For the last year, our church has been hard at work discerning what God has in store for us next. We’ve studied our church and community, spent countless hours in prayer and had over 80% of our church participate in small groups where each and every person was invited to share their hopes and dreams for our church.
Out of those discussions, three areas of emphasis emerged that we believe God is leading us to focus on in the years ahead. First, is a renewed partnership with Peace of Bread. We believe that at the heart of the Gospel is a call to go and share God’s love with others, and we feel that God is calling us to do that through Peace of Bread and the community immediately surrounding our church. Second, we believe that God is calling us to continue to excel in worship. This is one of the strengths of our church, something we love to do, and something that brings joy to God’s heart. In the coming years, the New Beginnings Small Groups told us that they felt God affirming our commitment to worship, and challenging us to walk the line between honoring our traditions and reaching out to the next generation in new and exciting ways. Finally, we heard God telling us that we are to strengthen our discipleship, both personally and corporately. At its core, the Christian journey is one of faith and transformation, and we need to find ways to support one another as we seek to grow ever closer to God.
With these three areas of emphasis in mind, we’d like to share with you a picture of what our church might look like five years from now. This story is not meant to be a step by step plan of what we need to do to implement our findings, but rather a guiding vision of what the future might look like if we commit ourselves to following God’s leading. This story comes directly from the small group discussions, and has been reviewed by our Small Group Leaders as well as our Session. After much prayer, we believe this is the direction God is leading our church and the adventure God is inviting us to be a part of.
We would like to share this story with you now…
There’s a definite nip in the air on this beautiful sunny Wednesday in October 2019, but people don’t seem to notice as they stream into the Presbyterian Church in Whitinsville, MA. They are warmed by the joy in their hearts as they happily greet friends (both old and new) who are joining together to share good food and great fellowship at the Peace of Bread program which has been held at the United Presbyterian Church (UPC) for over 15 years.
Peace of Bread looks dramatically different today than it did just five years ago. The transformation came after our church participated in a program called New Beginnings and we realized that there was more we could be doing to serve our community. Every Wednesday, Peace of Bread was feeding over 150 hungry people, and yet there was so much more that could be done. And that is when God gave the members of UPC a special mission; to partner with Peace of Bread and help meet some of the spiritual and emotional needs of those gathered at our church every Wednesday night.
We felt God calling us to partner with Peace of Bread to offer support groups, community events and life skills classes to those who were interested – for example: sewing classes, carpentry skills, financial counseling, parenting classes, homework help for kids, bible studies, fun events like movie nights or game nights, and professional counseling. In more recent years, we have even partnered with local social workers to help deepen the impact that we are having on people’s lives. The relationships that have been formed between church members and attendees have created an atmosphere of love and trust, and many people have come to know the saving grace of Jesus Christ through this new partnership.
Today on Wednesday nights, every room in fellowship hall is full to overflowing with people. Many come early to participate in our various activities and church members can be seen leading programs or simply talking with our guests. Barber shop quartets, school orchestras, violin solos and much more are heard during the dessert time. Some perform downstairs but most play upstairs during the new worship service.
That’s right; there is now a Wednesday night church service at UPC that is open to all – not just those who are serving and attending Peace of Bread, but everyone. This worship service is a celebration of our gifts – gifts received, gifts given and gifts shared. The worship service started simply with our small but talented church choir singing songs around the piano. It has since evolved into a worship service where the gospel is shared through contemporary music, scripture and a simple meditation.
The Sunday morning service has slowly grown in attendance over the past five years as well. People looking for a deeper worship experience from the Wednesday night service are invited to come on Sunday morning. The worship service is what some would call blended. It honors our beloved heritage while still reaching out to our ever changing world. An inspiring Biblically-based message and beautiful uplifting music fill us spiritually to overflowing so that we are well prepared to go out and share the love of God with the world around us. Our historic organ has been repaired to its full glory and the choir leads us in an inspiring mix of contemporary and traditional music. The choir has grown as well by the addition of both young and old, who desire to share their musical gifts, both vocally and instrumentally.
In order to strengthen ourselves for ministry, we’ve been spending a lot of time behind the scenes growing in our own individual walks with God. Various small groups meet throughout the week, and the church is buzzing with Christian Education for all ages on Sunday mornings. Biblically based teaching and prayer have become the foundation for all that we do, and it is amazing to see how this has transformed our church. We are growing in our relationships with God, and our renewed “joy in the Lord” has become contagious!
To make all of this happen, we had to make some very difficult decisions. The New Beginnings program helped us to realize that in order to continue to do great things for the Kingdom of God, some key changes had to be made in how we do church. In response, we each took a huge step of faith and agreed to lay on the altar all of our fears of change and our fears of letting go of our old ways so that we can embrace God’s calling to us to reach out and serve our neighbors. Together we have covenanted to become an outwardly focused church. We believe that God has called us out to serve our community, and now everything we do is guided by that principle. The transforming moment was when we covenanted together to honor God in everything we do by looking outward toward others instead of ourselves.
After reading this story, please spend some time praying about it. Ask yourself if you see can yourself in this story and if you have a clear picture of how God is leading us next. We’d love to hear your thoughts, and answer any questions that you might have. We will be hosting an open forum on Saturday January 10th at 9am in order to have further discussion, or you can speak directly with our Elders or Pastors Aaron and Renn. We’d love to hear from you!