Showing up

Recently, there was a 5K race that a few people from my congregation were running. At first, I balked at the idea of signing up: It was on a Sunday afternoon, and I knew that morning was going be a particularly long one. But in the end, I sucked it up, and after dragging myself downtown and standing through registration, I fought through a sea of people, and ran what was a very crowded race. Afterward, I found members of my church hanging out near the concession booth, and all of the hassle was rewarded with some of the most welcoming words I’ve ever heard. A woman from my church turned to a friend of hers (not from our church), and said, “Oh, how cool. Our pastor showed up!”

Showing up matters, and showing up can be particularly meaningful in the places and at the times when it’s least expected. It is not particularly remarkable that I showed up at a 5K, but it has been nothing short of incredible the way member from our congregation have showed up in Southwest Santa Rosa. On October 22nd, 2013, an unarmed 13-year-old, who was Latino-American, was shot to death by a local law enforcement officer, who was white. The teenager, Andy Lopez,  was carrying a toy gun, and the officer has already returned to the force.

The shooting enflamed the preexisting tension in a city that suffers from economic disparity between its incredibly racially segregated quadrants. The civil unrest that developed from the fall through the winter was enough to make anyone want to hide her head in the sand, but members from our church kept showing up. They showed up at rallies, and at community meetings. A small group of them took turns coming to a weekly peace vigil on the site where Andy Lopez was killed. They came every week and stood in silence. They were often the only non-Latino people there. When I told one of the members of the group how moved I was with her presence, she said, “The church needs to show up. The church just needs to show up and listen.”

There are places in every town where the church needs to show up. We need to show up in the face of injustice and oppression, and we need to show up as the church ready to listen. Ministry that starts with presence and deep listening may seem like it take a long time to grow, but that it only because it is developing deep roots in the soil. There was no immediately visible “success” from the outreach of our church members, but by Lent, other churches began to come forward to lead the weekly peace vigil. And by Holy Thursday, our congregation partnered with a pastor for a Latino church for combined worship.

Where in your community does the church need to “show up”?

What does it look like for your congregation to reach outside of its comfort zone to do the hard work of witnessing to injustice and oppression?

What is one tangible way your church could seek to listen to those who have a different experience of your community than you do?

Article submitted by: 

Pastor Lindsay Kerr, Associate Pastor, First United Methodist Church, Santa Rosa, CA  www.firstumc.org

Pastor Lindsay

Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God – Micah 6:8

Small Groups in our Church

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

                                                                                                      Matthew 18:20 NRSV

By the numbers, Watsonville First United Methodist Church // Primera Iglesia Metodista Unida de Watsonville, isn’t a large church.  But in small groups we are mighty.  What does it take to have a thriving small group ministry?

  1. Be open to what God’s Spirit brings your church.
  2. And partner with others.

Behind our church is a little park.  When I first came to Watsonville, it was the source of my headaches.  It was run down.  The play equipment was old, broken and dangerous.  This space next to our facility was a magnet for criminal and other unhealthy behavior, which spilled onto our parking lot.  Graffiti covered the wall of a nearby residence.  There was trash everywhere.

In those days, I called the cops, a lot.  And rest assured, our church budget didn’t include anything to do with parks.

Then something shifted.

I began to see this eyesore of a park, as a gift from God.  We began to understand its potential.  So we started asking questions.

  • To the City: What can you do to fix up the play equipment?  And what can we do to improve our park?    
  • To the Police Department: How can we make our neighborhood safer and prevent crime instead of simply reacting to it?
  • To the neighborhood children and youth we met in the park: Would you like to help us make this a better park?

And that’s how we began our road to small groups.  We began to see our biggest “problem” as a gift from God.  We began to understand that the park was “our” park, and “our” problem.

Partners

So we found partners to help us do what needed to be done.  They were just waiting to be asked.  It was amazing!  We discovered that we needed partners to accomplish our work of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

In this case, the City invited us to apply for a grant to fix up the park, which we did, twice, partnering with the nearby Pajaro Valley Children’s Center and other volunteers to install new fences, better signs, a picnic table, new trash cans, new trees, etc.  The City also replaced the old beat-up play equipment.

DSCF4563

We found a local muralist and with the input of local children and youth, painted a big mural on a private residence.

Mural on the Wall #2

The Police helped us start a Neighborhood Watch group at the church with residents from around the park, and we began participating in National Night Out, an annual event to promote safety and introduce church and neighborhood families to our local fire fighters, police officers and city officials.

It was a win-win situation.

How long did it take to accomplish? We were actively involved in these projects start to finish at least three or four years.  This is not a fast process!  Making connections with the neighbors takes time, one relationship at a time.  But it’s worth it.  And it started us on the road to our small group ministries.

Check it out on our website: www.watsonville1stumc.org, or call me if you have questions, (831) 724-4434.

Blog courtesy of Pastor Robin Mathews-Johnson

PastorRobin-WatsonvilleUMC

5 Keys to a More Dynamic Group Experience

What makes for a dynamic small group experience?  Most of us know it when we see it.  Most of us have been in groups that have a different quality and go well beyond the ordinary.  I’ve written about what I think are the essential ingredients of life-change several times.

Here are what I think are the 5 keys to a dynamic small group experience:

  1. A group leader who is becoming more like Jesus.  Like Paul, the leader can say, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ,” 1 Corinthians 11:1 (NIV).  Embedded in this key are the practices of Jesus (praying for group members, thinking about their needs, loving them even when they fail, celebrating their faith steps, and appropriately challenging their stumbles.  A key for me is that need to be becoming more like Jesus.  Like Jesus’ closest followers, they can start very far from being like Him.
  2. A group leader who is being mentored by someone who is a few steps ahead.  I’ve often said, “Whatever you want to happen in the lives of your members has to happen first in the life of the leader.” How will the leader become like Jesus?  Almost always because someone is a few steps ahead, living out “follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”
  3. A warm and welcoming environment; a comfortable and familiar space.  Environment plays an important role in the meeting.  What’s needed isn’t elegant or expensive.  What’s needed is an invitation to relax.
  4. A shared understanding of essential purpose, values, and expectations of the group.
  5. A connection that extends beyond the meeting.  The meeting itself is important, but the meeting is not enough.  Groups that move beyond the ordinary experience almost always connect between meetings.  Dinner together.  A cup of coffee.  A Facebook message or a quick phone call.  Sitting together in the worship service.  A birthday card or note.

Article by Pastor Mark Howell (www.MarkHowellLive.com)

About Mark Howell

mark_best1   Mark Howell is the Pastor of  Communities at Canyon Ridge Christian Church in Las Vegas, Nevada and the founder of SmallGroupResources.net, offering consulting and coaching services that help churches across North America launch, build and sustain healthy small group ministries.

Vital Worship at Los Altos UMC

Image

Los Altos UMC
[Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Reconciling Ministries Network]

Los Altos United Methodist Church loves offering excellent worship and music every week, with a continual focus on improvement. The pastoral staff and worship team work hard together to make it happen, and they bring in guest preachers, worship leaders, and musicians a few times a year to complement the work they do. Three avenues of worship have seen particular attendance growth in the last few years: a monthly young adult worship service on Saturday evenings, online “attendance” through virtual streaming of all services, and a new children’s worship service.

The OpenCircle young adult ministry at LAUMC, led by the Rev. Samuel Yun, started holding monthly Saturday worship services in October 2011. That first service drew 75 participants. In 2013, the service averaged 88 monthly participants, with a high of 145. Young adults from around the Bay Area come to the service. Each service has a theme, such as Come-Unity, U2charist, Free Jesus, and Imagine. OpenCircle has also supported young adult worship services at other Bay Area United Methodist Churches, growing the ministry with and for this age group.

LAUMC live streams its four Sunday services, the monthly OpenCircle service, and some special concerts. Online participants can register their attendance, download the bulletin, submit prayer requests, and make donations. Online attendance has increased from an average of 142 per weekend in 2011 to an average of 171 per weekend in 2013. Participants log in from the local community, across the country, and around the world. Church members report watching online while away on vacation, sometimes inviting friends they are visiting to watch with them and discuss the sermon afterward.

In September the children’s ministries started a new Sunday school curriculum that includes opening large-group worship for first through fifth graders before they divide into age-level classrooms. The children’s worship service, held at 9:30 a.m. in Creekside Center, includes music, interactive skits on the week’s Bible story, and prayer. The service has averaged 59 children in attendance over the last four months. The children are actively engaged, and the adults involved as Sunday school teachers, music leaders, and skit actors have reported renewed energy for teaching the children messages of faith.

If you would like to see our vital worship in action, you are welcome to attend a service any Sunday at 8:00 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 11:15 a.m., or 5:00 p.m. or on the first Saturday of the month at 5:00 p.m. LAUMC’s address is 655 Magdalena Ave at Foothill Expressway, Los Altos, and our “virtual campus” is online at http://laumc.org/live/. We look forward to worshipping with you!

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emilyallen

Emily Allen

Director of Communications

Los Altos UMC