This blog post is part of a series that features guest posts from members of congregations that have received Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal grants. We wish to highlight the ways in which these grants are blessings, not only to the pastors who go on renewal leaves, but to the congregations themselves.
What did this renewal program accomplish in your congregation?
Our congregation’s primary goal for this grant was to allow Dr. Conner, his wife Lori, and their two sons the opportunity to have time together building memories, refreshing and renewing their family life as well as their spirits. For us, the sabbatical gave us the chance to ‘be church’ for the Conners because giving them time away from church responsibilities was a ministry we could provide to them.
Second, we were intently focused on the fall opening of our new building at Genesis. We built this addition to allow us to expand our ministries to the community, with a particular emphasis on serving our Spanish-speaking brothers and sisters in the area. Jim’s emphasis on Spain, including his intention to work on his own Spanish language skills, created a theme for us in the run up to the building’s opening. We wanted member s of our congregation to learn basic Spanish, and we wanted to provide English as a Second Language (ESL) classes to our neighbors. Our celebratory Open House was designed to have a fiesta theme, in keeping with these goals, as we reached out to invite everyone into the church. In addition, we wanted to use this emphasis as a time to open dialogue with others in ministry to our Hispanic neighbors, finding out what needs are not being met. We hoped to find a unique niche for our church that would really meet some critical need for Spanish speaking folks in our community.
We have a thriving ESL program today, and our members have entered into wonderful relationships with people they would never have gotten the chance to meet without the program. We provide a free meal and childcare to our guests, and then have high quality ESL instruction.
Our goal of mission to our community—especially to our Spanish-speaking neighbors—was a big success. Our mission team had productive meetings with five different agencies and several churches. These talks have borne much fruit, including a partnership with Alta Mesa Church of Christ (it is unusual for UMC churches to partner with Church of Christ congregations!) that continues today. We also became active ministry partners with the Cornerstone Assistance Network in north Fort Worth. We feel more connected than ever with a wide variety of dynamic ministries.
What significant learnings have emerged in regard to this experience? What surprises were there?
This experience will make us a more empathetic congregation. We have learned how important it is for our pastors to take time for self-care, thereby keeping their families strong as well as their relationship with God. These relationships must be nurtured. We have also come a long way in understanding that the church’s mission, while led by our pastors, is best lived out by us. We are capable of doing so much more when we are all involved. It has been easy to expect that our pastoral staff will do everything.
We have discovered a great teaching capacity within our congregation through our ESL program. We have learned so much about reaching out in hospitality to people who are quite different from us and forging relationships together.
This piece has been adapted from the reflections of congregation members of Genesis United Methodist Church, Fort Worth, TX, served by Rev. James Conner.
The Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs at Christian Theological Seminary (CTS) seek to strengthen Christian congregations by providing opportunities for pastors to step away briefly from the persistent obligations of daily parish life and to engage in a period of renewal and reflection. To request permission to repost this content, please contact email@example.com.