Last week, social media was ablaze with talk of a church in southern Washington County. Grove United Methodist Church has two campuses, one in Woodbury and the other in Cottage Grove. The Cottage Grove Church began as Peaceful Grove United Methodist when it was founded 30 years ago. A few years ago, it merged with Grove and became a campus congregation.
But the congregation hasn’t grown. The church leaders and the Minnesota Annual Conference came up with an idea that might help attract more people to the congregation. Long story short, the story got misinterpreted and what was supposed to be about helping a struggling congregation stay as a vital part of the community, became a story of the old people being told to leave in order for more younger people to show up.
But this post is not about Grove UMC. I use the story because churches are trying to find ways to connect to the wider community, to be a visible presence where we are rooted.
Which leads me to this question. How are we visible?
Do people know we are here? Do they know who we are? How are we involved in the life of this community (Mahtomedi and White Bear Lake)?
For a long time, this church has been somewhat invisible. People know that there is a “little church on the hill,” but don’t know much more.
So the question for First Christian Church St. Paul is how are we going to be a visible presence in our community?
Magnolia United Methodist is a small church just like First Christian. A retired pastor came in as their pastor. Questions surfaced wondering if the church would survive. What she said is key:
When she arrived, members seemed to have one big question on their minds: Are we going to be able to survive?
Manning told them, “Yes, you can. God’s not going to leave you alone in this process. We just need to be patient and faithful.”
She immediately looked for opportunities for the church to turn outward and partner with its community. Members began working with their local food pantry and other social service organizations, and they connected with a home for troubled youth. Manning assured them that their mission was much bigger than keeping their doors open and urged them to discern what it was God was calling them to do.
The pastor then worked to reorient the church outward. Congregants now participate in food pantries and homeless shelters.
So, you might think I’m going to say we need to what Magnolia did and bing bang, we will have people visiting. It would be a good thing to do this, but before you do anything you have to focus on two things: 1) Be patient and faithful and 2) realize our mission is much more than butts in the seats and find out what God is calling us to do.
So, what is God calling us to do? We are doing some things like participate at the family shelter. What else can we do? Can we have patience that God will work and be faithful to God in our day to day lives? Can we trust that even though we are small that God is with us and we have everything we need? Can we open our God-given minds to creative ways of doing mission with our community?
In keeping with our Epiphany worship theme , my prayer is that we are able to trust God and go into the world revealing Christ to others in our words and in our deeds. May it be so.