Journeying toward change

The First Baptist Church of Bennington, VT, is undertaking a season of transitional ministry. Working with an intentional interim minister, the congregation seeks to build a new way of carrying out the gospel.  We invite you to learn about our congregational journey, and we hope that you will join us in this holy work.


Retreat Weekend coming up!

When I worked for the seminary bookstore, local church pastors and lay leaders would often stand in front of the “Church Leadership” section pondering which books to buy for long stretches of time. “What are you looking for today?” I asked one person. “The answers,” was the reply.

Congregations struggle. First Baptist is like most American Baptists, and indeed most mainline Protestant churches, with a very familiar story: figuring out how to address our changing context for ministry. Many churches join us in the experience of declining attendance numbers since the late 1960s, or wondering where all the “young people” went, or becoming anxious about the rising costs of maintaining buildings, salaries, and programming with ever-shrinking dollars. The region office calls this effect being “stale, stagnant, or stuck.” And about 2/3 of the ABC V/NH congregations are there right now!

How we choose to live in this day as a congregation will help First Baptist see today as a new day for ministry or as a waning memory of past success and minimal hope for the present. The good news is: we are choosing to be in transition and transformation, and we celebrate success in 2006. Now it’s time to wrestle with the more significant long-term issues of being a congregation ready for “what’s now?” and “what’s next?”

At month’s end, there will be a significant opportunity to learn together as a congregation. Dr. Ron Carlson from ABC National Ministries will offer a weekend event for the church to learn about the present day for ministry and mission work. This is an “all church” retreat for adult members of the congregation. It is my hope and prayer that you will be able to work around work, family, and other obligations to attend this event.

We will begin on Friday evening, February 23, at 6 PM for a potluck meal and a time to reflect (up to about 8 PM or so) about our understandings of where we are and how we can “beat the odds” that congregations like First Baptist are past their prime. We continue on Saturday, February 24, from 9 AM to 3 PM, trying to connect Dr. Carlson’s thoughts on church transformation to our own ministry field: the Bennington area. On Sunday morning, February 25, at 9:30 AM, Ron will share in worship about churches that he has worked with across the denomination, and afterwards as part of a special coffee hour time, we will reflect together as a congregation about “okay….what do we do now?”

To give you a little bit of background about Ron Carlson, let me share some observations: I met Ron when he came to Central Seminary as a professor of evangelism and church growth. What impressed me about Ron’s thinking on the matter was that he was not the type who believed in “one size fits all” evangelism programs. He is particularly interested in helping congregations learn how to become more open to growth in ways that suit where they are. If you are in an urban area, your ministry opportunities will differ from churches in a small town. For a church rooted in the Bennington, Vermont, area, what will help us play our strengths as a congregation and be proactive in addressing challenging needs within the community?

Ron will share part of what is a growing vision among various churches. This movement of churches refer to themselves as “missional” churches. Indeed, “missional” is becoming a new vocabulary word for seminary students readying to go out into ministry, and it is a word that many churches are finding varying and diverse definitions to what this word means for them.


Learning the art of transformation

Dear visitor:

In the Fall of 2005, the people of the First Baptist Church of Bennington, VT, voted to enter into a three-year period of transition.  While calling an intentional interim minister for three years, the congregation covenanted with God to be in a time of intentional transition. We dedicate this time to learn how to become a healthier congregation and connecting creatively with the Bennington area as a witness to the Gospel.

Our interim (The Rev. Jerrod Hugenot) arrived on March 1, 2006, and he received training from the Interim Ministry Network through funds provided by the ABC V/NH Region office.  A transition team of key lay leaders began meeting with the intentional interim in the Summer of 2006.  Then, the congregation experienced three key events:

**A Congregational Timeline, which helped identify the history as well as the habits (good and bad) of the congregation's modern history (1940s to present).

**An exercise in "asset mapping" drawn from the work of the Alban Institute, which helped us identify our gifts and strengths as a particular gathering of people

**An experiment in congregational self-identity, which helped the congregation figure out our identity in a creative way.

You can read the ongoing journal entries beginning after this note. Due to the nature of this website, the documents are in reverse chronological order.  (The most recent entry is first; the oldest entry is last.)  However you choose to read our journal entries, we hope that you can see our growth as a process that has been intentional, methodical, and also open to the Spirit.  For a bibliography or if you have questions, please contact our interim with your questions. 

Grace & Peace,


The congregants of the First Baptist Church of Bennington, VT

PS:  The Rev. Hugenot can be contacted via: 802/442-2105 (office) or email:


Grace: The result of the "Who is our church?" workshop

On November 12, 2006, we held our third fall worship and workshop event to help with congregational transformation. The minister presented an exercise called “Who is Our Church?”, drawn from the work of Canadian interim minister Dr. Janet Cawley. Dr. Cawley has learned that congregations can benefit from discussing our identity through likening the qualities, characteristics, and quirks of the congregation to a person.

Dr. Cawley worked with one congregation who experienced a great deal of growth as a newly founded church in a suburban area, yet it felt a little unsure of its path ahead. The church members likened their church to being like a thirteen year old boy named Eddy: lots of energy, less focus; ready to get into things, but needing a little help; voice is wobbling up and down. The church members discovered that they might have a few things to talk about, but they could at least now name their identity and took great pride in talking about seeing “Eddy” (aka their congregation) grow.

The workshop participants worked together in table groups and presented four different persons: each “person” was a woman, over the age of 50 (from 50 to 80), feeling a little less active but not so tired to give up, dealing with life issues, but wanting to be active and involved. Perhaps a little more retiring due to aging, but certainly ready for something.The workshop then started sorting out which qualities were most likely normative for the entire congregation.

We arrived at the idea that First Baptist is like a woman named “Grace.” The church is like a woman, about 50-60 years old. She is a professional who is thinking about retirement and just became a grandmother. She enjoys going out, but she also knows that she doesn’t have as much energy as she used to have. She is active, but she takes things at a good pace. She enjoys listening to country music and watching old episodes of The Lawrence Welk Show. She is a person who likes to give to others, through her church as well as through charity.

This brief workshop helped us see a glimpse of First Baptist as it looks ahead at its next chapter in life. We don’t want to say that the church is approaching its final years. We are willing to be active, though perhaps we need to take it easier. Perhaps we need to learn a little bit about the younger generation. A person who is fifty to sixty used to listen to the Beatles on an LP. How do we deal with a generation who has the Beatles maybe tucked away on an I-Pod? When we want somebody younger to come to church, will a press release in the Bennington Banner work or do we need to have it posted on the webpage? (Indeed, how often does “Grace” read the webpage?)

During the workshop, one comment was made about the family feel that “Grace” seems to have. How do we welcome those for whom “family” in a traditional sense holds less meaning? Young adults in Bennington might not have the deep generational ties due to the reality of families moving and uprooting more commonly. How could “Grace” become a surrogate “parent” to the younger generation? “Grace” has life experience to offer. How do we help play our strengths as a loving community to reach out to those who need our “Grace”?

In 2007, we will continue the transformational journey, looking for additional ways to building up the congregation. We have some exciting things planned, and we invite the congregation to be in prayer for the health and vitality of the church.

Indeed, may you learn how to pray for “Grace.”


Transition Times: Asset Mapping Produces Results!!!!


November 2006 edition

On October 15, thirty-plus congregants joined together to create a list of congregational assets. When we think of assets, we usually think of financial matters. Really, defining an asset is pretty broad. The list below is gathered from the various table groups working to sketch out the various assets the congregation has in the broad categories of assets that are physical, individual, associational, institutions, economic. (We are indebted to the work of Luther K. Snow and his book The Power of Asset Mapping: How Your Congregation Can Act on Its Gifts, published by the Alban Institute).

Just marvel at what about three dozen folks generated in about twenty minutes of brainstorming together:

Congregational, Church building, community resource, ways to connect, AA, dinner, cloggers, tag sales, Bible school, pumpkin carving, minister, location, beautiful building, Singing, Sending cards to shut ins, Organizational, Gift with children, Carving, Cooking, Hospitality, Supportive, Listening, Teaching, Nursing, Social work, Computer, Video, Photography, People with money, Knitting, Reading, quilting, Nursing homes, flowers, cards, visitations, Legion, Veterans, Church Women United, RSVP, NASW, NSO, Hospice, Habitat for Humanity, Elks, Moose, Legion, SVMC, VNH, VNA, RSVP, SVCU, Hospice, quilts, new baby of First Baptist, babysitting, parents’ night out, caroling, hymn sing, refreshments, list of volunteers, shoveling, raking leaves, Family, seniors, mentally ill, welcome center-tourist, schools, Delta Kappa Gamma, VRTA, Red Cross Blood Mobile, SVMC, neighbors, ABW, Woodford Cemetary Board, pets, Ham radio operators, Boards: Missions, Trustees, Missions, Volunteering within the church, transportation, welcome center, mentors, town of Bennington, BISCHCA, State of Vermont, Federal government, taxes, banks, sanctuary, chapel, kitchen, Colgate Hall, classrooms, location, handicapped-accessible (can be improved), church facilities (room to expand), budgeting, carpentry, cooks, teachers, administrating, interactions, knowing others, nursing skills, organizational skills, technology, faithfulness, horses/animals/skills, industrial, handyman, custodial, patience, willingness to accommodate, helping other groups, Red Cross shelter, Evening coffee shop, cooking class, poetry slam, play, building has lots of space for activities, dances, endowment account, (to get mission started), building up Sunday school, extra buildings, kitchen, Colgate hall, playroom, lounge, chapel, sanctuary, organ, congregation, location, business neighbors, talented people, landscaping, shut-ins, community-at-large, needy people, Red Cross (blood mobile), AA, Cloggers, Sunrise (Day Care Center), Animal shelters, hospital, RSVP, ABC VT/NH Region, UCS, organizational skills (to help with events), male cooks, singers (choir), musical talent, people-orientated people, teachers (education), animal care, nurses, crafts—knitting, individual missions (White Cross), child care workers, rummage sale, dinners, food vending, endowment, account, salaries, mission, building-up keep, fellowship fund, food pantry, church building, concerts, etc., Nichols Building (activities?), transportation (for shut-ins, for food, and projects made by others), ideas, people who can call others (shut-ins), clean ups, gardening, Interfaith Council (food/fuel fund, etc.), Red Cross and other community groups, meeting space for more groups, salaries, fuel, upkeep, products and literature for programs, apartment (former Gibney property), beautiful building, heat, Kitchen, Colgate Hall, lounge, chapel, organ, classrooms, nursery (babysitting), handicap accessibility, locality (Main Street), greeters, choir, Coffee hour hosts, Sunday School superintendent, Sunday School teachers, minister, scripture readers, janitor, callers (shut-in volunteers), deacons, trustees, secretary, treasurer, tellers, picture taking, sewing, White Cross helpers, help out for suppers, singing, teaching Sunday School, cooking for suppers, sending cards, good callers, good hostess, visiting shut-ins, flower arranging, Senior Center, Weight group, Bridge Club, Sewing Club, Al-Anon group, Bible Study, make lunches for homeless, more suppers for income, sewing (banner making), mitten tree, flower arrangement, gardening flowers, trees (decorated), soup and sandwiches (1 day/week), BYF, chapel

The second step of asset mapping is finding creative configurations for these assets to be woven together. The idea is to find things that do not readily appear to be related. For example, we could look at “male cooks, Colgate Hall, and dinners” and think “okay, we’ll get the men to cook something.” But throw in another asset like “shut-ins”, and suddenly, men are baking muffins for shut-ins. (Or more creatively,, we could reverse the order, and invite the shut-ins to bake muffins for church events. Bertha Greenawalt’s gift for sharing and cooking would suddenly spring to mind.) The table groups came up with some great ideas: a sewing/quilting workshop, using the church facility for Red Cross disaster relief (in addition to the traditional Red Cross blood mobile), inviting our children to help put on a Grandparents’ Day opportunity, inviting our elderly congregants to programming at the church on a regular basis, serving soup and sandwiches to the homeless on a weekly basis, holding a blessing of the animals service, creating a collection of animal care products for needy people, using endowments to create mission, providing tax help preparation through volunteers, knitting or quilting blankets/quilts for hospice or new babies, babysitting, Night-out for parents on Fridays, caroling, list of volunteers to do repairs/shoveling/raking leaves. Here’s a challenge: If you look at the big list of assets, what interesting arrangement of assets do you see? Remember, the trick is to shy away from the readily obvious pairings or joining of assets. Think laterally!

The third step is implementation! We hope that this exercise in asset mapping helps us see that indeed, the glass is half-full! We have A LOT TO GIVE for a congregation that might otherwise see itself as “small” or “diminished” or “aging.” You are invited as congregants, lay leaders, and persons invested in the future of First Baptist to start birthing new ministries that play our strengths. How can our 2007 calendar, budget, and ministry/mission focus implement some of the ideas generated above? How can we build a vision for 2007 that presumes growth, energy, and new heights?

The transition team invites your dialog and creativity as we plan for the future of First Baptist. We are indeed celebrating the journey, dreaming about the future, and becoming a people on the move!


Transitional Times

Recounting our History, and Accounting Our Membership and Assets: Why all three will see us to a new day in the life of this church!


Sunday, September 24, 2006, the congregation participated in the first of three “Transformational Journey” event. The first event featured a timeline exercise, as we recalled the origins of the church (established in 1827) and the 19th century (including a rare photograph of Rev. R.M. Luther, minister in the 1870s on Easter Sunday morning and an equally rare treasure newly acquired: a page taken from an 1877 architectural journal article discussing the architectural design of the present church, built in 1857). We spent a lot of our time exploring the “contemporary” era of the church, talking about the life of the congregation from the 1947 retirement of Dr. W. G. Towart (pastor for an astonishing 33 years!) to present day (including memories of times spent with Revs. Spencer, Payne, LaBombard, Miller, and Drosky and the interims Revs. Robbins, Lane, Narowitz, and Hardy who served in transitional times). The congregation has had times of challenge, grace, frustration, and peace. And we are grateful for the many stories shared on September 24th and invite the storytelling to continue!


The board of deacons is asking your assistance in updating our church membership information. Recently the church acquired a software package called “Church Windows” that will GREATLY enhance our abilities to carry out office work, pastoral care, and help us better communicate within the church’s community. Please take time to fill out the form located in this newsletter and submit it as soon as possible to the church office. To misquote a gospel hymn, When the roll is called “down yonder,” we hope you’ll be there in our database!


On Sunday, October 15, 2006, we will try our hand at a new method in getting churches to try new things and dream boldly. “Asset Mapping” is a methodology commonly used in a variety of settings to help people look at the possibilities that they have already with things in hand. Assets are usually thought of as “financial”, but really a congregation has assets in its people and their giftedness, its ministries, its physical plant, its financial and spiritual resources, its affiliations (community, denominational, ecumenical, etc.), its institutions (we support seminaries, universities, regional organizations, camp/conference centers, etc.). In other words, we start looking for ways to say that the glass is half full. Congregations in crisis or transition usually look at why they are feeling “half empty” (stagnate, dull, stuck). Asset mapping helps us start seeing the blessings in our midst.

As part of our worship service, we will ask people to get into groups and think as creatively as possible. Take for example our sanctuary. We could think of it as “huge and too big for a smaller congregation” or “hard to heat in the winter with fuel oil costs being so high.” Through using asset mapping’s way of looking at the sanctuary, we could see it as

“seats 325 persons”,

“excellent acoustics”,

“great Wicks pipe organ,”

“right on Main Street.”

Put these things together, and it strikes me that we could have an organ recital during a public event like Mayfest, which was right on our front lawn for part of the festivities this year. Asset mapping helps us see our building not as a millstone but as a place ready for mission! What could we do if we ponder something well known to us: our congregation, our building, our location, our financial/spiritual resources, even ourselves.

A little advance homework: As you think about the congregation, the church, and her ministries, can you also think of yourself? What are YOUR assets (spiritual gifts, skills, abilities, passions)? Each of us brings something unique to the community of disciples called First Baptist Church of Bennington. Can you dare to see new ways? Growing our membership and continuing the ministries of this church depend on our willingness to look at our assets and utilize them well!