaching now. Transition is letting go of one pastoral relationship and building another. William Bridges in his book Managing Transitions writes, “It’s not the change that will do you in, it’s the transition.” Transition “is a three-phase process (letting go, chaos, new beginning) that people go through as they internalize and come to terms with the details of the new situation that the change brings about.” As a congregation, we are definitely still “internalizing” and “coming to terms with the details” of shifting from a settled minister to transitional minister, from a minister for youth and children to a new staffing configuration for Christian Education which may, at some point, involve a partnership with South Church. 

On some level, for each of us, transition involves building a new identity. For example, I am no longer the Transitional Senior Minister of FCC Stamford. As much as I love the people there, I’ve had to let those relationships go so that I can be fully present to my new call as Transitional Senior Minister of FCC Granby. Without letting go, there is no new beginning. In a similar way the members of FCC Granby are no longer Ginny’s or Rebecca’s parishioners and Ginny and Rebecca are no longer FCC Granby’s pastors. It’s not that those relationships are ended. Cut off is rarely helpful. But there needs to be a release. I’m a Gen-Xer, so my popular culture reference for this is Sting’s song, “If you love somebody, set them free.”

It’s natural for this shift in identity to generate resistance, but that’s the reality of congregational life. Identity shifts also generate grief to which we all need to tend carefully. Ginny’s circumstance is special given her health circumstance. Linda Betsch will be coordinating care for her. But the fact remains: none of us is permanent; everyone is temporary. Which makes our time together all the more precious. Now, for better or for worse, we belong together–transitional minister and congregation. Let’s make the most of the time we have. Time passes swiftly. Opportunity is lost. And God has big plans for us.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 8-19-18

Liv (wearing her Occidental College hat) and me cheering on the Hartford Yardgoats

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 8-19-18

We’ve been preparing all summer. Perhaps even longer than that: since high school graduation, or maybe a year ago when Olivia and I flew to LA to visit Occidental College. We could dial it back even further: to the moment I first met newborn Olivia, held her, and knew in my heart that one day life would ask me to let her go. 

Tomorrow Nicole–my wife, Olivia’s mom–will fly with Liv to LA and move her into her freshman dorm. A couple weeks from now Nicole and I will move Liv’s older sister, Fiona, to Williams’ College for her senior year. Though it’s been happening in stages, the nest continues to empty.

Moving one’s youngest to LA to begin college is both a “change” and a “transition.” Transition and change are related but different concepts. In his book Managing Transitions, William Bridges writes, “It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions.” Bridges defines “change” as “situational” and “transition” as “psychological.”

Change is starting a new job, moving to a new location, receiving a new diagnosis, welcoming a new family member, saying goodbye. Change can be big or small, welcome or unwelcome, pleasant or unpleasant. Change is the nature of reality. Change just is.

Transition, according to Bridges, “is a three-phase process that people go through as they internalize and come to terms with the details of the new situation that the change brings about.” Change is moving Olivia to LA. Transition is coming to terms with a new identity: empty nester. The three phase process is 1) ending/losing/letting go, 2) “the neutral zone (chaos),” and 3) new beginning.

Change and transition happen on a personal level. They also happen in organizations. As your transitional minister, it is my job to help FCC Granby identify the kinds of changes our situation is calling for and then lead a transition through the three phases: ending, chaos, new beginning. 

The distinction between change and transition is key because without that understanding, what most churches do is rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. They change their by-laws so that “committees” are now called “ministry teams.” They use different words for Communion or change the words of familiar hymns. They develop new programs that focus on the same people. They may even merge with another congregation but because there is no process of transition, the newly merged congregation just ends up being a dying, mashed up, grumpy repeat of the old ones. In dying churches there is often a ton of change but none that leads to a fundamentally new sense of purpose and identity. For that, one needs to go through transition.

As your transitional minister, I am not particularly focused on surface level change. Is whether we sing the Doxology following the offering or some other reponse really going to turn this church around? Is focusing on food insecurity instead of homelessness really going to be the key to a sustainable future? Is changing the words to Communion suddenly going to bring in the crowds? Usually when someone gives me permission to change something, it’s surface change. However, when I change something and the congregation says, “Change back,” then I know we’re into transition territory because what we resist is not “change” per se, but change that results in loss of some kind, exactly the kind of loss that is the beginning of transition.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 8-14-19

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 8-12-19

It’s not often that I get a request to write to a topic, but church member Aurelle Locke has asked that I write about the difference between treating newcomers to church as “visitors” versus treating newcomers as “guests.”  In short, a “visitor” tends to be unexpected. Someone shows up during office hours wanting to see me. Our office manager, Sue, walks down the hall, knocks on my door, and says, “Pastor Todd, you have a visitor.” A “guest” is someone you’ve invited, so you’re prepared to welcome them. Nicole and I love to host parties. We have our process of preparation to receive guests down to a science. She cooks. I clean. Cleaning for guests is a spiritual discipline for me. I prepare my heart to receive our guests as I prepare the space.

Here’s the context: Aurelle had noticed that I started doing weekly children’s sermons. At some point before my arrival, the church had stopped including children’s sermons in worship, I was told, because so few children were showing up for Sunday worship. Too often there were no children in worship.

I understand that having a children’s sermon when there are no children in worship calls attention to the fact that we don’t have a critical mass of children in the congregation. There are people in the congregation who remember a time not too long ago when we had many children. I understand that some might feel bad to be reminded of this. But it makes no sense to hide the fact. People are going to notice anyway and wonder what, if anything, we are doing about it. Also, not having a children’s sermon when families with children do show up sends the message that they are “visitors.” We were not expecting them and, therefore, not prepared for them. This is the attitude I call, “You’re welcome if you come (but you probably won’t).”

Instead, we want people–especially newcomers–to feel like “guests.” That is, you are invited, we are expecting you, and we have prepared this experience with you in mind. This is the attitude I call, “We want you here, and we’re serious enough to have prepared for you.” 

This attitude change is a key for shifting from a declining congregation to a growing one. It holds not only for children’s sermon but also for every aspect of a church’s life. That’s why, for example, I turn on the entryway lights when I enter the church. For some reason, that doesn’t seem to be the practice here. But think about it, How does that feel when you walk into a building and all the lights are off? If it were my first time in that building, I would assume no one is home.

Another example: make sure there are signs to indicate where in the building the meeting or event is. Better yet, have someone stationed at the door to greet and give people directions. 

I’ll never forget the time I led community Bible study. We had triple the normal attendance because we made personal invitations. The newcomers appreciated the Bible study, but they went out of their way to comment on the wonderful, clear signs that told them where to find the Bible study. They got the message: “We want you here, and we’re serious enough to have prepared for you.”

So much of this stuff is not expensive, not difficult, and definitely not rocket science. It’s just a matter of awareness. And awareness is the fundamental spiritual practice. Everything communicates, so everything counts. Are we communicating, “You’re welcome if you come (but you probably won’t)?” How do people in Granby view us, really?

Here’s an example of, “We want you here, and we’re serious enough to have prepared for you”: What if as a requirement to attend a “Thank Goodness it’s Friday” social supper, everyone is expected to bring a guest? And we brought food and beverage enough for everyone? And we made it a special point to focus our attention less on the people we already know and more on the people we have yet to meet? Our church would grow so fast we would have a whole new set of problems. Good problems. Problems like, “How are we going to fit all these kids in our Sunday school classrooms . . . ?” 

Worship Resources for Hymn Sing Sunday

*Call to Worship  (Psalm 150)

Praise the LORD! Praise God the sanctuary. Praise God in the mighty firmament. 

Praise God for mighty deeds. Remember God’s surpassing greatness and praise God that much.

Praise God with trumpet sounds. Praise God with lute and harp.

Praise God with tambourine and dance. Praise God with strings and pipe.

Praise God with clanging cymbals. Praise God with loud clashing cymbals. 

Let everything that breathes praise the LORD!

ALL: Praise the LORD!

*Prayer of Dedication

God, we offer our hearts as we raise our voices in song. We thank you for accepting and blessing all our gifts. Amen.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 8-6-19

Mourners gather for a vigil at the scene of a mass shooting, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio. Multiple people in Ohio were killed in the second mass shooting in the U.S. in less than 24 hours. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 8-6-19

Three days ago, Saturday morning, August 3, a gunman opened fire at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, killing at least 20 and injuring many more. A manifesto thought to be written by the killer declared his intention to kill as many Latinos as possible. The Cielo Vista Mall Walmart is one of the busiest in the country. It is near the border with Mexico. It welcomes customers from both El Paso and Cuidad Juarez, which lies just across the border in Mexico. El Paso is a majority Latino city and one of the safest cities in the U.S. The gunman drove 9 hours from his residence in the Dallas suburbs to commit this heinous act of violence. Echoing hateful language that is poisoning our political discourse, the gunman wrote that he was responding to “the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

13 hours later a gunman in body armor opened fire at a bar in the Oregon District of Dayton, OH, killing 9 including his sister–this carnage despite the fact that police were able to respond and kill the shooter in 30 seconds. The amount of death he was able to inflict was likely due in part to the fact that he was armed with an automatic rifle and a 100 round barrel magazine. 

An El Paso leader summed up the situation well: “We have a gun problem, and we have a hate problem.”

I know that at FCC Granby we have a diversity of opinion on these issues. This much was evident in the conversation at the “Thank Goodness it’s Friday” social supper just hours before the first shooting. It so happened that the topics of both race and guns came up, and there was disagreement on both issues. This was also evident Sunday morning during the sharing of joys and concerns. Some prayed for a change in gun laws. Some prayed for access to mental health services and social “connection.” I suppose in this way we are simply a microcosm of the country as a whole.

While any and all of these may or may not be helpful responses, it seems to me that as followers of Jesus we are called to respond to acts of violence and the trauma they cause. As James Baldwin wrote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed unless it is faced.” As a follower of Jesus, it seems to me the height of immorality to turn away from the suffering we are inflicting upon each other with these repeated mass shootings. We must face who we are and what we are doing because what we are doing has to change. I can’t believe that this is the world God would want us to create.

We have a gun problem. So fix it. Stop blaming others. Start taking action. I’m not a legislator. I’m not a policy expert. I’m not interested in excuses. I’m interested in results. Don’t tell me what won’t work. Show me something that will. I stand with the people of Dayton who are calling on their governor to “do something.”

We have a hate problem. This goes much deeper. It goes to the heart of our history as a nation that has committed genocide against Native Americans and enslaved Africans. Our ancestors laid the groundwork for hate based on the Doctrine of Discovery and the false ideology of white supremacy. It is what theologian Jim Wallis calls America’s “original sin.” 

Both of these shooters were not only white but also men. Why are the perpetrators of mass shootings predominantly men? I wonder whether patriarchy–the idea that men are entitled to priviledged status–could also be a factor. I do not believe that men are inherently more violent than women. I believe that men in our country are socialized in such a way that for too many, violence is seen as a legitimate form of resolving differences and expressing feelings.

  Pinning all of this on “mental health” is not helpful. Yes, by all means provide better access to mental health care. By all means enact red flag laws. But many factors make treating mental illness difficult. A big challenge is stigmatization. And putting the blame for mass shootings on mental illness, only further stigmatizes those who already feel the stigma of their mental health status. It also allows us to dismiss those who commit violence as somehow fundamentally unlike us “sane” people. In this way we are conviently let off the hook from examining the roots of hatred and violence in our own hearts. 

While I am not a legislator or a policy expert, I am a Christian who has, despite spectacular and ongoing failures, committed himself to the way of love. And I believe you, my fellow members of FCC Granby, despite our differences of life experience, political opinion, social location, economic class, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender expression, country of origin, race, ethinicity, etc., are also committed to the way of love. We can do something about this hate problem right here and right now. We can extend love. We can have honest conversations about difficult things. We can repent. We can mourn. We can be instruments of peace. Remember what Dr. King said, “Darkness cannot overcome darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot overcome hate. Only love can do that.” 

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 7-30-19

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 7-30-19

I had a nice meeting with the youth group Sunday evening. Rebecca, our Associate Pastor for Children and Youth Ministry, was away, so my daughter, Olivia, and I led the meeting. We met in Cook Hall instead of the normal basement meeting space. This was so we could set out cushions for meditation.

The focus of the FCC Youth Group–and one of the reasons for its success–is practical tools for everyday young adult living.  Teenagers face pressures that the adults in their lives sometimes seem to have a difficult time understanding. So the FCC Youth Group is a safe space for listening, learning together, and offering support as a navigate the choices and challenges of growing up. 

I began my meditation practice over twenty years ago. At that time I was newly married, newly a father, and starting my first “real” pastor job at a small, dying church in a rapidly changing town. The pressure was enormous. My old ways of solving problems was not working. Up until that point in my life, I had succeeded by memorizing the correct answers and spitting them back out on a test. But in my new situation being the smartest kid in class just wasn’t going to cut it. I needed to learn to see clearly, respond calmly, and connect emotionally with people. I didn’t start meditating thinking that it would help me do these things. I just knew I needed to change my approach and some intuition told me that meditation might help.

These days I engage regularly in formal meditation training with an authorized teacher and I teach others the simple practice of sitting still and minding the breath. FCC Youth and I spent an hour-and-a-half sitting in silence, sharing our experiences, and planning for the future. It feels great to know that we can turn to our breath and turn to each other when anxiety runs high.

The favorite Scripture for this week comes to us from Peg Giles. John 3:8 reads, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” The Greek word for “wind” also means “breath” and “spirit.” The text could also read, “The breath respires where it will . . . So it is with everyone who is born of the breath.” Could minding the breath and being “born of the spirit” or “born again” be connected? We imagine that “spiritual experience” is rare and dramatic–a blinding light or a voice from heaven–but what if it’s as close and common as this very breath.

Worship Resources–John 3:1-10

“Unless you are born from above . . .”

Call to Worship                     (from Psalm 29)                                                     

Leader: Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.

People: Ascribe to the LORD the glory of God’s name; worship the LORD in holy splendor.

Leader: The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forests bare; and in God’s temple, all say, “Glory!”

People: May the LORD give us strength. May the LORD bless us with peace.

*Opening Prayer

Holy, there is so much we don’t know. We see with the eyes in our heads, but the eyes of our hearts are too often blind to the beauty before us. Clear our vision. Heal our souls. Settle our spirits on the gentle movement of the breath. Our bodies sustain themselves so beautifully and without a thought. May we open our hearts to the movement of your ongoing creation. Amen.

*Prayer of Dedication                                                          

Holy God, you give us hands to serve and hearts to bless. We offer our money. We offer our service. We offer our lives. Receive and multiply them one hundred-fold. Amen.

Spiritual Goal–Sermon for 7/28/19

Rev. Dr. Todd Grant Yonkman, Transitional Senior Minister

First Congregational Church of Granby

Sermon Series: Favorite Scripture

28 July 2019

Text: Rev. 22:16-20 

Spiritual Goal

        What’s our purpose as Christians? As a church? That’s the question behind today’s favorite Scripture. It comes to us from Nancy Dow. When Nancy told me that her favorite Scripture is Revelation 22:16-20, she said, “I think it’s important that we focus on the end.” What I understood her to be saying is that we as Christians should not lose focus our purpose. What is our goal? What are we working toward? It reminds me of the sacred conversation Ann and I had last week in which she explained that when you’re plowing a field, you can’t look back. You need to keep your eyes on the horizon. Revelation 22:16-20 is very much focused on the horizon. This text contains the last words of the last chapter of the last book of the Bible. Last words carry special power. When someone dies, we often give their last words special significance. When I write a sermon I put a lot of focus on the end, the last paragraph, the last sentence, the last word, because that’s what people are most likely to remember. 

In today’s Scripture the most repeated word is “come.”

         The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”

         And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”

         And let everyone who is thirsty come.

         Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. 

The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming

     soon.”

          Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! 

The word that rings through this passage is “come.” It’s not a “come if you’d like to” invitation. It’s a “get over here. We want you. We need you” invitation. At the center is the water of life. The image I see is a gathering at a well or maybe at the beach. There’s an old folk song that goes, “I went down in the river to pray, studying about that good old day and who shall wear the robe and crown, dear Lord, show me the way. O brothers let’s go down. Let’s go down. Come on down. O brothers let’s go down, down in the river to pray.” When we look to the horizon, what do we see? An invitation. “Come.”

The whole of our purpose is invitation. It’s helping people, help each other connect to God. Martin Luther famously said that Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. And there are a lot of hungry people out there. Our own Rebecca Brown has proven that. She came here four years ago as a lay minister for children and youth. When she arrived there were eight people in the youth group. Now there are over forty. How did she do that? Invitation.

Some of you may think that means Rebecca did all the inviting. That’s not the case at all. She engaged step by step in a very methodical process. The first thing she did was tell the group that their job was to grow. This message was met with resistance. There were some in the group who did not want to grow. They didn’t want “outsiders” messing things up. This was their group made up of people they were comfortable with. What if they didn’t like the new people? Rebecca held her ground, and the people who didn’t want to grow left the group. Now she was down to four kids.

Rebecca took those four kids and poured everything she had into them. She went to every event, every game, every concert, every party. Every opportunity she had to embed herself in the lives of the youth of this town, she took. She didn’t sit in the church and wait for youth to come to her, she went to them. She met youth on their terms, in their space. She made herself the guest. Instead of setting herself up as someone with the answers, she made herself a student of youth culture. She invited them to teach her. She showed up for them. Then they started showing up for her.

According to Rebecca, it only took about a year of networking and showing up before word about the youth group at FCC Granby started to spread. In other words, the youth themselves became the inviters. There wasn’t any fancy advertising. There weren’t any splashy events. It was all word of mouth. The reason I mention this is that this is consistent with other stories I’ve heard about church growth. My office manager in Stamford was a member of Grace Church in New Canaan for many years. Today Grace Church has thousands of members in a multi-million dollar campus that was featured in the New York Times because of its award-winning architecture. She told me she remembered the church went it was a group of people meeting in the pastor’s back yard. I asked her what was the secret to their growth. She said, “It was all word of mouth.” In terms of our FCC youth group, the eight that then became four has increased 10-fold to a group of over 40 kids. What if our church membership increased 10-fold? We would have a whole new set of problems. Good problems. Let everyone who hears, say, “Come.” Let everyone who is thirsty come.

The other thing that’s significant about our youth group is that it focuses on the spiritual needs of youth. The numbers only tell part of the story. Rebecca calls it “breaking into the hearts of our kids.” She describes her program as “No fun. No games. No food.” It’s the real stuff: honest, spiritual conversations about things that have direct relevance to their lives as teenagers, conversations, friendships, experiences that they can get nowhere else. If they could have these conversations elsewhere, they probably would. Rebecca sees her task as creating a safe container where young people can let down their pretenses, open their hearts, and be vulnerable. In other words, youth group is about getting real. It’s about authenticity. And, yes, sometimes they have food, fun, and games. Granby youth have spiritual lives and spiritual needs that aren’t being met anywhere else. I wonder if this is also the case for Granby adults?

Every one of us is here because someone else brought us whether it was a parent, grandparent, neighbor, or friend. Maybe it wasn’t to this particular church. Maybe you were one of the increasingly rare types who will just show up at church because it’s something you already value. But how did you come to value it? Because at some point somehow somewhere down the line someone said, “Come.” 

Jesus didn’t wait for us to come to him. Scripture says, “5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 

6 who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God

as something to be exploited, 

7 but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

being born in human likeness.

The world is hurting. How can we be satisfied huddling together inside these enjoying each other’s company when there are so many longing for a heart connection? The goal of the spiritual life is the joy of extending oneself to welcome the other. How do you expect to grow if you won’t stretch? And stepping out beyond our familiar and comfortable walls into the world to engage people where they are is an endless opportunity to stretch. The Spirit says, “Come.” And if we indeed are the spiritual people we imagine ourselves to be, we say with every fiber of our being, “Come. We want you here. Let’s learn together how to heal this world.”