Creating "Communities of Mutual Delight" (Romans 12, Issue 269)
Issue 269 — February 18, 2016
Creating "Communities of Mutual Delight"
What do pound cake, learning how to use power tools, and classes in Puerto Rican and Mexican cuisine have to do with best practices in church revitalization?
Just ask the folks who are teaching and learning these things and more through the Centenary School of Creative Education at Centenary United Methodist Church in Macon, Georgia. Twelve years ago, this congregation was on the “evaluation list” of the South Georgia Conference. Averaging twenty people in worship and a choir larger than the number of folks in the pews, the church's future did not seem bright.
But the conference thought otherwise. They listened and recognized the giftedness of Centenary’s people and the value of its location for vibrant ministry.
When the conference framed the future of this congregation in terms of its gifts, leaders in the congregation began to frame the future of the neighborhood that way, too. Centenary hired a community organizer. Later, they visited with DeAmon Harges, the “Roving Listener” whose work is at the heart of the revitalization of Broadway UMC in Indianapolis. Then, in summer 2012, Centenary members, with the support of their deacon, Stacey Harwell-Dye, started a practice of roving listening in their Beall’s Hill neighborhood to discover the gifts and passions of the people who lived there. About half of the roving listeners they hired were youth and adults with developmental disabilities.
With financial support from a variety of community and church sources, Centenary hosts four community meals each summer for folks in the community to connect with one another and find ways to name and share their gifts with the wider community. Part of that sharing happens through community classes, offered three times each summer. When three or more community members identify something they want to learn, the church finds teachers identified through the roving listeners.
That’s what led to the launch of Centenary’s School for Creative Education in 2014, drawing on the gifts of people inside and outside the congregation’s worshiping community. And Sunday worship at Centenary today regularly gathers more than 300 across three services, including one in Spanish.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- How might a focus on gifts instead of on what the congregation lacks and on unleashing passions instead of managing problems help you envision the possibilities for ministry where you are?
- How well do the people and leaders in your congregation know the gifts of the people in the neighborhood where your building is located? What might you do to learn about and unleash these gifts for the common good?
- DeAmon Harges and now Centenary describe part of what the kingdom of God does as creating the possibility for “communities of mutual delight, where all people of all abilities can share their gifts and all are blessed in the sharing.” How might you pursue such “kingdom work” where you are?
Produced by Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church to communicate effective principles and practices demonstrated by congregations that are actively making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
These congregations are marked by:
- Clarity around the mission and vision of the congregation.
- Practice of spiritual disciplines, both corporately and individually.
- Nurture in growth in discipleship through mutual support and accountability.
- Cultivation of intentional and mutual relationships with the most vulnerable—the poor, children, the imprisoned, the powerless.
- Consistent concern for inviting people into relationship with Jesus Christ, combined with wise practices for initiating them into the body of Christ.
- Connectional relationships that facilitate participation in God’s mission of global transformation.
- Shared clergy and lay leadership.
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