Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Keeping It Holy

In my tenure as a pastor, I have never been called to lead in the building of a new sanctuary. It's hard to imagine how one leads in such a sacred endeavor. Congregations that build sanctuaries are called to take into account honoring worship traditions of the past while constructing a space that is flexible enough to accommodate worship practices of the present and future. Building team leaders must also listen carefully to the voices of the stakeholders (current and potential worshippers) and be mindful that the worship space intentionally welcomes God's Spirit to move among God's people.

When I moved to Dundee United Methodist Church in 1995, the congregation had just moved into a brand new sanctuary. The old sanctuary, which had doubled as a fellowship hall, had shifted in purpose. There were not enough Sunday school classrooms, a children and youth were meeting in open areas in the hall.


Brighton First's Community Room and Chapel occupy
space that was once the Sanctuary and Chancel
Brighton First United Methodist moved into a newly built sanctuary in 1995. Like Dundee, the congregation was left to repurpose the older sanctuary. When I came to serve at the church in 2002, the sanctuary did not have pews or chancel furnishings, but in other ways was much the same as it had been when the congregation used it for worship.

When a space in a church, especially a sanctuary is no longer used for regular worship, can it be repurposed? More importantly, does a space dedicated to the praise of God ever lose sacred purpose?

I know that churches have closed, been purchased and used for multiple purposes from homes to restaurants, from business offices to secular wedding chapels. I recently visited a closed Free Methodist Church to pick up some donated Bibles. Plans are to turn the church into a convenience store. In these cases, congregations have given thanks to God for the ministry of their church and let go of it as sacred space.

When the former sanctuary still exists, within the structure of an active church, it continues to be a place that hold memories of the sacred, God's faithful gathered in praise and worship.

I like to think that a space, still used by a church, even when no longer a sanctuary is a sacred place, blessed by the people and ministries that happen within its walls. Today in the churches that I have served, re-purposed sanctuaries are used as gathering places for fellowship and teaching. They serve as "parlors" for families to greet people after the death of a loved one. The life of these churches spills out from the present sanctuaries into a sacred space of welcome and growing in faith.

What part of a church campus is not sacred if dedicated to making disciples for Jesus Christ? What part of a church building is not part of bringing the reign of Christ to this world? Today I am "walking softly" through Brighton First's Community Room and Chapel (our former sanctuary) and giving thanks for transformed lives.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

What God Is Building

I have always liked the passage in Ephesians 2, where Paul lays out the purpose of the Body of Christ. I especially like The Message paraphrase by Eugene Peterson:

"God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home. (The Message, Ephesians 2:21-22)

I believe that this understanding of who we are as the church is at the center of why we support the church with our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. God is building a home in us, not of brick and mortar, boards and stones, but of faithful community. The foundation has been laid by prophets and those sent to proclaim the Good News. The cornerstone is set in Jesus Christ. And ours is a dynamic building, taking shape day after day, built so that the name of Jesus Christ may be known. We are like the Temple in that God lives through our words and our action. God, by the Holy Spirit, resides in us.

Ephesians 2:22, paraphrased by Peterson, states that we build a place where God is quite at home. I appreciate that Paul's observation to the Ephesians mentions nothing about the design, the furnishings, the style or worship or the stained-glass windows. Paul points out that God is pleased when the building starts with the cornerstone of Christ and has a foundation of those saints who have proclaimed the Good News of Christ's salvation.

This is the building in which we have been included. It is living and breathing God's will. At Brighton First we are building a place for people to grow in relationship with one another and with God. Together, we have taken the responsibility of the faithful saints who have gone before us and we build in anticipation of those who will follow.

We are hopeful builders, trusting that God is using us so that others may come to give their lives to Jesus Christ. We are all being used differently, but for the same purpose. We pray, serve, teach, give, worship and witness. We use our skills, resources and gifts for the unified purpose of living out God’s reign in this world.


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Letting Go of the Old

At Brighton First we have "let go" of our
nursery pager system.
Last week Missy Setty, the Director of Children's Ministries, carried a plastic box of electronic equipment into my office. She said, "We don't need these anymore. Do you know someone who could use them?"                                                                                                     I looked in the box and was surprised to see the pager system that we have used in our nursery for many years. When parents dropped off their children in the nursery, they picked up a pager so that they could be called back to the nursery. I said, "We do need these. It's how we contact parents!"                                                                                                                                                                          Missy brought me to present reality with three words, "We text parents."

I didn't notice when this change took place. And now an obsolete system was sitting on my desk. I could see the dust. It had not been used for some time.

Technological and cultural shifts spur change in the way we do things and even see our world. Sometimes the change comes swiftly and takes us off balance. And sometimes the change is so gradual that we don't notice it. At one time churches were "innovative" when they gave out pagers to parents. Today, parents expect that they will receive a text if they are needed.

Slow and gradual is often the way things happen in a church. There was a time in the history of long-established congregations when there was no electricity, sound systems or digital projectors in the sanctuary. There was a time when primary faith formation, classes and small groups for all ages, met on Sunday morning. There was a time when regular attendance meant attending worship every Sunday. This meandering way through change can happen, especially when the mission and vision of the church is not clear. 

Church members have passions for particular ministries and the ministry is strong for a time. Then interest and energy wanes and ministries decline. In the church, ministries in decline stay on longer than they have support and leave those involved mourning the "good old days". 
When the vision of who we are and where we are going is clear and owned by the congregation, change is like likely to wind its way slowly through the days, weeks, months and years. Change is deliberate, planned and for a purpose. We change for a reason, not simply to accommodate or to keep up.

I give thanks for Brighton First's strategic plan and the changes we've seen over the last two years that are informed by our church's vision. We have implemented new ways to raise up leaders and potential candidates for ministry. Our Adult faith formation efforts are intentionally designed to strengthen discipleship. We have remodeled our church so that there is a dedicated children's wing. Our outreach into the community is growing. We have shifted the role of our Administrative Board to a visioning body. We have aligned the role of staff members toward essential ministry that moves us forward. 

I was surprised that the pagers had become obsolete, but because we are a congregation that is willing to let go of the old and embrace the new in order to make disciples for Jesus Christ, I'm willing to let go. If you have a use for a perfectly good pager system, please let me know!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Staff Changes at Brighton First

The ministry of Brighton First is blessed and sustained by those who serve in our church office. Their welcoming and gracious presence reflects our church’s mission and their administrative skills bless the church’s ministry. We give thanks for our church office staff members and the many volunteers who are part of their team.

Terry Keefe
The Staff-Parish Relations Committee (human resources) of Brighton First announces that beginning November 1, our office staffing will change. Terry Keefe, who has served as Office and Facilities Manager and Finance Secretary since 2006, will become our Director of Communications. Terry is excited to work her “creative side”, developing and maintaining our electronic communications.
Wendy Carmack

Wendy Carmack, who now serves as Office Assistant, will become Office and Facilities Manager and Finance Secretary. Wendy has worked for Brighton First since October 2015. We are so pleased to welcome Wendy to this new leadership role.

We also welcome Karen Wagg to the church staff as Office Assistant. Karen, an active member of Brighton First, adds her gifts to a strong and dedicated office staff.

Please keep these faithful servants in your prayers in this time of transition. And if you have the opportunity, offer a word of thanks for their service.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Unique Mission of Our Church Budget

The Finance Committee of Brighton First is currently constructing the church's operating budget for 2018. While the task of building a budget is familiar to those who have managed projects or organizations, creating an annual budget for a church is different in several ways.

First, the primary goal of a church is not to produce an item or offer a service. The goal is to create and maintain the space and opportunity for God to work in the hearts of people. Faith is a gift given by God and sustained by God. The congregation of Brighton First works to build a place where people grow in knowledge and love of Jesus Christ. The budget includes line items like “utilities”, “mortgage”, “salaries” and “technology”, and our purpose is to make disciples by spending money on these items.

Second, our church’s budget is seldom balanced. Most years at Brighton First budgeted expenditures outpace committed income by about 20%. Leaders of the church are called to balance realistic expectations for the coming year with bold initiatives in the name of Jesus Christ. They are called to trust that as a congregation is faithful in building for Christ’s reign, the resources will be there.

Another difference in a church’s budget is the stakeholders. Everyone connected with the church, from those who are in leadership to guests who stop by in need of food, everyone, has the opportunity to know Christ through the ministry and mission of Brighton First. As congregation members of Brighton First we are both the recipients of ministry and the people who provide for ministry through our gifts. We give trusting that God will be honored and use our church to make disciples.

The Finance Committee has the "nuts and bolts" task of creating a budget and the committee members do so with prayer and with the mission of the church before them. All of us, together, are building a place where God powerfully dwells.