Developing Healthy Congregations

15541267_786901648114635_2912949989732689445_nA Note from Bishop Steve Wood

 

Dear Friends,

As our diocese continues to develop our common life Nancy Bryan has helpfully begun a regular e-newsletter of sorts to ensure we stay connected one to another. Included in these e-newsletters will be a brief article from me.  Being our first such newsletter I thought I’d write you about that which is closest to my heart; developing healthy missional congregations.

Over the course of my ordained life I have continually observed that when a congregation goes flat it is usually because one aspect of their life is out of balance.   As Anglicans entrusted with the great treasure of a rich liturgical life, we tend to do worship well. And, as I’ve traveled from parish to parish across our diocese we tend to love one another well. Most commonly it is the missional focus that has been lost.

So, how can you – and your parish – develop a heart that will grow an outwardly minded (mission minded) church?  Here are five suggestions:

 

  1. Adopt the “apostolic” attitude found in Romans 1.5-6: “Through Him (Jesus) and for His name’s sake, we (you) received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles (unreached people) to the obedience that comes from faith.”  Paul says that each one of us who has received grace for salvation has also received apostleship – meaning we have all been sent into the world as Christ’s ambassadors (2 Cor. 5.20).
  2. Find neutral ground to reach out to the community.  The possibilities are limited only by your creativity.  In the Diocese of the Carolinas the Village Church in West Greenville, SC partners with other community volunteers to serve their neighborhood by offering free bicycle maintenance, bike learning (and bike earning) opportunities and community development.  Called the Village Wrench they set up in a neighborhood of West Greenville on the first Saturday of every month. It is a tremendous bridge into the community giving pre-Christian people an opportunity to rub shoulders with Christians in a non-threatening atmosphere.
  3. Cultivate an evangelistic mindset.  Think person-to-person, friend-to-friend, neighbor-to-neighbor, colleague-to-colleague.  This, in fact, is much more important than any program or event your parish could implement. Twenty years ago George Hunter, the author of How to Reach Secular People, suggested that in our secular climate it takes twenty contacts(!) to build a bridge between your friend and Christ. The point is, stay engaged.  Folks will want to see your faith lived out and that takes time.
  4. Spice up your evangelistic life with a little variety.  Again, the evangelistic opportunities are endless.  For example, if you hear a single mom has a sick child you could: bring her dinner, mow her lawn, bring in the mail, visit the child and pray for him/her, share how your faith helped you in a hard time, invite her to church – or a home group, be a friend, have coffee – build a bridge.
  5. Meet people where they are.  Increasingly, the bankruptcy of our secular/pluralistic culture (materialism, atheism, skepticism) is being made clear.  Our society has moved from pluralism (many truths) to relativism (no truth is more true than others) to post-post-modernism (what is truth?).  Many in the church panic and become ashamed of the Gospel, feeling that the Bible is irrelevant to our modern world.  NOTHING could be further from the truth.  In fact, this kind of thinking reflects more clearly a worldly analysis than a biblical one.  The Bible is still living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword – able to penetrate soul and spirit and judge the thoughts and attitudes of people’s hearts (Heb. 4.11).

 

In Christ,

Steve

A Real God

RETREATwith Real Women, Real Life, Real Men & Real Courage
February began with God calling 84 women from St. Paul’s Greenville to Kanuga Conference Center in Hendersonville, NC for SPC’s Second Annual women’s overnight retreat.  Our time together consisted of prayer, diving into the Word of God, small group discussion, praise and worship, meals together, social time, and fellowship.

The excellent teaching was led by Van Weston of Pawley’s Island, SC. This was her second year leading the retreat, and the women agreed that though they thought it impossible to top year one, God did. Her teaching focused on Jesus encountering the Samaritan woman at the well. Throughout our time together, Van reminded us that Jesus loves us, Jesus is for us, and Jesus is with us. She encouraged each of us to embrace our relationship with Jesus and embrace the “life benefits” that Jesus has for us. Each woman left renewed, praising God through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Our time together was indeed life changing.  All praise to Jesus.The Men held their 4th Annual Men’s Retreat the following weekend. With 66 men in attendance, it was a wonderful time of joy and fellowship as well as a time of worship and hearing from God’s Word. Bishop Thad Barnum spoke to the men on Friday night and Saturday about real courage from the life of Jacob. Together they dealt with fear, anxiety, and the need to let go of control and let Jesus work in our lives.

The retreat closed with a prayer service, where the men from St. Paul’s were encouraged to lift up their hands, let go of their control, and receive the Father’s work in their life. Finally, they gathered around the communion table in the chapel for Eucharist and a final blessing. The Holy Spirit was at work in a mighty way and men have come away refreshed and excited about what God is doing in them as individuals and as a group at St. Paul’s Church. All praise to God!

Simeon Fellowship

IMG_3659BY LUCY ALBERT

Ten students met in September for the inaugural gathering of the Simeon Fellowship cohort of Columbia, SC.  That first meeting took the form of a retreat held in Black Mountain over two days and two nights.  After sharing meals, small groups, and guided large groups together, the eight men and two women left knowing each other better and excited about the next two years.

Simeon Fellowship is a two-year course aimed at providing new and upcoming clergy with pastoral formation which is often neglected in seminary training.  Canon Art Going pioneered the class and set its curriculum and reading list; ours is the first group to be shepherded by another priest.  Fr. Chip Edgar of Church of the Apostles serves as overseer, while Bishop David Bryan offers additional support and guidance.

Seminarians usually graduate with biblical and theological sophistication, but often lack spiritual and practical formation. The Simeon Fellowship—Columbia equips the next generation of church leaders in the context of local Gospel-centered churches. Participants mature within a covenant learning community and finish with a lifetime commitment to ongoing professional and personal growth.

The group gathers monthly ten times a year over two years.  Five of those gatherings take the form of retreats, while the remaining meetings consist of day-long sessions that begin with Morning Prayer.  We then engage in learning about that month’s topic as directed by a guest speaker.  Our preparation includes having read an assigned book on subjects that have thus far included liturgy, preaching, culture, and gender & sexuality.  We anticipate our remaining time together to be rich as we continue to explore what it means to “…tend the flock of God” that is in our charge. (1 Pet. 5:2)

Church Spotlight – St. Andrews Park Circle

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by Dave Libbon
     St. Andrew’s Park Circle was planted three years ago out of a desire to see the people of North Charleston be “transformed by the power and presence of Jesus Christ”. It was then, and remains, our mission. What we have learned, since that first meeting in my living room, is what any good missionary would tell you. Namely that culture plays a massive role in reaching a people group with the gospel.
North Charleston is the state’s third largest city and has been experiencing great renewal in recent years. A revitalization of neighborhoods, new schools being built, and families moving into the area are common. What that also means is that with rising home prices, those on fixed incomes get stretched thin. New schools are great, but when the child is sleeping in a hotel room on a pile of blankets, learning still is a problem. With new families moving in, the demand for housing has rocketed in what was once a very urban blue-collar town. With growth looking up (literally up in the sky as Boeing has started to build airplanes here) the question still remains how do we faithfully plant in this multi-layered city. The answer has come through a series of conversations and a great desire to serve people.
People ask “When are you going to get your own building?” Our answer – “Hopefully not for a while!” St. Andrews Park Circle meets in the North Charleston Creative Arts Elementary School The school creates a natural bridge between the culture and the kingdom. NCCAE is a Title 1 school and the majority of children attending qualifies for free or reduced lunch. We began by asking the principal “how can we serve you?” Initially, we were met with skepticism but after a long season of serving, trust has grown. We have engaged with a mentor program and championed getting at risk kids lunch buddy mentors. With a foster home a few blocks away, we provide dinner each month, which builds relationships with the workers and children, giving a great inroad into our community.
The most unique opportunities have come when the un-churched and de-churched are invited to do these things with us. We see that our neighbors, coworkers, and friends are ready and willing to lend a hand for the good of the community, even if they struggle to define why they desire such things. Then we watch God work in and through their lives. We have invited our neighbors over to our backyard for Christmas cookouts encouraging them to bring along a toy for toys-for-tots. We partnered with a local brewery to brew a beer whose proceeds benefit our mentor partners. The mentor partners provide training for more mentors in local schools.  We have started hosting a local “Pappy Hour” monthly for dads to connect in our city.  St Andrew’s Park Circle continues connecting non-Christians to serve our community, which allows us to live the gospel in their midst, share the gospel with them and watch them be “transformed by the power and presence of Jesus Christ”.

Multi-Generational Relationships

70 plusby The Rev. Fred Pinkston

I was working in the yard one day several months ago and had a vision.  It was a picture in my mind’s eye like the seventy 70+ plus logo above.  It came without instructions.

I shared my vision with the Rev. Canon Filmore Strunk, rector of All Saints, Charlotte, and the Rev. Randy Forrester, rector of King of Kings, Charlotte, over lunch at Five Guys following our regular monthly meeting of the Anglican House at Gordon-Conwell.  Both seemed to think the vision had something to do with older men and women serving as patriarchs or matriarchs in the church.  “There is wisdom to be shared”, they said.

After talking to Bishop David, his first words were, “It’s a two-edged challenge…to the church and to those who are over seventy.” As I began to unpack this I sense the following:

The Problem
People 70 plus tend to retire or withdraw
Churches tend to marginalize people 70 plus
Wisdom and experience go wanting

The Challenge to Those 70 Plus
Accept change graciously
Freely share advice and counsel
Participate fully in the life of the church
Give generously of your time and resources

The Challenge to the Church
Seek advice from those who are 70 plus
Invite the participation of those 70 plus
Encourage multi-generational relationships
Show respect to and honor those 70 plus

The Members
Men and women who are 70 plus
Clergy and lay members of ACNA churches
Those willing to share the love of Jesus Christ
This is not a formal program within the Anglican Church of North America, but rather, as a loosely structured idea to be implemented within our congregations.  Clergy and lay leaders might support and encourage the ideas found in this outline in as many different ways as there are different people with different gifts within the congregations in ACNA.

The goal is simple – to encourage those 70+ to remain involved in the life of the church, to share their wisdom and experience with younger Christian men and women, and for the body of Christ to seek the guidance and input of those who are aging.  We cannot afford to lose the lessons learned.

The world in which we live is more and more divided by age groups.  Technology and our mobile society exacerbate those divisions.  There is much to be gained by resisting such divisions. What can you do to take advantage of multi-generational relationships?

Missionaries Allen and Rachel Hill

Hillsby Dr. Sharon Pullen

 

Allen and Rachel Hill arrived in the U.S. in the heat of the summer of 2016. Besides leaving behind the mild South American winter, they also concluded a successful 16- year mission assignment, said goodbye to many close friends and associates, and left the only home their sons, James and John, have ever known. The Hills were sent to Peru in 2000 by the Society of Anglican Missionaries and Senders (SAMS) and have come to Raleigh on a study leave assignment. Both Allen and Rachel were ordained in Peru and are canonically resident in the Anglican Diocese of Peru.

Allen’s arrival in North Carolina was a homecoming. He grew up in Raleigh, attended St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, and graduated from Broughton High School. His undergraduate studies in philosophy at Guilford College forced him to question and evaluate his beliefs and worldview. During his freshman year, Allen joined a small group Bible study. He says he heard the Gospel stated clearly for the first time and embraced a personal relationship with Jesus.

Allen attended Trinity School for Ministry in Pittsburgh where he earned a Master of Arts in religion. He was intentional about his decision not to pursue a Master of Divinity, believing that a strong laity is vital to the growth of the Church.

During his final days in Pittsburgh in the summer of 1997, Allen met his future wife, Rachel Godfrey. He was preparing to leave for India on his first overseas mission assignment. Rachel was beginning her first year of seminary and admits she wasn’t thinking about marriage. Her reluctance to date Allen was the very thing that set the stage for their relationship to develop. They agreed to write to each other during the year Allen was in India, and both eventually realized their friendship had caught fire. They became engaged when Allen returned and were married in 1998. Two years later they would leave for Peru.

Rachel grew up in England on the outskirts of Nottingham. Her father, Bill Godfrey, the now retired bishop of the Anglican Church of Peru, served as parish priest in a small mining town. When she was 8, Rachel read a biography of Gladys Aylward, a British missionary to China, and vowed that she too would become a missionary.

Rachel experienced her first overseas mission at age 14 when her father accepted a call to serve as rector of the sole Anglican church in Uruguay. The move to South America was the first of many extended separations from friends and family throughout her life. Her parents remained in Uruguay while Rachel returned to England in 1988 for University.

Rachel was in her third year of Latin American studies when the Lord reminded her of her vow to be a missionary. She describes her teen years as a time of gradual falling away from her childhood faith, but at the age of 21, she experienced a spiritual renewal. She recalls the significant moment when she realized that her faith was to be all or nothing. The Word of God came alive, her prayer life intensified, and the liturgy she had heard and read all her life suddenly seemed to be expressing the deepest cries of her heart. She realized that she had no power in herself to change another person’s life, but she discovered the power available to her through the Holy Spirit to live out God’s missionary call on her life.

A few years after her spiritual renewal, Rachel accepted an internship at Truro Church in Fairfax, Va., at the invitation of Martyn Minns, then the rector at Truro. Rachel heard clearly from God that she was to attend seminary to be equipped for missionary service. She asked the Lord for three things: a place at seminary, a visa to stay in the U.S., and living expenses. While she was earning a Master of Arts in mission and evangelism from Trinity School for Ministry, Rachel says she never lacked a single thing. God provided the three things she asked and much more, including a husband.

In 1998, the same year Allen and Rachel were married, Rachel’s parents relocated to Peru when her father was elected bishop of the Anglican Church of Peru. When Bishop Godfrey realized the need for people to recruit, equip, and train indigenous leaders in the Peruvian Church, he knew just the people to ask. The Hills moved to Peru in 2000 to take on the job of founding a seminary in Arequipa, and Allen became the first dean of The Saints Augustine Anglican Seminary. He handed over the reins of leadership after the first class of students graduated, and he and Rachel moved to the capital city of Lima to establish a second campus.

Allen’s experience as dean of the seminary led him to reconsider his earlier position on ordination. As he instinctively took on a pastoral role in his relationships with his students, the path to ordination seemed to unfold naturally. Allen and Rachel both were ordained into the diaconate in 2003, and two years later, Allen was ordained to the priesthood.

The Hills welcomed their first child, James, in 2002 and his brother, John, two years later. Starting a family shifted Rachel’s main focus, but she still maintained her ministry responsibilities. She taught several classes in the seminary, helped lead retreats, and served as Diocesan Chaplain to Youth Ministry.

In 2013 Allen was called to serve as interim rector of The Cathedral of the Good Shepherd in Lima. What began as a temporary position stretched on for three years until 2016 when the Hills began their preparations to come to the U.S. Allen and Rachel felt torn between their love for the congregation at the cathedral and their calling to train lay and ordained leaders to serve the church.

The Hill’s main ministry focus will always be training indigenous church leaders where there are none. Their vision for reaching the lost is strategic and multiplicative. Taking the Gospel to the ends of earth requires more than making converts; it involves training those converts to make disciples who will make disciples. The Hills believe their job is to work themselves out of a job by establishing strong leaders who will carry on with the work of the Church in their own culture. Allen and Rachel achieved their goals in Peru where the Anglican Church is now thriving under Peruvian leadership. Before their departure, the Hills were commissioned and sent out with the blessing of the Anglican Diocese of Peru as Peruvian missionaries to the U.S.

Rachel describes her return to South America in 2000 as a joyous homecoming, in part because her parents were there, but mostly because she feels such a deep connection with the people of Latin America. With equal joy, Allen describes the return to his hometown of Raleigh this past summer. Here is the lone note of sadness in this extraordinary story of the faith and obedience of two joyful people who are filled with gratitude for all God has done in their lives. Because their homelands are separated by thousands of miles, Allen and Rachel will never fully share the joy of coming home. Rachel feels blessed to be close to Allen’s family and to see him content and at home in Raleigh, but she longs for the day when they can visit her own family in England.

The Hills look forward with great expectation to going wherever God calls them next, and they are actively pursuing the experience and education to equip them for their next mission assignment. Allen is simultaneously pursuing a master’s degree in international education from UNC-Chapel Hill and a Doctor of Ministry degree in theological education from Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria. The Hills are worshipping at Church of the Holy Cross in North Raleigh where their loving presence and ministry have been a tremendous blessing to the congregation.

James, 14, and John, 12, are settled into their respective schools and have made friends at school and at church, but Allen and Rachel say the transition has not been easy for their sons, both of whom were born in Peru and have never lived anywhere else. James is the same age as Rachel when her family moved to Uruguay, so she empathizes with her children’s struggle to integrate into a foreign culture. When asked if the transition has been hard for him, James simply nods. What 14-year-old could find adequate words to explain what it feels like to come “home” to a country in which you have never lived, where everything is strange and new? The culture, the food, and the schools are all so different from what James and John have known. Allen and Rachel are very proud of the courage and resilience their sons have demonstrated in this time of transition.

Another major challenge the Hills face is the decline in funding from their ministry supporters. When missionaries are between assignments or on study leave, financial partners often assume the need for support is on hold. Nothing could be further from the truth. Rachel is finding ways to supplement the family’s income while Allen attends school full time, but living on the reduced stipend from SAMS is difficult. They are quick to point out, though, how grateful they are for their faithful ministry partners. God has never failed to provide for their family, and they are neither anxious nor fearful about the future.

Allen and Rachel send out a regular prayer letter to those who want to follow their journey and pray specifically for their needs. They emphasize that prayer is absolutely essential for the protection and success of missionaries serving on the front lines. Subscribe to their prayer letter by sending Rachel an email at rachelhill@sams-usa.org and go to https://secure q.net/Donations/SAMS/3373 for more information about SAMS and the Hill’s support needs. Also consider inviting them to your church to speak about their experiences.

The Hills know that carrying out the Great Commission requires great resources, both human and financial. They have experienced firsthand the common plight of missionaries around the world who struggle to keep their ministries afloat and their families fed. Together Allen and Rachel have over 47 years of experience on the foreign mission field, and they offer illuminating insight about why resources remain scarce for many missionaries. The explanation is not a lack of openhandedness on the part of the Church. On the contrary, the people of God are known for responding generously to those in need. But sometimes well-intentioned humanitarian projects drain resources from long-term missionaries. Raising funds for a project that yields immediate and gratifying results, building an orphanage or a school, for example, is far easier than raising ongoing support for leaders whose labor has the potential to win an unreached population for the Gospel over the course of several generations. Furthermore, practical needs such as orphanages and schools are often met naturally over the term of a long-term mission project.

Serving those in need goes hand in hand with sharing the Gospel. The Church must continue reaching out to all those in need while rededicating ourselves to taking the Gospel to the unreached. We must be willing to invest in gifted leaders like the Hills who are committed to spending their lives fulfilling the Great Commission. At the end of the age, in the very last days before Jesus comes, there will be people still in need of the Church’s practical help. But the time appointed for taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth will come to a close. Allen and Rachel Hill have a sense of urgency about the time remaining to go into all the world.

 

Sharon Pullen is a member of Church of the Holy Cross in North Raleigh.