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A Day Spent Stealing Ideas That Work

by Elsa M. J. Seifert

Ideas“Stealing Ideas That Work,” a gathering of Central Association pastors and lay leaders, was held at Glendale First Congregational United Church of Christ on Wednesday, June 5, 2013.  Led by  three clergy – Joe McGowan from Altadena,  Dan Smith from West Hollywood  and Rudolph van Graan from Glendale, the day had a three-fold goal:  to feed souls, tummies, and brains, and was a great opportunity to create relationships,  share resources and support each other in the work of the church.

The morning began with the sharing of book titles and “things that have worked in churches” in the cool breezes of Glendale’s wonderful outside “grotto.”  Among the titles recommended were “anything by Edward Hays” (among them Pray All Ways, Secular Sanctuary, A Book of Wonders:  Daily Readings and Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim) and The Underground Church by UCC minister Robin Meyers, which calls us to return to the original subversive ways of Jesus and “the people of the way.”

We discussed the difference between “learning about spirituality” and “being spiritual.”  Among the aids participants found useful to being spiritual were even a few minutes of a daily devotional, prayer beads and the use of ‘meantime’ time – reading or praying during waiting or driving times.  Many found writing deeply another way in which spirituality is discovered.  One pastor calls the congregation to prayer time in which all participate.  Another uses Taize prayers with responses; others the UCC “God Is Still Speaking” website devotionals.  Yet another is looking to begin a “Third Stage” theater (there are two others in the community) for retirees – in third stage.

Breaking for lunch, all enjoyed a South African meal, lovingly prepared by Rudolph, who also supplied water and snacks.

In the afternoon, we learned about programs that have worked in various churches.

One church canvassed four quadrants around their church to see who actually lived there, what businesses there were and what sort of housing existed.  This search gave them a better idea of what the neighborhood needs were, knowledge of great help in in outreach.

Another church holds community dinners with a mixture of newer and long-time members for the purpose of getting to know one another. At these dinners four questions focused on spiritual life are gently worked into the conversations.

Yet another holds an annual church retreat, while another asks people to sign a covenant (not only for pledging, but acknowledging their covenant with the church) each year, so that each person is a member for that year only.  Upon signing the covenant they become members of a ‘shepherding’ group, which allows them to get to know others well.

Other programs are “Kids’ Night Out” (actually parents’ night out), which is held on a Saturday from 4:30 to 7:30 and includes a dinner and maybe a movie or games,  and “Summer Exploration,” a month of Vacation Bible School (from 9:00 to 3:00 each weekday) staffed by college-age folks, many of whom participated in the program as children.  Bible study, food, movies and crafts are featured.

Among those looking to implement some of these ideas is Al Lopez, member of a DOC/UCC team working on a new church start at the site of the UCC El Buen Pastor building.  It is being planned with the idea that it will not be a traditional church.  Al has an idea that it will be a mission with a church component (rather than the church with a mission component).  He sees offices for counseling by therapists in the community, with the parsonage next to the church used for Bible study, and healing services provided by a physician attendant.  Also under consideration is an art gallery to emphasize the arts in the community and perhaps a coffee house.

The day ended with prayer and thanksgiving for all that is being done in our churches and what the Holy Spirit may yet do!

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