Since First Baptist called me as the intentional interim in March 2006, I have worked with you to address issues of congregational transition and change. Last fall, we engaged in a few learning experiences related to change (i.e. exploring the congregation’s history, mapping out our abilities and assets as a congregation, and talking about our self-image as a congregation). This spring, we spent time with consultant Dr. Ronald Carlson, who introduced the idea of being a missional church over two different workshop weekends. Each event brought opportunities for participants to reflect on change, transition, and how First Baptist could flourish as you seek ways to write that next chapter in ministry.
As this fall gets underway, First Baptist will have further opportunities to explore and redefine itself. September marks the return of Sunday school for all ages. On Sunday mornings, we expand our religious education to include children and adults in a variety of classes during the 11 o’clock hour. As we prepare for 2008 (yes, now is the time!), we will experience a new type of stewardship emphasis over a series of Sunday mornings, led by Cindy Watson, Mary Harrington, and Darcy Oakes. New choral activities are being offered for children and adults on Wednesday afternoon and evenings. You may not think of “stewardship” or “choir” as a way that churches experience transition, but indeed, these are signs that the congregation is experiencing redevelopment. Each of these things is indeed “change” at work!
When discussing the experience of transition, the authors of Temporary Shepherds: A Congregational Handbook for Interim Ministry draw upon a line from a play by Marc Connelly called Green Pastures. Spoken by an old deacon, the line goes like this: “Everything nailed down is bustin’ loose!” Then the authors make the following observation:
“Congregations tend to think that they do not change over time, but nothing is further from the truth. Congregations change significantly as they respond to different pastoral leaders, to changes in their societal context, and to alterations in their internal circumstances.” (p. 8)
Two years ago this month, your last minister departed, and you began a search process in the form of a three-year season of interim ministry. Think about where First Baptist has been since you began talking of transition in the fall of 2005. What do you believe has changed or “bust[ed] loose”? What still seems “nailed down”?
I believe it is critical to the health of any congregation, whether an active membership of 20 or 200, that care is given to dealing with the inevitability of change. Most often, a change in pastor is the most visible, but the changes that occur when one’s ministry setting, or context, changes is equally important. Bennington has changed greatly over the past fifty years. How well do the congregation and its ministries connect with the community? Do we know our community well?
Attending the Children in Poverty study conducted this September and October will be an excellent opportunity for the adult congregants to reflect together on the realities of social and economic conditions in our community. I hope that the sessions will encourage some critical and careful thought about how First Baptist reinterprets its mission, vision, and identity.
After the Children in Poverty study concludes in mid-October, a series of workshops on “Vision” will be offered over the course of four Sunday school sessions for our adults. During this time, a team of lay leaders will lead the adults through a time of reflecting upon and dreaming about a vision for First Baptist. Too often, congregations in transition just settle for the minister setting the tone, and in the case of interim ministry periods, the congregation is even more tempted just “to wait until the real minister gets here” before getting too excited about much of anything.
Obviously, the past two years have not been just about waiting around. First Baptist has addressed some short-term and long overdue issues during this time. The reality, however, is that the work of transitioning the church into a new chapter of ministry is still underway. We need lay members and lay leaders to wrestle about “what’s busted loose” and “what’s still nailed down” in the ministry of the church. As we get closer to Thanksgiving, perhaps we can celebrate the autumnal harvest with a vision that brings us ever closer to being the healthy, intentional, and engaged congregation that you started yearning for two years ago.Until then, may we hear around the church: “Everything nailed down is bustin’ loose!”