SHIFT in Action in Howards Grove

Two core components of the Shift initiative are building relationships and sharing resources. One of the ways we are doing both of these things is through telling our stories and getting to know what our various congregations are doing. This story was shared recently by Carl TenPas, member of Our Shepherd UCC in Howards Grove and a former participant of Lay Academy. Carl paints a hopeful picture of a congregation involved in its community and sharing God’s peace, hospitality and love with our world.

Perhaps you also have a story you’d like to share about how your congregation is embracing a shift from maintenance to mission. Stories can be sent to Tisha Brown.

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We at Our Shepherd United Church of Christ in Howards Grove are a church seeking to make the shift from maintenance to mission. The members of our 30-year-old congregation come from numerous backgrounds and denominations. We are liberal and conservative. We are young and old.

We join together in faith, trust and worship. Our ability to do this is based on our open attitude and love. We welcome families, singles, millennials, anyone! Each one finds a home, a community of faith, in which to grow and share. All are valued and find a particular place to be involved.

How do we do this in our setting? We work hard to be open to their interests, their lives, their challenges and joys, and seeing everyone as a child of God wanting to be seen and heard and loved. We serve with joy and, sometimes, a raucous sense of humor!

Whether it’s music, teaching, mission or leadership we believe in putting faith into action: helping those less fortunate, participating in wider church activities such as mission trips to Pilgrim Center or creating prayer shawls to surround with prayers those who are ill or hurting.

We encourage one another to reach out into the community, individually as well as a congregation. Supporting Meals on Wheels, the food pantries, backpacks for school children, and knitting newborn hats for the hospital are just a few ways our members share their personal calls. We look for ways to meet a particular need there might be in our community. One way we do this is through our Vacation Bible School program. Children with special needs are encouraged to attend and find a summer community to connect with. Yoga classes, scouts and other groups are welcomed on a regular basis.

We encourage each other to explore interests and talents and then share those with the whole congregation so we can grow together in new ways. We are not a “No” church or a “we have never done that before” church. We are a “how will this idea work, and what can we do to use it to feed us” church.

We take seriously the risk to move beyond our walls and go out from this place into the world as the faithful.

We find joy in who God has called us to be.

God Bless,

Carl TenPas, Grateful Church Member

The Path—an innovative approach to Faith Formation for all ages

Over the next few months we will be lifting up stories from all over the conference to highlight the many different ways congregations throughout Wisconsin are finding to approach Shift in their particular context. In this post, I share a story about Shift as it relates to Faith Formation from Rev. RaeAnn Beebe and St. Paul’s UCC in Oshkosh.

RaeAnn writes: “We do not have that many children in our congregation. For many years we had the traditional style of Sunday School with classes based on age or grade in school and of course it was held on Sunday mornings—sometimes before worship and sometimes at the same time as worship. Our attendance was sporadic for a number of years and at times there was only one child in a class. This just wasn’t working for us. We decided we didn’t want to eliminate an intentional form of faith formation for children as some churches have done. We needed to come up with a plan that would work for us. As we discussed the possibilities we zeroed in on our Wednesday night service called The Path that incorporated Confirmation and worship. The Faith Formation Team decided to expand the concept and include the children in this as well. Many of the families would be bringing one of their children to Confirmation on Wednesday nights anyway. We start with a simple meal at 5:30 pm. Participation is voluntary, but most of the families participate!

There are also several adults with no children who participate in this meal and service as well, so it isn’t just children and their families. Meals are provided by the families who attend and a free will offering is taken to pay for the meal. After supper at 6pm we gather in the sanctuary and share the story for the night. We then break up into three groups—those in kindergarten and under, those 1st grade up to 6th grade, and 7th grade to adult—to explore the story more. Sometimes we stay together and work on a project. It is very interactive and we will try anything once or maybe even twice! We end the service together.

Over time we’ve noticed that relationships are certainly building among the generations. The children are excited to participate and take part in the service (I have more volunteers then I need most of the time!).

If you are reading this, you’re probably aware that in more and more of today’s congregations, like St. Paul’s in Oshkosh, the long-valued model of Sunday school is no longer feasible for a variety of reasons. This is not our fault! We didn’t do anything wrong and there’s nothing we can do to fix it so that it will be like it was. At the same time, learning and growing in faith remains one of the most important callings of our congregations. It is a primary role of our churches to guide and encourage children, youth and adults as we journey throughout life as God’s faithful people. So what are we to do?

There is no single answer to this question. Every congregation has to discover its own way. Every context will require something different based on what is already happening, who is there and what their particular interests, gifts, needs and abilities happen to be. The good news is that in the midst of our exploring and grappling, we are not alone. We can accompany one another, share our stories, point to resources, brainstorm ideas, learn from our failures and find fresh ways to be the church in today’s world. In the Conference office we are working on strengthening the network of people with expertise in the area of faith formation so that they can continue to provide support and encouragement to congregations that decide to pursue a Shift in Faith Formation.

If you have a story to share about how your congregation is Shifting in some way, whether it’s in Faith Formation, Leadership Development, Community Engagement, Justice Ministries or Alternative models for Governance or Staffing, I encourage you to share your story here or send it to me to be included in a future post.

Carry on faithful servants! I look forward to hearing from you.

Tisha

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We’d love to highlight a story from your congregation in this space. Send your stories to me, Tisha Brown, at tbrown@wcucc.org.

Information on SHIFT : wcucc.org/shift